Eating Her Curds and Whey

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Today I’m donning the ruffled bonnet of Little Miss Muffet. Because the Easter season is just around the corner, I must introduce you to the delicacy that every Waterloo County Mennonite worthy of the name eagerly looks forward to. In actual fact, it’s one of those foods that people either love or hate; but I, and most of my household, are in the love camp. Notice I said MOST. This delicacy that I present to you most reverently is an offering from our German heritage; Egg Cheese, aka Easter Cheese, or in Pennsylvania Deutsch, Oya Kase.

This humble cheese is made largely with milk and; you guessed it; eggs. The texture is like a firm, curdy cottage cheese. It is made only for the month surrounding Easter. It’s not that it couldn’t be made any other time, but there’s something really cool about eating something only once a year. I mean, how special would it be if you could eat chocolate bunnies all year long? Right. Exactly. Now get this; you eat it with maple syrup, REAL maple syrup, poured over it. That’s the clincher, right there, folks. For some people it’s simply an excuse to eat maple syrup by the spoonful. You can eat it any time. I’ve had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and at break time too. It is beautifully versatile! As a matter of fact, it’s so versatile that I’m never sure how to categorize it. Maybe I should slot a Heritage Recipes Category and stick it in there. What a great idea. Thank you for mentioning it.

There is a lot of maple syrup produced in our area. If you drive around these Waterloo County roads on a clear, sunny, just-above-freezing day, you will see clouds of smoke billowing through the trees in woodlots. That, my friends, is someone cooking sap in their sugar shanty. Don’t you just love that term? Sugar shanty. It rolls off the tongue so wonderfully. Much more elegant than sugar shack.

Anyhow, in cold climates, maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots before and during winter. In early spring, as temperatures begin rising during the day, the starch converts to sugar, which rises in the sap. The sap is collected from the trees as it starts rising through taps that have been drilled in to the trunk. A question often asked is, does this hurt the trees? Nope; it doesn’t. Our neighbours have a slab they cut from a tree that was several centuries old, and in the rings you could see the vertical lines through the rings where it had been tapped at many different points in its lifetime. The wood grew back together completely each time. It’s pretty neat to see. Oh, what stories that tree could tell! Then this sap is boiled until the liquid condenses to a thick, delicious amber syrup. Our son-in-law has a sideline maple syrup business, and I kid you not, he produces some of the area’s finest stuff. We sell a pile of it at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. He says it has to do with the soil components in the New Hamburg region. I think he’s being modest.

By the way, locals, would you like a pretty little drive? Ian and his partner, James, are hosting an open house today and next Saturday, March 25, so check them out at Ian Roth’s Maple Syrup. He can tell you a whole lot more about the process.

Maple syrup should be stored in a cool place, and refrigerated once opened.

FUN FACT: When Ian and our daughter Tamara became engaged four years ago, the New Hamburg Independent announced that the “Maple Syrup Man is marrying the Produce Princess”. I love small towns. 

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Look at all that golden goodness!

 

Now let’s make the egg cheese. It’s easy to do; there are just three main things to watch for.

  1. Don’t let the milk burn! This is kind of critical.
  2. Let the curds separate until they look like big globs of scrambled eggs
  3. Let the cheese drain thoroughly, or you will have a floating island on your plate (not the good kind, like the fancy dessert by that name).

WATERLOO COUNTY EGG CHEESE

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon (4 litres) *whole milk (the old recipes say sweet milk; versus sour milk, I guess) 
  • 14 extra-large eggs
  • 2 cups (500 ml) buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Directions

Heat milk on medium-high in a very large stockpot, stirring frequently to avoid scorching, until it begins steaming and swelling. Try not to let it come to a full boil, although it’s not the end of the world if you do. While it heats, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and salt. Pour the egg mixture slowly into the hot milk, stirring all the while. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover with a lid, stirring every so often. When the milk separates and curds rise to the top, remove the lid and stir frequently until the curds look like large chunky scrambled eggs, and the liquid (whey) is a nearly clear pale gold. Remove from heat. Place a large piece of cheesecloth into a sturdy colander over another large pot and carefully pour or scoop the entire mixture into it, allowing the whey to drain through. Smooth the top with a spatula. Let it sit and drain for about an hour, pressing the top periodically to squeeze out excess whey. When it stops dripping from the bottom, tip the cheese onto a large plate. Cover and chill. Slice and serve with maple syrup. In recent years, we’ve discovered that adding fresh berries or fried apples to our servings elevates this traditional treat to new dimensions of delight!

*You can use 2% milk, but whole milk produces a smoother, creamier egg cheese. 

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See how the curds look like scrambled eggs?
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The whey produces lovely tender loaves of bread and serves as a tasty base for cream or bean soups. It can be frozen.

8 thoughts on “Eating Her Curds and Whey

    Trudy Metzger said:
    March 19, 2017 at 2:50 am

    I love your blog already, Rose! You are the kitchen queen, in my estimation of things.

    Like

      rosekmartin responded:
      March 19, 2017 at 2:53 am

      Thank you, Trudy! That is high praise, although sometimes when I wave my royal sceptre, my subject collapses. 😋

      Like

    Irene Martin said:
    March 19, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Enjoying your blog, Rose. I will live vicariously through you when it pertains to anything kitchenish

    Liked by 1 person

    Janine said:
    March 20, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    Can I strain it into one of those cone shaped tomato juicer things? I think that’s what grandma martin used to do and then she would get a tall cone of cheese. I’m assuming that I would skip the cheesecloth and just pour directly into the cone….any suggestions?

    Like

      rosekmartin responded:
      March 20, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      Yes, you can! I hadn’t seen that way of doing it until last week. It looks so old-fashioned – I love it! And no, you wouldn’t need the cheesecloth then. I believe the holes are smaller in those strainers.

      Like

    Monica said:
    March 21, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    Fascinating, I’ve never heard of egg cheese before now. When I read these kinds of heritage recipes I always wonder how someone came up with such an idea. Thanks for sharing a bit of Waterloo!

    Liked by 1 person

      rosekmartin responded:
      March 21, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      I know; I love regional dishes! It’s all part of the culture of an area, don’t you think?

      Like

    Cathy said:
    March 24, 2017 at 12:31 am

    You make it sound so easy. I watched my mother and Grandmother make this and I know there is a bit of work to it! 🙂 But I look forward to eating egg cheese every spring. One of these times I’ll try making it myself. Especially now that I actually saw a printed recipe. ☺ Keep blogging!

    Like

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