Hrudka – Slovak Easter Cheese

SONY DSCSo, I’ve been feeling a bit of withdrawal in the cheese making department.  Other than making some 30 minute mozzarella and yogurt cheese, I’ve been too busy of late to mess around with my new cheese making hobby.  But when I saw an interesting post about hrudka, a fresh Easter cheese, I was intrigued.  It didn’t look terribly difficult to make or very time-consuming.  And with Easter just a few days away, I decided to give it a try.

Hrudka, also called sirok or sirecz, is a tradition during Easter time in Slovakia and is typically served with ham, kielbasa, beet horseradish, and paska (Easter bread).   It can be made either savory or sweet, but I opted to try the sweet version especially since I think my little one would probably prefer it.

The ingredients are simple and readily available, a dozen eggs, a quart of milk, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 cup of sugar.  Stay tuned as I also added another, super secret ingredient later because I just couldn’t resist!

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The first step is to break all the eggs into a large mixing bowl.

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Then I began breaking up the eggs with a whisk.

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But I soon switched to a fork as I just couldn’t get the desired “whisking action” with my whisk.  A fork just seems to do a better job of breaking up the eggs for me.

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Next, I added the milk and eggs to the pot.

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Then the salt…

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Sugar…

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And vanilla.

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With a low flame I began heating the ingredients.

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After about 10 minutes of smelling the delicious aroma coming from the pot, I felt a sudden urge to add another ingredient.  The aroma of the warming milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla just screamed out for the addition of cardamom!  Since I had never even tried hrudka let alone make it, I wasn’t really sure this was a good idea.  But I went with my gut and added it anyway, just 1/8 of a teaspoon.

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I read that the key to success with this recipe is not to scramble the eggs by using a too-high temperature, while also stirring constantly for 20-30 minutes.  I think I was a little overly conservative with the temperature as a result.  When I hit the 30 minute mark and things still hadn’t progressed much I began to wonder if I was doing something wrong.  The whey was suppose to begin to separate and curds were suppose to appear.  I just wasn’t getting that.

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At about 40 minutes I decided to put the mixture in my cheese bag to see if any whey would drain.  After about 20 minutes this was all I had collected.  I had my doubts about whether I had done things quite right, so while the whey slowly dripped I did a little more research on making hrudka.

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In the end I decided to put the mixture back in the pot and cook it some more.  This time I threw caution to the wind and cranked the heat up to medium!

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And voila! My whey suddenly started to separate and curds appeared!  I guess I was just too cautious about heating the mixture for fear I would have nothing but a big pot of sweetened scrambled eggs.  The next time I make it I will know better.

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So back into the cheese bag it went and now I had some serious draining going on.  If you look closely you can see the stream of whey flowing from the bottom of the bag.  Much better!

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So after a couple hours of draining and periodically squeezing the cheese bag, here’s what we ended up with.  Looks pretty good, I think, and it tasted really interesting.  It was much like a solid, mildly sweet custard.

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I chilled it in the fridge overnight and then it was time to dive into it for breakfast the next morning.  I cut a few slices…

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And browned up some butter in a small frying pan.

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I wasn’t sure if the cheese would melt, but I read that it could be fried and that sounded really good to me.  So into the pan the slices went.

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I cooked them for a few minutes on medium high and then flipped them over.  They held their shape perfectly!

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I served some up for my little one with a drizzle of maple syrup.

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But I decided I’d like to try mine with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

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Oh boy, they were delicious!  They were lightly sweet with a hint of the warm flavor of cardamom coming through.  It was much like eating french toast but with a different texture.

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It is easy to see why this is an Easter tradition in some countries.  The distinctive flavor of the cheese is something I am sure I will soon begin to crave.  And the ingredients just call out to be experimented with!  Some people add cinnamon instead of vanilla, but others simply add salt and no sugar for a savory version.  Personally, I love cardamom so I expect that will be my favorite spice to add to the sweet version.  But I have to wonder what it would be like to add fresh herbs to a savory version.  Hrudka is often served on ham sandwiches so I think the addition of fresh herbs might be nice.  I may try that sometime, but I’d really love to hear from you.  Have you ever had hrudka?  If so, how was it served?  And if mine isn’t right, please do tell!  I was really flying blind with this recipe, but I am happy with the results it may very well become an Easter tradition in my house too!

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