It’s March and while we should be starting to get some warmer Spring-like weather here in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, it’s still kind of wintery. Last Wednesday, we got 12-18 inches of snow in some places, but that doesn’t keep me from knowing that Spring is just around the corner. Easter is also only a week away now and it is time to make some hrudka, eastern European Easter Cheese.
My last name is Jaszewski. My father’s father’s side is Polish and my father’s mother’s family has Rusyn roots in the Carpathian mountains of what is now Slovakia, but I didn’t have hrudka in my Easter basket growing up.
I first tasted it when a co-worker, Chris, mentioned it me a few years back. He knew that I was into food and thought that is was something I might enjoy. So I gave it a shot and made it at home.
Hurdka is a simple cheese that takes little effort to make at home.
It was delicious! How had I missed this growing up?
This year, when I was prepping to make my hrudka, I decided to call my grandmother to see if it was something she ever made. Turns out she made it for my father and his siblings every year for Easter. Instead of hanging to drain the liquid off, she pressed it under a pan filled with water to weigh it down. She also made cheese bread. These would be part of the Easter baskets each year. My grandparents and their kids would bring the baskets with their kielbasa down to the church on Holy Saturday for mass and then to be blessed in preparation for Easter the next day.
When my mom married my dad, she was given a book of the Eastern recipes at her bridal shower. His family knew that he loved the food he grew up with and she could make his favorites in their new lives together. She still has the book: Our Traditional and Favorite Recipes; Fourth Printing 1978. Compiled by the Mother’s Club of St. Mary’s Russian Orthodox Church, Minneapolis, MN. That book has the recipes for the Hrudka – Easter Cheese (listed as “egg cheese ball” & “hrudka”), as well as the “Cheese Bread” that I understand, is called paska. One look at this vintage book and you can tell how much it has been loved and used over the years my parents have been married – 35 years and counting!
The version for hrudka in the book doesn’t call for sugar or vanilla, but that varies according to your personal taste. The version I made originally did include vanilla, so I’ll include it below as an optional addition for a “sweet” variation. It is also possible to make savory variations with the addition of pepper, chives, parsley, wild garlic, saffron, etc.
Really, it is a blank canvas that you could use to customize however you like. I happen to favor the sweet version the best and eat it straight. My coworker, Chris, and my dad’s family made the plain cheese and then put it into a sandwich. There are so many great ways to eat it!
When I made this the first few times, I used the traditional method. It is really simple to follow and in intuitive. The cheese curdles when it hits the right temperature and then you can strain it. All the visual cues are there.
However, I wasn’t satisfied completely because it sometimes scorches on the bottom of the pan and you have to stir constantly for 20-30 minutes while it comes to temperature. I wanted to try and develop a sous vide version so that wouldn’t require the hands-on time. My first attempt at sous vide with this recipe was custardy and delicious, but not as firm as I would have liked. I used 180F as my cooking temp and while it was really creamy, the proteins didn’t fully tighten up and expel the as much liquid as the traditional version (I squeezed out 1.5 cups vs 2.5 cups of whey).
Therefore, I’m proposing a cook temp of a very hot 195F for 90 minutes. I haven’t tested this yet, but since I wanted to get this out before Easter, I’ll have to try it again next year. If you try the sous vide method, please let me know how it comes out!
As I was choosing photos for this post from my trip to Slovakia, I had such a hard time narrowing it down, so here are a few more from Chmelova and Bardejov.
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