Ask an English speaker about quark and they’re likely to tell you it’s a physics term that refers to some kind of subatomic particle. Murray Gell-Mann, who won a Nobel prize for his theory about quarks, chose the name because it was a nonsense word. He found it in James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake, where “Three quarks for Muster Mark” sounds rather poetic, even if it’s somewhat unintelligible.
A German speaker tends to have a truer love of quark, because in German quark refers to a curd cheese. It’s used to make cheesecakes and dips, which are much easier to appreciate than subatomic particles (for me at least). Eating quark cake was one of James’ favourite experiences in Germany, so when he came back my challenge was to make one. In Sydney quark is difficult to find, and only turns up at a few speciality delis. The other way to get quark is to make it yourself.
Searching the internet for quark recipes gives a few results, but they’re almost entirely in German and the methods vary. Luckily my German friend came to the rescue and found a reliable quark recipe. It had a nice scientific explanation of quark making, which included tips like avoiding UHT milk, and how to turn the whey into a refreshing drink.
A few attempts later my friend was satisfied with her quark. Her experiments showed that sour cream was not a good starter culture, but that a buttermilk starter produces the right level of sourness in the quark. A few days later she arrived at work with a container of curds and whey for me to try!
The recipe for quark is simple, with only two ingredients, milk and buttermilk. The buttermilk is the starter, so make sure you have the real cultured variety. The bacterial culture in the buttermilk makes the acids that produce your curd. UHT milk can’t be used because the high temperature treatment (135 ∘C rather than 72 ∘C for pasteurisation) can alter the proteins and sugars which the bacteria feed on. Once the culture is started the curds and whey take around 24 hours to separate. Then the curd can be strained out to make quark.
The quark can be used to make quark cheesecake, to fill strudels or tortes, and in dips. And the leftover whey? Well my instructions recommended making it into a refreshing drink by adding lemon juice and sugar. The whey drink isn’t great, but the quark is really something special. Muster Mark was pretty lucky to get three quarks, especially if they were quark cakes not subatomic particles.
Homemade Quark (Curd Cheese)
1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
3 1/2 cups full cream milk
1. If your milk is not pasteurised you should bring it to the boil, then allow it to cool to room temperature (covered with a lid).
2. Stir the buttermilk into the milk in a container you can cover, or make the mixture in the insert of your yoghurt incubator.
3. Put the container in your incubator, or wrap it in a towel and keep it in a warm place. One option is to preheat the oven to 50 ∘C and turn it off before placing the container inside.
4. Allow the culture to proceed for ~24 hours, or until the curds and whey separate. At first the milk will look grainy, and eventually the curds will float on the whey. The grainy stage is probably sufficient, but might give a lower yield.
5. Dampen a clean tea towel and use it to line a sieve. Place the sieve over a basin. Pour the curds and whey into the strainer. Bring the tea towel together so that it covers your quark and do it up with a rubber band. Place the entire draining apparatus in the fridge.
6. Allow to drain in the fridge overnight, or for 24 hours. The drained quark should have a consistency similar to sour cream, but it has a more sour taste.