Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/7/2016 (1899 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If you are of Eastern European descent and you live in Canada, there may be something missing from your traditional menu and you don’t even know it. Fortunately, the Dairy Fairy, also known as Galina Beilis, can help you out.
Beilis makes Tvorog, a "kitchen cheese" that is traditional to many of the people who live in places like Ukraine, Poland, Russia, and — the place Beilis is from — Belarus.
"I learned it from my mom," says Beilis.
"A lot of families from Europe, they know how to make it with cheesecloth. You just take sour milk, put in a cheesecloth and make curds and that’s it."
Beilis describes it as a daily staple, something she can’t imagine being without.
"It’s everyday, for us it’s like bread, you know," she says.
She brought the recipe with her when she came to Canada — she arrived here indirectly via Israel, where she first emigrated at age 30 with her family.
Four years later, Beilis and her family came to Canada, where they have lived for the last eight years.
Initially she did not come here to start a cheese-making business. She started out as an esthetician but after a few years decided she was ready to move on. Beilis noticed that people were not eating Tvorog cheese here — and there was an opportunity for a niche market.
"I just like to make cheese," she says. "I did a lot at home and gave it to my friends to try."
She decided to try to find a way to make it for a wider market. Beilis started looking around for help, and she found her way to the Dairy Sciences Lab at the University of Manitoba.
"I brought my idea to make fresh cheese because you can’t find it here in the stores," she says. "It’s all processed cheeses made from powdered milk and whatever else they put in there — all this stuff — and there are no local cheeses like our cheese."
Working with the university, (where production is constantly monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency) she further developed her cheese and brought it to market about two-and-a-half years ago.
"It is easier to sell the cheese at the farmer’s markets because they can talk to me and I can explain how I make it," she says.
"They see that it’s local and that it’s handmade and they buy it — they support it!"
The cheese is available in many local stores, but Beilis says sales are little slow there.
She believes it is because not enough people know about it and aren’t sure where to find it among the large selection of products on the cheese and dairy aisle. Beilis’s Tvorog is sold under the "Dairy Fairy" label and is sold in blocks, but it crumbles rather than slices.
"You can eat it with sandwiches, omelettes — some people put it on pizza… I don’t know about that," she says.
"We used to eat this cheese sweet and we make crepes, and perogies with this cheese.
"It’s very close to dry cottage cheese. It is still a curd cheese, but it’s softer than dry cottage cheese."
The cheese is made from locally produced full-fat milk.
"It’s a healthy product — people are scared from full fat, it’s good fat — don’t be scared. It’s good for you!"
RECIPES AND STORAGE
Tvorog is made with milk that has been "soured" and so it is not naturally sweet. It does lend itself very nicely to sweetening, but that is dependent on personal taste. Some people will prefer it to be a little sour, others not so much.
Although it is packaged in blocks, once you begin to handle it, it will become crumbly and looks very similar to dry curd cottage cheese. I find that if you want to spread it, it is a good idea to put it on a little plate or a small bowl, and using a fork, work it just a little to make it easier to spread. Otherwise, it can be crumbled on to salad or other savory dishes, as is. Another favourite way to eat it is with a little honey or jam.
This is what Beilis has to say about storage:
"Inside the packaging, the cheese can stay fresh for up to six weeks, but once you take it home, it is intended to be eaten fresh," she says.
"That’s because there are no preservatives or additives in the cheese.
"It’s not cheese forever, it’s not processed cheese — you don’t buy fresh to keep it a long time."
Once opened, it should be re-wrapped to keep it from drying out. As it’s a fresh-made cheese with no preservatives of any kind, it is best consumed within a week or two at most. Beilis says it can be frozen, although the texture will be a little different from the fresh.
For a savoury option, choose tomatoes, olives, cucumbers or even commercial antipasto spread as a topping.
Galina Beilis described eating Tvorog with a bit of sugar and maybe some fruit. It reminded me of a dish my Auntie Mary used to make with dry curd cottage cheese and it made me think that she might have been using dry curd cottage cheese as a substitute. This is what my aunt made, using Tvorog instead.
30 ml (2 tbsp) Tvorog cheese
2 ml (1/4 tsp) sugar (to taste)
15 ml (1 tbsp) sour cream
Using a fork, gently but thoroughly break up the cheese. Add the sugar and again, using a fork, gently but thoroughly mix the sugar all the way through. Blend in the sour cream. This is enough for one serving for a few crackers or to spread on small pieces of toast. Once mixed and well-wrapped, it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
A few pointers: This dish should be made to your taste, so feel free to start with a little less sugar and add a little at a time. You may prefer a little more than the given measurements. Likewise with the sour cream. Adding more sour cream will give the spread a creamier texture and make it a little sweeter as well. You may also find you want to change the ratios a bit depending on what you would like to serve along with the spread, with less or no sugar for vegetables and a little more with fruit or jam. This would be great on a toaster waffle with some fresh strawberries for a quick morning breakfast.
You can also serve this as a slightly sweet accompaniment to a meal or add a little fresh fruit, jam or dried fruit for a dense but not-too-sweet dessert.
Egg Noodles with Tvorog
This dish will serve four with a vegetable side.
half of a 375-gram package egg noodles, cooked and drained but not rinsed.
60 ml (1/4 cup) butter and/or rendered bacon fat (I used a combination of both)
250 g (9 oz) Tvorog cheese, carefully broken up with a fork
salt and pepper
Cook the noodles and drain them well but do not rinse them. Put them back into the still warm pot. Add the butter and/ bacon fat and mix thoroughly. Add the Tvorog cheese and mix thoroughly but gently so as not to break up the noodles.
You will be tempted to cut back on the fat. Do not succumb. The fat keeps the noodles from sticking together and helps to distribute the cheese. It also tastes really good.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with salad or vegetable sticks.
Options: Add chopped cooked ham or chopped fried bacon and/or some onion or chopped red and yellow peppers sautéed in butter to the noodle/cheese mixture. Chopped green onion is also a nice addition sprinkled on top. A little garlic sausage or ham would also be nice on the side.
Tvorog Filling for Crepes or Pancake Topping
250 g (1 package) Tvorog cheese
60 ml (1/2 cup) sugar
pinch of salt
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
125 ml (½ cup) any dried fruit such as chopped apricots or raisins, 3 ml (1/2 tsp) cinnamon (both optional)
Gently break the Tvorog into small pieces with a fork. Add the vanilla. Sprinkle the sugar over top and blend it in to the cheese. If you would like it a little sweeter, add a small amount of additional sugar to taste.
Prepare your favourite pancake or crepe recipe (I like Coyote Brand Whole Wheat. The whole grain works well with the cheese). You can fill and roll crepes with a drizzle of jam and chopped fruit or spread some of the filling on top of a pancake with fruit or syrup.
You can find more information on the Dairy Fairy as well as retailers who carry Tvorog and other Dairy Fairy products at www.dairyfairy.ca.