Farmer cheese, also sometimes called farmer’s cheese, is a type of simple, soft white cheese traditionally made on farms in Europe and the Middle East. Most of the varieties available in Western markets are made from the milk of goats or cows, but sheep, yak, and most any other sort of milk can also be used, depending on availability and freshness. It is generally quick and easy to make, and is a favorite of home cheesemakers as something of a beginner’s project. In most cases, the cheese is firm enough to be sliced but also soft enough to be spread, at least at room temperature.
How It’s Made
Making farmer’s cheese is relatively simple as all that is usually needed is milk, some sort of acid or starter, and active rennet, which is a bacterial culture. Rennet is not strictly required, but usually speeds the process. Once the acid and rennet begin to interact with the milk, the milk separates into curds, which are solids, and whey, which is a thick liquid. Farmer cheese is made only from the curds. These are filtered out, then pressed into a mold or rolled into a tight lump and squeezed to remove excess moisture.
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One of the characteristic features of farmer cheese is that it is unaged. In practical terms, this means that it is ready to eat as soon as it has dried. Aged cheeses often have sharper, more developed flavors, but they take a long time to ripen; farmer varieties are notoriously mild, but typically very pleasing.
Basic Texture and Flavor
When made properly, farmer cheese should be easily sliced but also roughly spreadable. The ideal consistency usually falls somewhere between a fresh Mozzarella and a soft cheddar — it will hold its own shape, but is not usually so dry as to be crumbly. Different farmers and manufacturers have different styles, and as such not all cheeses marked “farmer” are necessarily the same — some are denser, crumblier, or wetter than others. The flavor is usually consistent, however, and is typically reminiscent of a creamy cottage cheese. It is mostly mild, but often carries a bit of a tang and can pair well with both sweet and savory accompaniments.
Farmer cheese is often praised for its simplicity, though it is also a good canvas for experimentation and different additions. Adventurous cheesemakers have long sought to improve their basic recipes by introducing ingredients like herbs, spices, fruits or vegetables to flavor the curds as they dry. A range of so-called “gourmet” farmer's cheeses has been born this way. Hosts and home cooks can get similar results by simply pairing a plain cheese with savory or sweet spreads and jams.
One of the most common ways to serve farmer cheese is sliced on crackers or bread, but this is not to say that the cheese is not highly versatile. People commonly use plain versions as a substitute or enhancement for ricotta cheese in baked dishes like lasagna or blintzes. It can also be used as a stuffing for ravioli, as a topping for salads, or as an accompaniment to smoked or dried meats.
Storage and Use Tips
It is usually a good idea to eat farmer cheese within a few days of buying or making it, as it is best in both flavor and consistency when very fresh. Absent any sort of aging treatment, it is also somewhat unstable; this means that it will spoil much faster than more processed and conditioned cheeses. As with nearly all dairy products, it should be stored under refrigeration until ready to serve or cook.