Thursday, April 5, 2012

cup cheese

I have a new recipe to share with you: cup cheese.


Best I can tell, cup cheese (or soda cheese) is native to Lancaster County, the land of the Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite dairy farmers, but the first ten years of my life were spent in Lancaster Country and I never encountered cup cheese, so I’m not for sure about that. The cheese is made with soured milk—via a process of heating, straining, melting—and with the addition of several common kitchen ingredients.


The strange thing is, I’m not sure whether I like the cheese or not, and promoting a non-favorite recipe on my blog feels a little weird. But I’m going to do it anyway because 1) the recipe is way cool to make, and 2) people who grow up with this stuff are crazy about it, and 3) with a few recipe tweaks (that I have yet to try but have included below), I may decide I’m crazy about it, too.


And I really want to be crazy about it. The stuff is awesome, some of the most satiny, creamy, spreadable, scoopable cheese you can imagine. It’s glorious to behold.


The problem (for me, anyway) lies in the flavor. My cheese was on the funky side, I do believe. But since I’ve never tasted cup cheese before and had nothing to compare it to, I’m not for certain about that. However, I think I know why it turned out strong and how I might make it less strong.


Also, my kids, while not head-over-heels in love with the cheese, are open to it, so it may be worth a redo just so as adults they can say they grew up with the stuff and are crazy about it.


This is not a hard cheese to make, though it felt hard because it was my first time and I was super-vigilant throughout the whole process (which is lengthy but doesn’t involve much active work time). The main trick is getting the milk to sour. I read that raw milk will sour in about 48 hours if left to sit on the counter. After 24 hours, my milk was smelling strong but not thick so I added a cup of buttermilk. Another 24 hours and it was ready to go. Next time (and what I say to do in the recipe), I’ll heat the milk to room temperature and add the buttermilk at the very beginning—hopefully that will cut back on the funk.


This cheese has an incredible texture, creamy-smooth like peanut butter, and a luxurious richness to rival cream cheese. It’s amazing stuff, really. Most people eat it spread on bread like butter, but I think it could be mixed with all sorts of things (fresh herbs, chopped ham, boiled eggs, capers, radishes, etc) to make exciting dips and spreads.


Have you ever had cup cheese? What did you think about it?


Cup Cheese (a.k.a Soda Cheese)
Adapted from a recipe my friend Kathy sent me, as well from the recipes I found in Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll and Mennonite Country-Style Recipes by Esther H. Shank

1 gallon raw milk
1 cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup cream
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt

Pour the milk into a large kettle and heat over medium heat until slightly warm. Remove from the heat and stir in the buttermilk. Lid the pan and set aside until the milk is thick enough to cut with a knife—about 36-48 hours. Skim off the thick sour cream and reserve for some other baking project.

Cut the curds into ½ -inch cubes with a knife. Heat the milk to 115 to 130 degrees, stirring gently. Remove from the heat (or, if you want your curds to be firmer, keep the milk at that temperature for up to an hour) and separate the curds and whey by pouring the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined strainer. (Reserve the whey for other baking projects.) Tie up the corners of the cheesecloth and let the curds drain for 8 hours or overnight.

Dump the curds into a bowl and mix in the baking soda and melted butter. Let sit at room temperature for 4-5 hours.

Put the curds into the top part of a double boiler (I set a smaller kettle inside a larger one), making sure the top part is not touching the boiling water. Melt the curds, stirring occasionally. Once the curds are melted (they’ll be creamy-smooth and stringy, like melted marshmallows), add the beaten egg, cream, and salt. Bring the cheese to a boil (mine never got there—I just cooked it for awhile) and pour into dishes. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with crackers, bread, etc.

This same time, years previous: now, he wore a dresschickpeas with spinach, the case of the flying book, spinach-cheese crepes, and skillet-blackened asparagus

43 comments:

  1. I've lived in Lancaster County all my life and I encountered cup cheese the first time only a few years ago. It was at an 'Amish meal' at my in-law's church (prepared & served by the youth...not Amish...to fund a missions trip).

    People seem to either love it or hate it. I think it's quite yummy. I may have to try your recipe, although I'm a tad intimidated by it.

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    1. Hi there! Clayton Shenk, founder of Shenks cup cheese, Lancaster PA was my great grandfather. I used to work on the farm with him, at the cheese plant. I also worked at our stand in market, selling cup cheese. I enjoyed mild cup cheese which is a bit more "rubbery" and...I have to agree, especially the sharp, has a kind of "snot" consistency. It is something that has an aquired taste. I know when I worked at Meadowbrook market, in Leola, people from out of town would spit out the sample sometimes.
      I would be happy to share info with you.

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    2. Hi, Carole,

      My name is Sara and I live in Seattle but I grew up in Lancaster Co. And my mother was born and grew up there in Quarryville. She's 89 and lives with my husband and me in Seattle. She's one of the older generation who grew up on cup cheese (she calls it pot cheese) and she still loves it. We used to have it shipped out for her but can no longer get it, I think because your family's original business is suspended. Could you tell us exactly what the situation is with the business and if we can currently get the cheese shipped. I've called the number on the website but never had the call returned. Could you tell us what the story is?

      Thanks so much,


      Sara

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    3. I'm one of these people who grew up with Cup Cheese although I live in Maryland but VERY near the Pennsylvania border (about 3.5 miles from the Mason-Dixon line and about 7 miles from Waynesboro, PA). My great-grandfather was Mennonite from whom the family line came out of the Pennsylvania and the general Lancaster area many years ago and I imagine that's how the Cup Cheese was known in our family. Although, as far as I know it was in most of the regular supermarkets in the Hagerstown area years ago and I guess its only been 15 to 20 years since the Martin's in town stopped carrying it. My great aunt managed the only market in Smithsburg at that time (where I actually live) until the 80s and she made SURE they had it. She would buy it for their house by the case. While I still lived at home we became hooked on it again when my dad developed high cholesterol problems. That's one of the things that's nice about this cheese, its made with skim milk and extremely low in fat. I admit, it probably is an acquired taste. As a kid I could only go the mild but grew to love the Sharp as well. My dad, who loves sharp cheese flavor whether its Cup Cheese or Cheddar or Longhorn loves it. In fact, several containers of it was part of his Father's Day gift this year. Now they're selling it at a Pennsylvania Dutch Market which opened in Hagerstown about 10 years ago and Carol, your great-grandfather would probably pass out today if he were here and knew what it was selling for today the same as MY great-grandfather (whom I miss dearly) would fall over in shock to hear what I'M paying for it. I was diagnosed about 10 years ago with Celiac disease and even though I have to search out gluten free crackers to eat with it I buy it for myself as I do without so MANY other things I love. I'm SHOCKED to discover this recipe to make it as its something I never DREAMED could be made at home but considering its origins I should have known better. However, I don't know if I'm brave enough to give it a try. I'm a pretty darn good cook and an outstanding baker but cheese making is a bit out of my realm of experience. If anyone out there lives in the Hagerstown, MD area and has tried making this, please reply and maybe we could touch base. It's a shame items like this Cup Cheese are so difficult to find. Good foods like this went out of fashion about 20-25 years ago when the popularity of so many pre-fabricated, empty calorie, junk-filled, cartoon related snack foods flooded the grocery market so badly. Now that the world seems to be turning around with the "eat local" movement concentrating more on freshly grown fruits, vegetables and other locally produced items from farmers perhaps its time for the Shenk group to begin to make an effort to see their product return to store shelves. It won't happen overnight, but people can't request it and they can't eat it if they don't know it exist and they don't get a chance to try it.

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  2. My parents were from Finland, and an old country delicacy they craved, especially in the spring and summer was the Finnish version of yogurt, called filbunke (pronounced feel bunk). When my husband and I operated a dairy farm my parents would come and get a gallon of raw milk to make their treat. Every once in a while someone coming from the old country would smuggle in a small container of starter and the process would begin again. My mother would mix the starter with the raw milk and leave the bowls on the kitchen counter to start the process, then refrigerate them. Raw whole milk made a nice layer of cream on the top, and the fermentation process, if it involved a good starter, produced a fil that would reach in long strands from the spoon back to the bowl (lang mjolk or long milk). Needless to say, my sister and I hated the stuff, even with the added inducement of cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top. And you couldn't be too greedy--you always had to save some starter to begin the next batch. For my parents, I think that filbunk in the spring and summer was a reminder of the home they had left just as lutefisk reminded them of home at Christmas time.

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    1. This is beautiful---both the story and how it's written.

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  3. I LOVE cup cheese - the stronger the better! My husband is weirdly fascinated by it (the brand I see most often looks like snot - sorry - and I think that's a factor in his inability to eat the stuff). My dad did get it a few times when I was growing up, but I think I would have liked it regardless because I adore funky cheeses.

    I might be up to trying this recipe. If I do, I'll report back.

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    1. My cheese looked NOTHING like snot, eek!

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    2. This is the best. I used to try and get my son-in-law eat some of it he said that to him it smelled like rancid beer. but that's okay I like it anyway. Am having a hard time finding it now.

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    3. I'm sorry, Jennifer, but if it doesn't look like yellowish-white snot, it isn't cup cheese.

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  4. We lived west of Lancaster County, just over in Ohio where this was very popular with a Mennonite family I knew. Personally, I am in the group that loathes it! But then that is because the smell of soured milk does me in every, single time. I hope you can come to enjoy it!

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  5. my husband (from Lancaster) loves cup cheese; up there you can buy it (Shenk's brand) in three types: mild, medium and sharp. If you don't have a taste for this, it's hard to get it past your nose.

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    1. Maybe it's because I grew up with it, but I don't think of the odor as strong at all. Try a French muenster or, God forbid, Limburger!

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  6. Very interesting! You are one adventurous girl Jennifer Jo! :)

    I just wanted to let you know how much it meant to me that you would stop by and leave such a sweet comment on my blog the other day. Oh....and if you lived closer, I would have LOVED a meal a la JJ! :) But, the thought (in this case) meant so very much to me!

    Happy Easter!
    Love,
    Camille

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  7. My grandmother (born Old Order Mennonite near Dayton, VA) made soda cheese many times in my growing up years, and I remember it always being served with celery sticks. Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to learn to make it from her before she passed away. Several years ago, I invited some of her nieces (my father's first cousins) to show me how to make it. The batch they helped me with turned out well, but the batch I tried on my own did not, so I haven't made it since. Now I am inspired to try it again...
    Virginia

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  8. I googled the cup cheese after seeinng it in a series of Amish books by Sarah Price. This was helpful information thank you.

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  9. Cup cheese was available at all the farmer's markets in Lancaster County when I grew up there in the 40s, 50s and 60s. It had to be sold in cups because it was a runny cheese (snotty is a good description). A few places still make and sell it, but it is much less available nowadays. My grandfather loved it and ate it on bread. I never aquired the taste for it, but people who like weird cheeses might like it.

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  10. I grew up in Lititz, Lancaster County, PA. My mother would often go to the farmer's market on Saturdays and buy cup cheese. I could eat it but wasn't crazy about it like she was. It's been a long time since I had it. I'm living in Costa Rica now and may try making my own.

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  11. I've lived in Lancaster County all my life. My grandmother always had cup cheese in her fridge and she would let it come to room temp before she spread it on her bread. I love it but my family doesn't!

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  12. I too grew up in Lancaster Co PA and have always loved this funky smelling cheese! I no longer live there but reports are that it's difficult to find. Very few stores carry it.
    So thanks for the recipe! I think some in my family are up for making it!

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  13. My mom used to make it up in Montana. I loved the stuff spread on bread. She made a mild flavored one and a strong one that she'd send with my dad to work. I preferred the mild. Wonderful stuff!

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  14. Hi thanks for the recipe! My dad often bought it as a treat for himself since non of us liked it. I wanted to make the real stuff for his birthday and came across your blog. My Amish MIL makes it all the time for church but the Amish started making a easier recipe. Here's her recipe, 1 qt milk minus a 1/2 cup, 2 1/2 lbs white American cheese, 1lb of Velveeta cheese - heat milk just to boiling point, add 1/2 stick of butter and turn burner off. Add the cheese slice by slice, put on low and stir until melted. Let cool and Enjoy! I do like this version of cup cheese! :)

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  15. Green Acres Jersey Farm in Lebanon Co. PA makes a very good mild cup cheese!

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  16. I've made this cheese quite often. Its delicious, very creamy and not snotty. If you add a starter, and want a milder cheese, only let it set out overnight or around 8 - 10 hrs until the curd is thick.
    Another thing I always do is rinse the curds with cold water after I have them in the bag. That way they aren't as sour. then I hang the bag of curds to drain.

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  17. I grew up in Lancaster PA eating cup cheese. I agree that you either love it or hate it. I haven't lived in Lancaster in 26 years, but love having it each time I come for a visit. We grew up eating cup cheese and potato chip sandwiches. Later I ate cup cheese spread on a toasted bagel - heaven! I lived in western NY from 1987-1995 and would order it directly from Shenk's . Since I moved to the Kansas City area post 1995 I've been unable to get it from Shenks. Not sure why I can no longer get it - would love to order some - any ideas?

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  18. I was born in York, PA, but grew up & still live in West Palm Beach, Florida. Cup cheese was an adult-only delicacy enjoyed when we went back to York for vacations. Intrigued, I finally tried it as a teenager and decidedly loved it. I am now 61 and just returned from visiting my dear mother living in Manchester. We made our traditional trip to Central Market in York, and . . . . no cup cheese anywhere!! Very disappointing. BUT--you have given me hope with this recipe! I will attempt making my own (sharp, yes), and put it in the little Shenk's plastic cup I saved for posterity. Thanks for working out the recipe for us! :)

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  19. My mom 86 and deceased father are from Mt Joy and Lancaster. We used to go to Rutz(not sure of spelling) flea market and get cup cheese and sticky buns. It is delish on them and on pretzels. I have tried to get it from Amish in Al, Ky and Tn but t they don't know what it is.

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    1. Ask the Amish you know if they are familiar with "spread cheese" which is a direct translation of the word we called in the German Dialect. :) I grew up with it, my parents came from Ohio. But different areas may not make it. We love it (even my children and they've not had it very often). Bring on the sour milk i want some! Btw my mom used to use fresh milk and clabber with citric acid for a less sharp taste.

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    2. The market is Roots - pronounced rutz.

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  20. The cup cheese I grew up with was decidedly funky and snotty.
    Several years ago my father and uncle made some using cottage cheese. Not sure if that was a traditional way to make it or a shortcut they discovered.

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  21. My late husband, of German heritage, told me about his Mother making this when he was growing up. He couldn't remember enough about how she made it for us to try it ourselves, but he dearly loved it.

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  22. I was born in Ephrata, and grew up on a farm near Schaefferstown in Lebanon County. We often ate cup cheese then. I loved it and still do. Most of the time I spread it on soft white bread. I left the area to go to college and have lived mostly in the west since then. My older sister sends me cup cheese each year for Christmas. It is my best present. I love it. I can't wait to bite into it. This year I had some Costco torta rolls. The cup cheese was really yummy on them.

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  23. Schmierkase and cup cheese are different cheeses, by the way. Schmierkase is sort of a mild, dry cottage cheese, or a crumbly farmer cheese. Dad made a sandwich of white bread, apple butter and Schmierkase. Cup cheese is like glue (or snot.) My Dad and several generations before were from Lebanon, PA. When a Martin's grocery opened near here, I could briefly buy their cup cheese, but it quickly changed/reverted to a Tops, and no more chees :(

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    1. EXACTLY! When someone doesn't know the difference, I tend to distrust their recipe. Schmierkase you "smear" on bread, & is a "thicker" cottage cheese: excellent drizzled with molasses, & eaten on bread. Borden's used to sell it - you know, "Elsie" the Cow? Anyway, cup cheese is wonderful served as a breakfast cheese, right on your plate, eaten with eggs & bacon, sausage, liver puddin, or panhaus = scrapple (pronounced pun hoss, & means house pan.) I also especially enjoy it on a good cracker. And, "yes", I was raised Pennsylvania Dutch, born 'n raised into the Witmer/Sipe family, a York Co., PA, life-long resident. Been eating Shenk's cup cheese for 59 years, now, with no plans to stop!!!!

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    2. You have ten years on me (been eating Shenk's cup cheese for 49 years). My great grandmother was a Witmer, born and raised on a farm outside Paradise. Pleased to meet you, cousin! (Or perhaps we've already met.)

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  24. 1. pot cheese is not cup cheese. it is totally different.
    2. there is no butter or eggs in Shenk's cup cheese.
    3. it used to come in a smoked version as well.
    4. The week I spent at the Shenk family farm as a young teen (Elsie Graybill who knew my family as customets in Central Market Lancaster invited me) was the most rewarding week of my life!
    5. yes it resembles mucus when room temperature and is rubbery when cold but it is heaven on a potato chip!!!

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    1. All five of your comments jive with my experience of "cup cheese" (Shenk's--always Shenk's).

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  25. Oh....I forgot to mention in my previous post that the cheese is made from skim milk and is fat free and only 25 calories per ounce! Imagine that! My favorote treat was only 25 calories an ounce and fat free! Wish that cook be said about my othet childhood faves ..apple dumplings with hard sauce and a littlr pitcher of milk poured over it all or bread wth butter and Turkey Syrup( a type of molasses).

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  26. As I suggested in above replies to others' comments, the result of this recipe doesn't resemble the Lancaster County, Pa. "cup cheese" I grew up with. My standard is Shenk's which is still made and can be found at the Green Dragon farmers' market in Lititz.

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  27. Regarding the soured milk, two comments:

    1) It makes a certain sense, in that "cultured" butter (the butter people made and ate before pasteurization) is made from cream that is covered with something breathable and left to the bacteria naturally growing in it for 3-5 days before churning. "Raw" (unpasteurized) cream works best, of course.

    2) The techniques I've read for letting dairy "cultures" grow emphasize that the temperature should be about 65 degrees Farenheit. Too warm, and the wrong kind of bacteria take over, spoiling the milk/cream; too cool, and the bacteria don't grow, and/or you get another kind of bacteria that also spoil it.

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  28. P.S. - A friend of mine found this, more authentic-sounding, recipe for Lancaster County-style cup cheese: www.justapinch.com/recipes/sauce-spread/spread/amish-cup-cheese.html

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  29. It's a shame so many people are unable to try this cheese due to just the smell or the consistency. Even though its easier to eat as far as spreading when its room temperature, it does have less smell when its cold from the refrigerator. I bet MANY of the people who are turned off would be so surprised how much they would like it if they could just get that first cracker eaten with it on. I have had the same problem with people trying Hog Maw. When people first hear what it is, what the casing is, especially these city slickers or folks outside of the PA/MD area. Then I ask them if they like sausage, potatoes and onions. I PROMISE them that if they can just try the "insides" they'll love it. They don't have to eat the outsides. I have yet to have anyone that doesn't LOVE it. We have a local small market that makes something in their deli and calls it hog maw. It's just potatoes, onions, sausage and they add cabbage (our family never did the cabbage) but no maw. It is nothing like hog maw. You MUST have that maw, there is no other flavor like it in the world. Cup Cheese is the same thing.
    My problem is I can sit and eat an entire little plastic tub in one sitting if I let myself do it. I can't keep it in stock and at the price its running I could bankrupt myself very quickly buying as much as I want. If these folks ONLY knew what they were missing. And the nice thing, its SO low fat too!

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