The Spice of Life: Tvorog

by Isha Karim (’22) | November 19, 2021

Art by Megan Wang (’25)

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m always the first to claim the charcuterie board at the potluck. Typically, my twist on this appetizer classic is vegetarian and ethnic: how can we substitute traditional ingredients for lesser known classics? I see the perfect charcuterie board like a globe, mixing and matching different international dishes to create the perfect balance of savory and sweet.

While I’m not a fan of raw cheese (I prefer mine melted and preferably undetectable in a pasta dish), I do love homemade cheese. Specifically, cheeses with a high moisture content and fresh, milky taste pair perfectly with a crisp cracker. My favorite cheese is farmer’s cheese, specifically the Russian take on it: tvorog, a simple cheese made with white vinegar and milk. The creaminess of the cheese is best provided by both whole milk and buttermilk. Once the mixture boils, add enough vinegar to curdle the milk to its distinct lemon-juice colored byproduct. After a strain through the cheesecloth, you can shape the cheese to your liking, although I prefer to leave mine in its original shape to preserve the homely quality of the cheese.

While this Russian staple is usually eaten with syrniki, a Russian-style pancake, I preferred to pair this cheese with an unusual vehicle: the Moroccan galette salées. A galette is a savory Moroccan-Jewish cracker, known for its distinct aniseed flavor. Although I love combining foods across cultures and cuisines, this pairing was a bold one for me. The Morrocan presentation of a galette is a tea-time biscuit, intended to complement the rich flavors of North African tea. Truly, this cracker is emblematic of Jewish cuisine in Morocco. It’s a recipe handed down from generation to generation and its influences lie in Middle Eastern Jewish cuisine. The hint of sesame seeds with aniseed gives this cracker a flavor I’ve never experienced before. The sweet, slightly licorice-like taste is in stark contrast with the nuttiness of the savory sesame. Keeping this in mind, I realized that the milkiness and slight acidity of tvorog would be a perfect complement to the galette.

While I’ve only purchased this cracker in stores, it was surprisingly easy to make at home. The cracker uses a shortbread style dough, as opposed to a flaky puff pastry dough that would give a cracker its unique lamination. Instead, a galette is cut much thicker to accommodate for its characteristic crumbliness. Coupled with the feuilletage technique of pastry-rolling, I rolled out the dough in a flat, circular motion like I would a rghaif, a round Moroccan pancake. In traditional Moroccan Jewish culture, the galettes would then be cooked atop a fire, but I settled for a well-oiled cast-iron skillet to achieve a crisp base.

Pairing my oven-fresh crackers with my creamy, tart cheese, I arranged my charcuterie board with some other classics: agrinion and kalamata olives, baked brie drizzled with honey and topped with walnuts, and slices of red apple and bunches of barbera grapes. The tvorog farmer’s cheese was a delicious contrast against the crisp galettes. While I never expected to pair a simple Russian cheese with a spicy Moroccan cracker, bringing together unexpected cuisines can result in unforgettable fusion foods.

If you’re ever in want of a unique assortment on your charcuterie board this holiday season, tvorog and Moroccan galettes are both distinctive showstoppers and cultural classics, bound to wow your guests and pay homage to traditional staples.

Categories: Column, Food

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