Cottage Cheese

I’m standing over a pot of full fat milk waiting for it to begin boiling. As soon as it starts to boil I will throw in an equal measure of buttermilk and then let it cook for another fifteen minutes on the stove and then let it settle overnight. This is my moms old recipe that she has perfected over her lifetime and now it is being passed down to me. 

I’m all for this kind of cheese. I have fond memories of consuming it throughout my years. It hasn’t been all like this as back in the day we had it delivered to us from Ontario. That taste though mixed in with a bit of sour cream or in pierogi or some sort of cheesecake has always been a delight. In some strange twist of fate it is me now that is somehow moving forward with trying to learn all of those old family recipes. Mom will always make it the best and that ideal becomes that platonic ideal never quite reached despite my best attempts. The fun is in trying to make it. 

Things have been hectic lately and with it comes a bit of a conundrum as to how to structure life. I seem to have more time and yet there isn’t enough of it for me to execute some of the things that I am wanting to do. Writing has taken a particular hit. It began with unpacking and then it carried on with starting work and getting acustomed to doing that again. Then there is the adjustment of sharing a space with someone. 

We really did just jump in with two feet into the deep end. How else could we have pulled this off? We didn’t have the luxury of a regular courtship. There wasn’t wine and dining although we did have a great trip together. We had all those talks. We could have waited but for what? What kind of a better sign could there have been than things going smoothly as if funneled towards this inevitability that we are living in now? 

I watched patiently as the milk slowly began to change. At first it was subtle thin layer congealed on top of the white liquid. I had the temperature turned to medium as I didn’t want it to boil too quickly. This is a subtle process. Slowly I noticed some motion as bubbles began to rise from the bottom up to the surface. Is it boiling yet? I wasn’t sure but I also didn’t want to add the buttermilk too soon. I read the label and realized why it was being added. The buttermilk contains cultures. I suspect that when I add it to the hot milk it will reactivate and cause the proteins to congeal into a more solid mass. 

I’ve been reminiscing lately sometimes about the immediate past but sometimes about a further past. I noticed this and am wondering about why I’m in such a sentimental mood. It could be that I am engaged in mechanical activity that sometimes has times when nothing is happening as some process is happening and I’m waiting for the right time to act or I’m doing something repetitive and my mind wonders. This repetition happens during cooking mostly. I was going somewhere with this but it got lost in transcription. Fingers couldn’t keep up to the train of thoughts that spring up when triggered by sifting for a particular word. 

The surface of the milk had many little bubbles embedded in the surface of the film that solidified on top. In Polish we call this a kożuch which essentially means a fur coat. This layer didn’t have any fur but underneath the milk had the appearance of stirring into life. The surface began to undulate slowly disturbed by the build up of kinetic energy due to the heat. A bit of the liquid has evaporated from its original level. I tried to open the buttermilk in preparation but the stupid open spout wouldn’t open. Good thing I am not in some kind of a panic. Curses! Eventually after a short struggle it opened. I laughed at myself for such a rudiculous panic. There is a first world meme in there somewhere juxtaposed with an image of someone in much more difficult circumstances. 

This stuff is now going to cook on low for fifteen minutes and then rest overnight. Adding all of that buttermilk to the milk barely fit into the pot I chose to cook it in. It’s the biggest one I have so this is the limit to what I can make at a time unless I use another pot. That would take a bit more coordination. I watched as a subtle shift occurred by the addition of buttermilk. Overnight most of the fat and protein would congeal into a harder mass that I will have to remove and drain. 

I watch as my partner quietly goes about her task of studying. At various times she has taken over the tv and or the dining space table. There are two computers that are always on as well as the phone thrown in there. There is a stack of papers that is continually added to. Contracts is the test of the moment. It is going to determine the entirety of the final grade and after the first exam tensions are high. The first exam was kind of tough. There wasn’t enough time to finish. All of that pressure! I am just a fly on the wall that is offering all the support that I can. I should have done more with my time but for now I can’t. I’m making cottage cheese. 

This is part of that back to basics ethos that has developed over the past few decades. As a central organizing concept it has never really gone away. Each iteration of its influence incorporates new developments and discoveries while also shedding concepts and techniques that are no longer acceptable. In other words it is something like fashion that changes each season always looking for something new. We gain inspiration from reimagining something that was. Innovation is built upon that. True creation comes from mastery of innovation. We sorely need this as we move through this time. 

I am trying to figure out how I’m going to tackle my long list of things that I still want to do in life. How can I focus and distribute my energy in time so as to maximize my enjoyment of passing time. We have so many days to go before our ceremony. That has to be factored in. We have to also focus on our relationship too. Not because we are in trouble but because it’s fun and important. 

I got up and not long after moved the congealed mass of cheese into the colander allowing it to drain of any remaining fluid. I tasted it and found the taste close to what I remember. It’s been a long time since I had anything like this in this form. I got about 850g from four liters of fluid split 50/50 between milk and buttermilk. It was roughly what inexpected to get. I was hoping to get enough for cheesecake and pierogi but after measuring out the ingredients I only have enough for the cheesecake. We spoke with my sis and my mom on my sisters birthday. Mom’s recipe is very similar to what’s out there. She does have an nice old twist missing from those online. I set about making the cheesecake using biscuits and butter as a base. These things are quite gluttonous but we will share with our upstairs neighbors. 

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Maybe the distraction is needed maybe it’s a way of escaping and trying to catch up with where culture is going. As time moves forward it is harder and harder to find all those little quirks. Mainstream news and the apparent chaos with the administration south of us as well as the politics of my new environment requires both study and analysis. The hope is that we survive through this without some catastrophic consequences for all of us in this planet. 

My weekend project culminated in a fairly good approximation of what I remember my mom baking. The way that the cheese tasted after it was taken out of the oven was quite good. How does it taste at other places? How will it taste next time? 

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