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Quark (pronounced “kvark”) is a type of fresh dairy product, common for the cuisines of German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), northern Europe (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden), the Netherlands, Hungary, Israel, of Slavic peoples (e.g. Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians), and of Ashkenazi Jews. It is made by warming soured milk until the desired degree of coagulation (denaturation, curdling) of milk proteins is met, and then strained. It can be classified as fresh acid-set cheese, though in some countries it is traditionally considered a distinct fermented milk product. Traditional quark is made without rennet; however in some modern dairies rennet is added. It is soft, white and unaged, and usually has no salt added.
Dictionaries usually translate it as curd cheese, cottage cheese or sometimes farmer cheese. In Germany, quark and cottage cheese are considered to be different types of fresh cheese, while in Eastern Europe cottage cheese is usually viewed as a type of quark (e.g. Russian for cottage cheese is зернёный творог, literally "grainy quark").
Quark can be compared to French fromage frais, Indian paneer, and to queso fresco made in the Iberian Peninsula and in some Latin American countries. It is distinct from Italian ricotta because ricotta (Italian: "recooked") is made from scalded whey. It is somewhat similar to yogurt cheeses such as the South Asian chak(k)a, the Arabic labneh, and the Central Asian suzma or kashk, but while these products are obtained by straining yogurt (milk fermented with thermophile bacteria), quark is made from soured milk fermented with mesophile bacteria.
Quark is possibly described by Tacitus in his book Germania as lac concretum ("thick milk"), eaten by Germanic peoples. However, this could also have meant soured milk or any other kind of fresh cheese or fermented milk product.
The modern name comes from the Late Middle High German Quark, also spelled quarc, twarc, zwarg, Quarck, dwarg, or quargel. The usage in German is documented since the 14th century. Cognate names are used in Scandinavia (Danish kvark, Norwegian and Swedish kvarg) and the Netherlands (Dutch kwark).
The German word itself was borrowed from a West Slavic language (cf. Lower Sorbian twarog, Upper Sorbian twaroh, Polish twaróg, Czech and Slovak tvaroh, as well as East Slavic: Belarusian тварог, and Russian творог). The original Old Slavonic *tvarogъ is supposed to be related to the Church Slavonic творъ (tvor) meaning "form". The meaning can thus be interpreted as "milk which solidified and took a form." The word formation is thus similar to that of the Italian formaggio and French fromage.
In several languages quark is also known as "white cheese" (French: fromage blanc, southern Germany: Weißkäse or weißer Käs, Hebrew: Gvina Levana גבינה לבנה, Lithuanian: baltas sūris, Polish: ser biały, Serbian: beli sir), as opposed to any rennet-set "yellow cheese". Another French name for it is fromage frais (fresh cheese), where the difference to fromage blanc is defined by French legislation: a product named fromage frais must contain live cultures when sold, whereas with fromage blanc fermentation has been halted. In Swiss French, it is usually called seré.
In Austria, the name Topfen (pot cheese) is common. In Flanders, it is called plattekaas (flat cheese). In Finnish, it is known as rahka, while in Estonian as kohupiim (foamy milk), and in Latvian as biezpiens (thick milk).
Quark is a member of the acid-set cheese group, meaning it is traditionally made without the aid of rennet. However, in most German dairies today, it is made with some addition of rennet (Lab in German). Lactic acid bacteria are added in the form of mesophilic Lactococcus starter cultures. Acidification continues until the pH reaches 4.6, which causes precipitation of the casein proteins.
In Germany, the curd is continuously stirred to prevent it from getting hard, resulting in a thick, creamy texture. According to German regulations on cheese (Käseverordnung), "fresh cheeses" (Frischkäse) such as quark or cottage cheese must contain at least 73% water in the fat-free component. German quark is usually sold in plastic tubs with most or all of the whey. This type of quark has the firmness of sour cream but is slightly drier, resulting in a somewhat crumbly texture (like ricotta), and contains in its basic form about 0.2% fat. Quark with higher fat content is made by adding cream, and is often sold flavored with herbs, spices, or fruit. It has a very smooth and creamy texture and is slightly sweet (unlike sour cream). A firmer version called Schichtkäse (layer cheese) is often used for baking.
Most of the Austrian and CEE varieties contain less whey and are therefore drier and more solid than the German and Scandinavian ones. Typical sorts usually contain 65-80% water out of the total mass. To make the curd firmer, a small amount of rennet may also be added. Some or most of the whey is removed to standardize the quark to the desired thickness. Traditionally, this is done by hanging the cheese in loosely woven cotton gauze called cheesecloth and letting the whey drip off, which gives quark its distinctive shape of a wedge with rounded edges. In industrial production, however, cheese is separated from whey in a centrifuge and later formed into blocks.
The Israeli gvina levana is a creamy variety similar to the German types of quark. The Russian quark was introduced to Israel during the Aliyah of the 1990s by immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and is now available under the name tvorog.
Various cuisines feature quark as an ingredient for appetizers, salads, main dishes, side dishes and desserts.
In Germany, quark is sold in small plastic tubs and usually comes in three different varieties, Magerquark (lean quark, virtually fat-free), "regular" quark (20% fat in dry mass) and Sahnequark (creamy quark, 40% fat in dry mass) with added cream. Similar gradations in fat content are also common in Eastern Europe. While Magerquark is often used for baking and as health food, e.g. as a breakfast spread, Sahnequark also forms the basis of a large number of quark desserts (called Quarkdessert or Quarkspeise in German). Much like yoghurts in some parts of the world, these foods mostly come with vanilla and fruit flavouring (Früchtequark, fruit quark), and are often also simply referred to as quark.
Quark is often used as an ingredient for sandwiches, salads, cheesecake (Käsekuchen or Quarkkuchen in Germany, Quarktorte in Switzerland, Topfenkuchen in Austria, kwarktaart in the Netherlands, tvarohovník in Slovakia, tvarožník in Czech Republic, sernik in Poland, and syrnik in Ukraine) and cheese pancakes (syrniki in Russia and Ukraine). In these cakes, the quark is typically mixed with eggs, milk or cream, and sugar, and baked or fried.
Quark, vegetable oil and wheat flour are the ingredients of a popular kind of dough, called Quarkölteig, used in German cuisine as an alternative to yeast-leavened dough in home baking, since it is considerably easier to handle and requires no rising period. The resulting baked goods look and taste very similar to yeast-leavened goods, although they do not last as long and are thus usually consumed immediately after baking.
In Poland, twaróg is mixed with mashed potatoes to produce a filling for pierogi. Twaróg is also used to make gnocchi-shaped dumplings called leniwe pierogi ("lazy pierogi"). Ukrainian recipes for vareniki or lazy vareniki are similar but tvorog and mashed potatoes are different fillings which are usually not mixed together.
In Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, tvorog (Russian: творог) is highly popular and is bought frequently by almost every family. As a result, tvorog is a member of the official minimal basket of foods in Russia. In Russian families, it is especially recommended for growing babies. It can be simply enjoyed with sour cream, or jam, sugar, sugar condensed milk, as a breakfast food. It is often used as a stuffing in blinchiki offered at many fast-food restaurants. It is also commonly used as the base for making Easter cakes. It is mixed with eggs, sugar, raisins and nuts and dried into a solid pyramid-shaped mass called paskha. The mass can also be fried, then known as syrniki.
In Latvia, quark is eaten savory mixed with sour cream and scallions on rye bread or with potatoes. In desserts, quark is commonly baked into biezpiena plātsmaize, a crusted sheet cake baked with or without raisins. A sweetened treat biezpiena sieriņš (small curd cheese) is made of small sweetened blocks of quark dipped in chocolate.
In Switzerland, quark is recommended by some physiotherapists as an alternative to ice for treatment of swelling associated with sprains, etc. It can be cooled in a refrigerator and then applied to swollen tissues (enclosed in a plastic bag). The advantages over ice are that it does not get so cold, reducing risk of damage to treated tissue, but stays cooler longer.
Although common in Europe, manufacturing of quark is rare in the Americas. A few dairies manufacture it, such as the Vermont Creamery in Vermont, and some specialty retailers carry it. Lifeway Foods manufactures a product under the title "farmer cheese" which is available in a variety of metropolitan locations with former Russian populations. Quark is also available at several upstate NY farms. In Canada, the firmer East European variety of quark is manufactured by Liberté Natural Foods; a softer German-style quark is manufactured in the Didsbury, Alberta plant of Calgary-based Foothills Creamery. Quark may also be available as "baking cheese", "pressed cottage cheese", or "fromage frais".
In Australia, it is sometimes available from supermarkets labelled as quark or quarg.