Ryazhenka – a traditional Russian fermented milk

Ryazhenka – a sort of traditional Russian yogurt

As kefir was typically the drink for adults (at least for the diet-conscious Soviet women) – Ryazhenka, famous also as the baked milk, was exclusively for the children. Ryazhenka is the other and the traditional Russian (some say Ukrainian) fermented dairy product. Ryazhenka, when mixed with one spoon of sugar,  used to be the treat for a Soviet child. Sometimes Ryazhenka is translated to be baked milk because you need to bake the milk in the low heat oven for preparing it.

Dairy products have always been one of the significant highlights of Russian cuisine, and there is quite a good list of products that are not easily found in the U.S. but are pretty standard here. Two of them are the kefir and the Ryazhenka.

Kefir resembles a cross between the milk and the yogurt, with a slightly chunky texture, and bears a sharp bite. It is prepared by using a bacteria culture for fermenting milk, and historically, people made this at home only. However, now a day most Russians buy packaged kefir from the grocery store. Ryazhenka is similar to taste like the kefir but is milder. It is not as sharp but a bit sharper than plain yogurt, and it possesses a uniquely smooth texture. Kefir is thus pure white, while the Ryazhenka bears a brown tint. The reason behind it is because Ryazhenka is typically baked in fermented milk. It was made historically by baking fermented milk in any oven or with low heat on a stove for long hours, but then again, the Russians today purchase it from a grocery store.

Russian Fermented Baked Milk

Ryazhenka is made by pasteurizing the milk and simmering it on low heat for eight hours or even longer. Historically, it was prepared by placing one clay pot (or the glechik) with the milk in a traditional Russian oven for one whole day till it has been coated with the brown crust. Prolonged exposure to the heat causes a Maillard reaction between milk’s amino acids and glucose or sugars. This results in the evolution of the melanoidin compound that offers a creamy color with a caramel flavor. As a result, a good amount of moisture evaporates, which results in a change in the consistency. The sour cream (smetana) is subsequently added to trigger the fermentation in the household production method. In modern industrial production, the pure thermophile bacterial culture has been added instead. The mixture is then placed in a warm place. The fermentation takes place at temperatures above 40°C / 100°F and takes about three to six hours.

The fat content of the industrially made Ryazhenka is typically 3.5−4%; however, in general,  it’s permitted to vary from <0.5% (if prepared from what we know as the skimmed milk) up to say 8.9%. The protein content is a minimum of 3%. The carbohydrate content, generally about 4−5%. Like the scalded milk, Ryazhenka is also free of harmful bacteria and enzymes and may be safely stored at room temperature for at the most- forty hours.

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