Quark: A Tasty Kitchen Project
Definition of Quark: Any number of subatomic particles that carry an electrical charge OR buttermilk cheese. Let’s leave the protons and neurons for another day and talk about the popular German fresh cheese also named quark. It actually goes by several regional names like sibbkase in Hesse, matz in central Germany, and schichtkase. In Bavaria and Austria it is called topfen, translated as pot cheese. Quark actually starts as a cultured buttermilk. Phase one of project quark is the creation of a delicious cultured buttermilk known in Germany as “dichmilch” or thick milk. You can stop there and enjoy it as the basis for smoothies, out right drinking, or sauces. If you proceed to phase 2, the whey draining phase, you will end up with what is called cheese with a consistency similar to Greek yogurt. Don’t be confused, quark is nothing like yogurt at all. It is made from a different bacterial strain and isn’t as tangy or runny as yogurt. Quark has a low fat content similar to yogurt. It is mistakenly associated with yogurt because of the similar texture; however, yogurt is created from warmth loving bacterial cultures of the thermophilic group. With all of that disassociation there is a positive side, yogurt can be substituted for quark in recipes. But there is a closer flavor match than using yogurt. Quark is much more closely associated to cottage cheese, sour cream and cream cheese which all are made from the mesophilic family of bacteria. To get a close flavor and texture profile if you can’t find quark, it would be better to mix an 8 oz package of low fat cream cheese with 3 TB of sour cream which will yield about 1-1/4 cups of cheese. European recipes call for quite a bit more quark in recipes such as cheesecake because it is so readily available. I found it at Whole Foods in about 1/3 cup tub for $3.99. Do the math on just the cheese at 1-1/2 to 2 cups of quark in a German recipe and you can see it is quite expensive. The good news is that homemade quark is inexpensive. The only investment is a little time. Making quark at home is so simple. I make it once a week in the cold months. For some reason, I crave it when the snow is flying. It is a good project for adults and children because it gives a basic lesson in cheesemaking. I am always amazed at how much milk I start with and the end result is about 25% of the original volume. Keep the whey because you can make ricotta with it. Ricotta, means”recooked” and that is exactly what is done. The whey is heated which causes the proteins to bind together. Lemon juice is added and the proteins separate into little curds giving the ricotta its’ characteristic lumpiness. While quark is a recipe, I think of it as a recipe project because it takes three days to make from start to finish. Here is the link to the recipe plus more pictures to follow along with. The following is the day to day steps for Project Quark: Needed: 1 gallon pasteurized milk (not ultra pasteurized. I have successfully used Dean’s Milk and Whole Foods brand) 1-1/4 cups buttermilk (I’ve used Kroger brand and JD’s from Whole Foods) 2 cups dry milk, optional but it adds nice thickness and richness to finished product. Day 1: Pour 1 gallon of milk into a large lidded pot. Set over medium heat and insert thermometer taking care that the bottom of the probe is not touching the bottom of the pot. Bring up to 160 degrees. Remove from heat. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature, about 3-4 hours. Room temperature is defined as between 65 – 70 degrees. Add 3 TB buttermilk for every quart of milk. In this case it works out to 1-1/4 cups of buttermilk plus the dry milk if you want to use it. If you have made quark before, you can use 1-1/4 cups of quark as the starter. The buttermilk or quark has the bacteria needed to convert the milk; lacto bacteria in the mesophilic family. When I use buttermilk, it takes exactly 24 hours for the milk to set. Using quark, it takes about 20 hours. I am told that if I use a buttermilk or sour cream culture, it would take about 16 hours. Day 2: Take a large piece of doubled cheesecloth and place it in a saucepan of water. Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat. Boil for 10 minutes. Strain out cheesecloth and when cool enough to handle, line a sieve that has been thoroughly washed allowing the ends to fall over the edges of the sieve. Set the sieve over a tall bowl (tall keeps the bottom of sieve out of the whey [ha, just got the double meaning]). Scoop the set milk known as ‘dichmilch’ in Germany or thick milk into the sieve. Cover the top with plastic wrap and set the entire contraption in the refrigerator let it drip overnight. Day 3: Pick up all the corners of the cheesecloth and transfer over to a large bowl with a lid. Grab 2 corners and basically roll the cheese out and into the bowl. I run my hand from top to bottom of the cheesecloth to wring out any clinging cheese. Store in the refrigerator. Use as a smoothie base, in place of yogurt or sour cream. Eat as is with fruit. Spread on toast or bagels. Use as the base for sweet or savory dips and spreads. I just eat it topped with honey and bee pollen alongside fresh fruit.