Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Product review: Rhyazhenka

If you've kept up with Yulinka Cooks, you know that I love Russian dairy of all sorts. Yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, sour cream and, of course, homemade Russian cottage cheese, also known as tvorog or farmer's cheese.

I've recently discovered another worthy Slavic milk product--ryazhenka. I had vaguely known about ryazhenka, sometimes referred to as baked milk. Every once in a while I would get a plaintive e-mail from a reader asking if I had ever tried it. Well, now I have, and I recommend it with slight reservations.

First: what the hell is "baked milk"? I did a little research--thanks, Google--and unearthed that:

The base is baked milk and cream, matured for several hours at the temperature 95°C. The milk acquires a beautiful cream-beige color, after which the ferment of thermopile races of milk streptococcus are added. But don’t be intimidated by the “scary” scientific names! These are “friendly” to your body and the microbes that are located in your intestine.
Well. If you've got an iffy relationship with fermented milk products, rhyazhenka won't change your mind. It's blandly beige (ahem, a "beautiful cream-beige color") and has a thick, smoothie-like consistency. It tastes like plain yogurt, but tarter. You can drink it as you would a smoothie, or you can follow my example and spoon it over yogurt or farmer's cheese. I like it with a little sugar, jam, or honey.

As for microbes, intestines, etc., Russians credit rhyazhenka and its cousin, kefir, with aiding digestion. Lore has it that a glass of rhyazhenka is a good late-night snack. Rhyazhenka is often available in Russian and Polish groceries.

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