March 01, 2017

Food of the Gods

Tvorog is a brilliant foodstuff. In fact, very little can touch it in terms of nutritional value, tastiness, and simplicity of preparation. What tvorog is, is the dense mass of protein that is left behind when the watery whey is removed from sour, curdled milk. In essence, tvorog is the best part of milk.

As with bread and beer, tvorog has no native land, nor precise date of birth. Yet it is most popular and best-known in Eastern and Central Europe. And in each country where people love and consume tvorog, there are certain ways it can be made, and there are several dozen beloved dishes in which it plays a part. But in Russian cuisine tvorog occupies a very special place.

Curiously, in English speaking and several West European nations, tvorog is often considered to be a variety of cream cheese. There is sometimes not even a word for tvorog in these countries (German, however, does have its own word: quark, and you can often find it in American stores as “farmer’s cheese”). This is how things were in old Russian, which was spoken by Eastern Slavs from the sixth to fourteenth centuries. “Sour cheese,” is what they called (an apparently crumbly) tvorog, while “spongy cheese” is what they called regular cheese (apparently formed or pressed). In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they were still using just the one word – сыр – for both types of cheese, and this was reflected in the Domostroy, the Russian guide to household management written at that time. Two centuries later, both words we are now familiar with – cheese and tvorog (сыр, творог) were in use.

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