Holy Wah! I nailed it! I’m squeaking as much as the cheese I made. I made my very first batch of Juustoa ever and it turned out simply amazing.
Juustoa probably tops the list of most Finnish-American’s favorite food their grandma made.
Juustoa is Finnish squeaky cheese, very mild in flavor, traditionally cooked over an open fire. It can also be broiled, or some recipes say grilled. All give it the distinctive brown charred marks. It’s also referred to as leipäjuusto, or bread cheese. It can be eaten warm or cold. I prefer warm with a little bit of salt. Many Finns put a chunk or two in their coffee. I tried it, it’s good and warms the cheese up nicely. Some also serve it with berries or a berry jelly on top.
My cheese turning out delicious on the first try is 100% due to being taught by the local master of Finnish squeaky cheese, Sheila Perttula. When I mentioned doing a blog about this Finnish delight, everyone I know told me to talk to Sheila. Hers is hands down THE best. Sheila learned how to make juustoa from her Mother and has perfected her technique over the years.
I asked Sheila to teach me how she does it and thankfully she agreed. She has given the recipe to others but admits it’s hard to write out directions for much of the process. So I filmed her for my own future reference and blog bits. I was thrilled by the awesome time-lapse videos we filmed of the cheese broiling.
This was back in December. Now that I finally had some time to make it myself, I was grateful to be able to go back to the videos of her making it and watched the process step by step, taking away tidbits of knowledge and tips that made my first juustoa successful. My point being, when your mom or grandma or friend or someone shows you how to make a traditional food, pull out your smartphone and capture the process! Ask first, some people are camera shy.
Start with 3 gallons of milk. Preferably raw. Traditionally it was made with the rich milk from a cow who had just calved. If you don’t live on a farm you can go to your local grocery store and buy 3 gallons of non-homogenized whole milk (also known as cream-top milk). Read the label. Homogenized milk will not separate as well, and the curds will be weaker. In researching cheese making, you can use homogenized milk, but you will need to handle the curds more gently.
Sheila warmed her milk to 110 degrees on the stove in a large stainless-steel bowl. Her stove is electric. Mine is gas and I was afraid I was going to burn the milk. Chatting with an elderly Finnish-American lady a couple months ago, I learned she uses a turkey roaster to warm the milk. Since I have one of those (best Christmas gift ever Mom and Dad) that’s what I used. I did not think to ask what temperature she set it at though. I started at 150 and eventually had the dial up to 300 as it was taking longer than I thought it should. I don’t know how long I warmed the milk. Moving the thermometer around in it, the milk was anywhere from 88 degrees to 120. So I decided that was good enough. Sheila knows by how warm her stainless-steel bowl is, when the milk is about 110 degrees. Old recipes will tell you until “lukewarm”. 110 degrees seems to be the magic number that the milk sets up best.
While the milk is warming, mix your dry ingredients. Corn starch is where the cheese gets it squeak. Use 2 heaping real flatware tablespoons for a good squeak!
When your milk is a nice lukewarm 110 degrees, add the eggs and rennet to the dry ingredients and mix well. Sheila used a fork, so I used a fork. I’m sure another utensil would do too.
I ordered my rennet on Amazon. You can also find it at food co-ops, health food stores, or where you would buy other cheesemaking supplies. Rennet makes the milk gel and separate into curds and whey. Don’t drink the rennet, it’s poisonous and is made from enzymes from a newly born calf’s stomach (there are vegetarian options available). If you order online make sure you refrigerate right away. This recipe calls for ½ teaspoon of rennet. Sheila told me if you put too much rennet, the milk will start gelling before your dry/wet mixture is completely dissolved into the milk, which will result in a drier cheese.
Add this mixture to your warm milk and stir until dissolved. It’s like stirring the sugar into kool-aid. You know what we mean.
Let set 10 minutes to gel. Wiggle the bowl and when it looks like it’s a custard like consistency it’s ready to cut. If not, wait a bit longer. Use a knife and cut the gelled milk into small squares, cutting first in one direction and then the other.
Let set 60 minutes. Take a nap, read the latest Finnish-American Reporter or you can sit and watch the curds form and separate right before your eyes. Now you have curds and whey! I never knew what curds and whey were before.
Next you must drain off the whey, without overworking the cheese. You will never get it all out. If I hadn’t watched someone do this, I would have had no idea how to best do it. Sheila removed most of the whey with a cool whip container, but she also had hers in a deep stainless bowl. Since I used the turkey roaster, my curds and weigh weren’t deep enough, so I needed to find a shallow bowl of sorts to use. I found a Tupperware container and when that was no longer working for me I switched over to a small glass dish, then I smartened up and tipped the roaster pan to the side. You do need to also break the curds into smaller pieces to work out more whey and so the curds start sticking together. A large whisk works well to cut the curds into smaller pieces. Pro tip – only whisk it once to avoid dry cheese. It took me awhile, but I got most of the whey out and then used a stainless-steel colander to strain and press out the rest. At this point I was super worried I overworked the curds and I would end up with a dry cheese.
Pour the curds onto a 16-inch pizza pan and flatten them down into an even layer on the pan.
Time to broil. Some people bake theirs in a 16x9 pan. That is an option as well.
Sheila’s broiling set-up is genius. She broiled her juustoa with the oven door open, on the middle rack. She placed a small pan in the back of the oven so the juustoa pan would be tilted at an angle. A large stainless-steel bowl placed on the open oven door caught the dripping whey. I had this setup all ready to go. Until I found out my gas oven broiler will not light with the oven door open and if I turned it on and then opened the oven door, it shut off after 15-20 seconds. I was going to have to broil with the door closed! No!! This was going to be a mess. I took my wedge (aka small baking pan) out and placed large baking sheets on the bottom rack to catch any whey that poured over the edges as the cheese cooked. Every few minutes I pulled the cheese rack out and drained any whey off into a stainless bowl I set on the open oven door. So kind of like what Sheila did, but modified. It worked. No mess! *Okay the second time I made it there was a little mess.
Sheila says it takes about 10 minutes per side on high with her method, turning the cheese at it browns. My modification probably took about 15-20 on the first side. When you see some nice brown spots on the cheese, it’s ready to flip. I flipped the cheese onto a second 16” pizza pan and back into the oven for another 10-12 minutes. Right before I pulled the finished juustoa out of the oven the smell was phenomenal.
I flipped the cheese onto a bed of paper towel. Sheila swears by Bounty and Viva paper towels. Bounty on the bottom to absorb the weeping cheese, and the Viva on top because it’s cloth-like and doesn’t stick to the cheese. Let the cheese cool before packaging. You can freeze it, but most likely you will devour half and your friends will ask for the other half.
Justin got home moments before I pulled the cheese out of the oven and our mouths were watering. We let it cool for a few minutes before cutting into it. It was delicious and squeaky and not dry at all! We were laughing while eating it. When food brings joy, you know you made something good. And about me making Finnish Squeaky Cheese, Justin said he could get juus-to-it!
Watch this video for visual instructions!!
3 Gallons Raw Milk – OR Store-bought whole milk that is non-homogenized
2/3 Cup Sugar
3 Tbsp Salt (I used sea salt)
2 heaping tablespoons Corn Starch (flatware tablespoon, not measuring one)
½ tsp Liquid Rennet (or 1 tablet, may take longer to set up)
Makes about 3 pounds of cheese
Time involved: 3 Hours (Me, the world’s slowest cook – 3 ½ + Hours)
Large stainless bowl that holds over 3 gallons, OR a turkey roaster, OR a very large pot
Stainless steel colander with small holes
2-16-inch pizza pans
Baking sheets or tinfoil to line bottom rack of oven
Shallow bowl (for removing whey)
Measuring cups, spoons, fork, knife, whisk– the usual suspects
Paper Towel – Bounty and Viva
Kristin Ojaniemi is a Finnish-American filmmaker, video creator and proud Yooper full of sisu.