"Jāņu Siers", literally translating to "John's Cheese" is a very traditional caraway seed seed fresh cheese. Together with fire and beer, it is considered a staple part of the Latvian Midsummer festival (Jāņi or Līgo Svētki), celebrated on the eve of St John's Day (the 23rd to 24th June).
The traditions of Jāņi are covered in our separate blog "Jani and Midsummer" , however the importance of company, traditional foods and legends cannot be ignored. Heading off to the country to celebrate Jāņi in the company of family, friends and neighbours is almost as important as the traditional foods that are shared by all. Legend holds that those family members who choose sleep over preparation and participation of the festivities are 'lazy' and will remain lazy for the rest of summer.
So, to avoid the curse of laziness, it's time to start preparing for the festivities. The cheese can be prepared a few weeks before Midsummer's Night so that it has time to set and cure. Methods vary, but essentially the cheese is half cooked and half curdled and comprises of fresh cow's milk, eggs, salt and caraway seeds. Regardless of the recipe, the cheese must be formed into a round shape to symbolise the sun and ritual of solstice.
Once ready, it can be served immediately while still warm with a drizzle of honey. Alternatively, leave it to cure for a few weeks to allow the wonderful flavours of the caraway seeds to develop and offset the sweet rich flavours of the milk and eggs. Serve it on its own or with butter, but never on bread. And don't forget the earthy rich homemade beer which must simultaneously be offered with the cheese.
Cheesecloth or thin white sheeting (approx 40 x 40 cm)
1.5 litres of full fat milk (unhomogenised is best)
500gr of farm cheese or cottage cheese (the firmer the better)
3 egg yolks
100 grams of unsalted butter
A pinch of salt (to taste)
One pinch (or two or three) of caraway seeds (to taste)
One pinch of Cumin (optional) (adds a touch of yellow to the cheese)
Place the milk and cottage cheese into a large heavy based saucepan and heat over medium stirring frequently. Do NOT allow the mixture to boil
After approximately 5-8 minutes (be patient), the milk and cheese will start to separate, creating a yellowish whey. Mix this through and tip the entire contents into a strainer set over a large bowl. Gently press on the mixture to remove more liquid.
Return the strained contents to the saucepan and heat on low. Add the butter and mix. Then add the egg yolks, caraway seeds and salt and combine well. At this stage, if the mixture is too dry, add some of the strained liquid along with the cumin (if using).
Heat the mixture for approximately 7-8 minutes, stirring constantly. It will start to become smoother and thicker.
Place the cheesecloth on a flat surface and add the thickened cheese mixture to the centre, forming a ball. Draw the sides of the cheesecloth up and spin the top tight. Secure with string or elastic. Once secure, manipulate the mass into the shape of a round 'sun'.
Place the cheese in a cold space or fridge to set and harden (if not consuming immediately)
To serve, unwrap, cut up into cubes and enjoy.