Cuajada recipe, the typical shepherd’s dessert of Basque-Navarrese cuisine

Cuajada is a traditional Basque-Navarrese dairy dessert. In the Basque Country it is also known as mamia. The real cuajada is made with fresh sheep’s milk, as it contains more fat than other milks, a higher dry extract and a consistent result that makes it ideal for this dessert. In addition, there are two other key elements for a quality cuajada: the rennet and the temperature. It is very important to heat the milk to the temperature required by the rennet to obtain the desired result.

In general, the recipe is very simple and is based on the formula that shepherds used to follow. They milked the sheep and heated the milk in the kaiku (birch wood vessel) by pouring in hot stones that gave the cuajada a toasted flavour. When the milk boiled, the stones were removed and let the milk cool, at which point the animal rennet was added and then let it rest until it reached the right consistency. Over the years, the recipe was a success and it began to be prepared in towns and cities, using the typical clay jars that are still used today.


Traditional cuajada. | Shutterstock

Ingredients for the cuajada:

  • 1 L of fresh sheep’s milk
  • Rennet: 3-4 drops for each small jar or 10-20 drops for large jars
  • Sugar, honey, jam or nuts to accompany (optional)

Cuajada without sheep’s milk:

  • 1 L of fresh whole milk
  • 70 g of skimmed milk powder
  • 1 teaspoon of rennet

How to make the cuajada:

  1. Heat the milk in a saucepan over low heat and stir constantly. In this case, a lukewarm temperature should be reached; about 45ºC. Each rennet has an optimum temperature that must be reached, so pay close attention to its indications.
  2. Put 3 to 4 drops of rennet in each clay jar that you are going to use for your cuajada; add more if the containers are larger. Then, when the milk in the pot has reached the above-mentioned temperature, pour it into each jar. It is important to add it continuously and not to refill. It is also essential that the rennet is always poured in before the milk.
  3. When you have filled all the jars, do not move them and let the milk set for at least 10 minutes. When they are cold, cover them with cling film and store them in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  4. You can eat your cuajada by itself or add honey, nuts, sugar, jam, etc. The recommendation is to add them on top and never stir them, in order to appreciate each texture separately.

Cuajada without sheep’s milk:

  1. Pour the fresh whole milk into a saucepan. Add the milk powder little by little and stir until it is completely dissolved. Then heat the milk over medium-low heat until it reaches 40ºC.
  2. When the milk is at 40ºC, turn off the heat and, in the same saucepan, add the teaspoon of rennet. Stir very well and pour the mixture into each of the containers in which you are going to serve your cuajada. When they are all ready, cover them with cling film and let them set; do not move them until the milk curdles well. Then, put them in the fridge and, when serving, accompany your cuajada with whatever you like best: honey, nuts, jam…

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