By Starrla Cray
COKATO, MN Homemade squeaky cheese was a tasty staple at Susan Raisanen’s childhood farm in rural Cokato.
“Since this Finnish cheese, or juusto (pronounced you’-stow), was something we had around at all times, whether fresh or frozen, I did not realize the novelty of it,” Susan noted.
Many Saturday mornings, her mother, Millie, would whip up a batch using milk straight from her family’s Guernsey cattle. With 15 children in the home, the cheese never lasted long, and company who visited the Raisanen home also looked forward to this special treat.
After Susan graduated from Dassel-Cokato High School in 1984, she spent a year in Finland as an exchange student, learning the Finnish language, baking, and weaving skills.
She didn’t learn how to make squeaky cheese, though, until she was back in the US.
“I watched my mom, but I had never made it myself,” Susan said. “I called her, and she walked me through all the steps.”
The cheese takes a total of five or six hours to prepare, but Susan said it is a simple process, and most of it is waiting time.
“The first week, I made it six times to make sure I had it right,” Susan recalled.
Passing on the tradition
Pretty soon, friends started asking for the recipe, so Susan created a video with explanation.
When her mother passed away a few years later, Susan decided to share the video online.
“It just went nuts,” she said, noting that it had thousands of YouTube views within the first year.
Thinking that some people might like the recipe in written form, Susan set off to write a book about the cheese. The result, “Squeaky Cheese: The Ultimate Guide to Making Finnish Leipäjuusto” was a hit.
“The book came out in May, and I donated some to Temperance Corner,” Susan said. “Every time I came up there, they were gone. People just lap them up.”
Susan plans to bring more copies to the Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society’s fall festival at Temperance Corner Saturday, Oct. 1. She is the featured speaker at a noon program that day.
The first people to arrive will receive “starters” of a traditional Finnish treat called viili.
“It’s kind of like a yogurt,” Susan said, explaining that the starter is mixed with whole milk and left to sit overnight. In the morning, it is ready to eat. From there, a tablespoon is taken out, and is used as the next starter.
Squeaky cheese is also unique in the way it’s created.
“You start with a piece of rennet tablet,” Susan said. “The other ingredients are milk with a little bit of sugar and a little bit of salt.”
Although Susan’s family made squeaky cheese with raw milk, a good substitute is skim milk with cream.
The finished product yields a rubbery, mild-tasting cheese that is best eaten warm.
“The old tradition was to dunk it in coffee so it turns soft,” Susan said.
Although many people enjoy leipäjuusto (which literally means bread cheese), taste isn’t usually the primary reason people choose to make it.
“It’s more than just cheese it’s a connection to our past,” Susan said.
Susan is currently working on another book about her past, detailing memories of Temperance Corner, which is one-half mile from where she grew up.
“It was a big part of our lives,” Susan said, noting that the book will include memories from her many siblings.
In addition to being an author, Susan is also an educator and business professional. She has an elementary teaching degree, and served as a school principal in Minneapolis for seven years.
Susan is currently president of a company, Profit Finder Pro Software, that she started with her brothers.
Through that business, she wrote her first book, “Track It to Crack It: The Ultimate Guide to Unlocking Your Company’s Full Profit Potential.”
Susan has also co-authored two books “Step Into Your Vision” and “Zero to Hero in 90 Days or Less.”