By Mark Wieser
Kochkäse or cooked cheese was quite a process when I was young. There were many steps involved that would be prohibitive today or frowned upon by those in authority. Firstly, few of us have a cow or even access to fresh whole milk.
Clabber itself is a word that is in few vocabularies. Clabber is soured milk and made by allowing unpasteurized milk to turn sour (ferment) at room temperature. To make this one cannot use pasteurized milk since it does not contain the beneficial bacteria necessary for the culturing process to work and form a soured milk.
The milk will thicken or curdle into a yogurt-like substance. This will have a strong, sour flavor. This process uses “wild” bacteria and yeasts—ever present in our kitchens. Clabbered milk was eaten throughout various cultures and probably ever since milk was first drawn from animals. Here is how it was done.
Set out a bowl of raw milk in room temperature. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. The time it takes for the milk to clabber, or become sour from the lactic acid naturally being produced, can be anywhere from 1-5 days, depending on the temperature at which one allows it to clabber and the bacteria within the milk. The cooler your kitchen—the longer it will take. If you have a back, screened porch—the better. When done, the milk will have congealed, or separated into curds and whey. (Remember Little Miss Muffet?) Once it is soured one can strain off a bit of the whey by pouring the curds and when into a cheesecloth-lined strainer. My mother then poured it into a cloth sack and hung it out on the windmill to drip until it was dry—maybe up to 2 or 3 days!
Then Mix the clabber with salt and baking soda in a bowl and set it into a warm room for another 3 days where it will now “mature. During this time turn the curd daily. When the curd has become a yellowish and glassy, smells like cheese and has a bland taste, it is ready for make into cook cheese. Please note, the curd must be completely dry and crumbly. It is important to ensure that salt and baking soda are mixed very well with the dry curd. (Use an electric mixer.)
Melt the butter in a saucepan, cut the ripened curd, add it and heat it over a low heat while constantly stirring. Hold this heat for about 10 minutes. The mixture can burn easily so stir vigorously at times and add a little milk ever so often. The amount of milk will depend on the consistency one desires. If one wants the cooked cheese spreadable, simply increase the amount of milk. (The cooked cheese becomes even creamier if additional whipped cream is added.)
When the mixture is smooth, season with pepper. Some prefer to add caraway seeds. I never liked that! Now let the cheese cool a bit and pour into a Pyrex™ bowl. Cover and refrigerate. I preferred it warm and often cut warm slices of it straight out of the frying pan to spread on a slice of home-baked bread and topped with salt. It rarely made it to the refrigerator, but it is good kept there for up to two weeks.
OK, you don’t have time to do this whole process or you cow has run away. Here is a simple way to shorten this process and is only one of dozens of recipes available that come within a mile of the old-fashioned method.
2 cups cottage cheese
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ teaspoons salt
½ cup whipping cream
¼ cup butter
Combine cottage cheese, flour, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 2 hours or until bubbly.
Combine cottage cheese mixture, whipping cream, and butter in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently for 25 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat, and cool slightly. Serve with fresh homemade bread.