While much of my recipe sharing revolves around my family's Southern traditions and my Italian learnings, a major part of my upbringing involved Slovak foodways and religious traditions. My father's family hails from a small coal mining town in Northeastern Pennsylvania, by way of Eastern Slovakia, and their traditions were very focused on Rusyn/Byzantine Catholic religious culture. Easter is a very, very big deal, nearly eclipsing Christmas as we know it in terms of preparation and celebration. Aside from church, food is the centerpiece of the Easter celebration.
Hrutka, a type of cheese made from milk and eggs, is always featured on the Easter feasting table. Hrutka can be made savory or sweet, but should generally be bland, as that is symbolic of Lenten atonement. It's always included in the basket of Easter foods to be blessed at church on Holy Saturday and not eaten until Easter Sunday, with other traditional blessed foods like ham, butter, eggs, kielbasa, vinegar, beet horseradish, and paska (special homemade bread). Like the hrutka, each of these foods represents an element of Lent and Easter, symbols of leading a pious and industrious Christian life, through the year's ups and downs.
My mother, although raised Protestant in rural NC, learned how to make hrutka and other Slovak foods from my Baba (grandmother). Mom would hang it in cheesecloth in the shower, and serve it on the plate with ham slices, beet horseradish and bread & butter. She passed the tradition on to us and I am happy to share it with you here.
Note on ingredients: I work at a Jersey dairy, so I have access to great, high-butterfat raw milk. If you can use raw, whole milk, please do. The eggs were from my friend's hens, and the fresher, the better. Make sure they are at room temperature when you make this. The recipe can be halved to serve just a few people instead of a big family!
1 dozen eggs
1 quart whole milk
1/4 tsp-3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp good quality vanilla
3 tbsp sugar or honey
Set up a double boiler and get it started at 150 F. In a separate bowl, combine the other ingredients and whisk until smooth.. If you want to add a half a cup of cream, too, it gives it an extra-custardy finish.
Pour the mixture into the double boiler and VERY SLOWLY bring the heat up. If you have a thermometer, great! You want to bring this to a slow simmer...give yourself 15-20 minutes. Stir gently with whisk to keep the liquid moving. At about 180 F, you're going to see it look like cottage cheese or scrambled eggs in the liquid. That's what you want! Keep stirring until it resembles a very creamy ricotta. Take off the heat and let it rest for a minute (coagulation occurring).
Pour this heated mixture into a cheesecloth, wrap and tie tightly into a ball, and let it hang for a day. If using raw milk, tie the cheesecloth ball on to middle of a wooden spoon and hang over a pot in the fridge. I used a ricotta mold, a sieve and a bowl. Discard the strained liquid (or find some other interesting thing to do with it!).
The next day, slice and serve! If you want to serve hrutka as a unique farmers cheese dessert, top your slice with a drizzle of local honey.