In Latvia, tradition dictates the celebration of the summer solstice on the nights of the 23 and 24 of June: it is a night to be spent with the family, traditional dishes are cooked and served to friends and family the following day.
For Latvians, this is possibly the most important celebration of the year. Farms are bedecked with garlands of oak and birch branches and meadow flowers. Nearly everyone in Latvia leaves the city for the open air so that the shortest night of the year can be spent with friends and relatives in the country. Bonfires are lit, and the whole night is spent singing traditional songs, drinking beer and dancing in the forests. Tradition says that this is the one night of the year that you must never sleep. Family members that choose to sleep are considered “lazy,” and legend holds that they will remain lazy all summer long.
During the day of the 24th of June, a special celebration for everyone named “John” takes place, in which a special cheese (“siers”) named John ("Janu") is prepared and consumed. This is an ancient and popular tradition, and many songs about Janu siers are part of the popular folklore.
The cheese itself is very unusual, a type of half-cooked half-curdled cheese prepared by adding crumbled pieces of fresh cheese to the warmed (but not boiled) cow’s milk.
At this point, everything is mixed and heated to 60-70°C, and the whey begins to separate.
The whey is removed, and a beaten egg, butter or cream, and salt are added. Caraway seeds (of Carum carvi, an aromatic plant very similar to cumin) are also added.
If placed under a press overnight, the Janu sier will be denser and dryer. On the other hand, less heating time will lead to a softer cheese.
It is made in the kitchen of every farmhouse and there are numerous variations on the basic recipe. Generally, it is round (the diameter varies between 20 and 40 cm) with a rounded edge and a canary yellow skin that becomes slowly more intense with age. It can be eaten very fresh, still warm, accompanied by honey and rye bread, or older and harder, after a few weeks of aging. In the aged version, you can detect a clear taste of caraway and the sweet, rich flavours of milk and egg.
Photos — Archivio Slow Food