“Quark is a quirky name,” admits Misha Dairy founder Kamilya Abilova. Falling somewhere between the texture and consistency of a thick strained yogurt and the savory, spoonable quality of a cottage cheese, quark has long been a staple in traditional diets throughout Central Asia and Europe. But when Abilova moved to from her native Kazakhstan to the US to attend Columbia University, she was disappointed to find her grocery store’s dairy aisles decidedly quark-free.
Countries like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Norway, Russia, and Kazakhstan all make their own unique versions of quark that steer away from tart or sour yogurt flavors and focused on the inherent benefits of cultured dairy. “I come from a big family in a house full of uncles, aunts, and cousins all the time,” said Abilova. “We had two fridges to accommodate everyone, and one of the fridges was full of cultured dairy like kefir and quark. When you grow up eating it quark, you appreciate just how satiating it is.”
Co-founder Daniyar Chukin is from Kyrgyzstan, where he also grew up familiar with the unique flavor of quark. The pair spent seven months experimenting with fresh ingredients, cheese cultures, and creamery processes before Misha Dairy’s first product made it to shelves. But even after launching with their initial quark recipe, Abilova and Chukin learned quickly that there was more work for them to do. From packaging changes to removing corn starch from the original ingredients list, Misha has seen overseen multiple transformations since they first started selling quark in July 2015.
What comes together in the end is a collection of international influences and ingredients that form a savory, satiating, and super adaptable dairy snack. Abilova and Chukin’s central Asian roots combine with cheese cultures flown in from France and milk collected exclusively from the Queensborough Dairy Cooperative in Upstate New York. The dairy is cultured, strained, and then heated to result in a smooth, buttery product that offers up to 17 grams of protein per serving. Eat it as is, salt it, mix it with honey or housemade jam or preserves, spread it on bread. Whatever you do with it, Misha Dairy just wants you to try it.
“We are taking on the responsibility of introducing this new category that is quark to the US market,” Abilova explained. “When we first started out, we didn’t understand this responsibility to the fullest and we underestimated how much education would have to be involved in at least getting people to try us and give us a chance.” After another year or so of tweaking the recipe following their initial launch, the five quark flavors that Misha Dairy produces today are as pure as can be and are dedicated to replicating the authentic style that Misha’s founders grew up eating.