Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Challenge: Culture Your Own Dairy

This month's challenge is to culture some of your own dairy products.

Here are some examples of what I have in mind:
Creme Fraiche
Cream cheese

One of the things I love most about doing traditional food preparations myself is that it allows my little inner scientist some laboratory space. One of my girl friends mentioned how much she enjoyed stopping by my house because the kitchen was always filled with so many random "science projects". This is micro-biology at it's best.

For example, a recent picture of the top of my refrigerator (a warm spot in my house) holds lacto-fermenting beet kvass, Kombucha brewing in a large jar under the paper bag, a sourdough mother, oats soaking for the next morning, and I believe a buttermilk flour mixture soaking for another bread recipe.

But this month is about dairy. While there is a lot of good quality dairy available (at least here on the west coast), it is often quite pricey considering how inexpensive and easy it is to do at home.

Challenge Level One:
Just do some small "science project" and report back. Here are some recommendations on the easy scale:

Cream Cheese and Whey:
Line a strainer with a tea towel or a couple layers of cheese cloth and place over a bowl. Then dump in a quart a good quality yogurt and let the whey slowly drip out into the bowl for a few hours. Then get a wooden spoon and tie up the ends of the cloth around the spoon and let it hang and drip further. When the dripping stops (perhaps another hour or two), you are done. There is deliciously sour cream cheese in the cloth, and a supply of whey in the bowl. You can use the whey to soak your oats (since you're all soaking grains for breakfast now right =)) or for something more adventurous like lacto-fermenting some fruits or vegetables or making beet kvass.

Homemade Creme Fraiche
1 quart good quality cream (raw is best, but pasteurized will do - never buy ultra-pasteurized)
1 tbsp commercial buttermilk, or homemade whole milk buttermilk, or commercial creme fraiche, or creme fraiche from a previous batch (see how many options you have!)
Place cream in a clean glass container and add the buttermilk or creme fraiche. Stir well, cover tightly and place in a warm spot for 20-24 hours, then chill.
This is so simple and SO much cheaper than purchasing creme fraiche at the store.

Creme fraiche is a delicious topping for soups, "Mexican" food, and anything else you might ordinarily use sour cream to top. It is also a lovely base for quiche and several cakes (again, where the recipe might call for sour cream).

Challenge Level Two:
Make your own yogurt, and perhaps forgo buying yogurt from the store ever again (this is my own plan starting this month).

There are varying degrees of challenge to yogurt making, mainly depending on whether you are trying to make raw yogurt or not. I have failed and succeeded several times, and hope to thus be able to give good pointers.

The concept is rather simple, especially for non-raw yogurt.
Heat 1qt milk to 180 degrees, let cool to 110, then stir in 1/2 cup good quality yogurt (from store, or from previous batch), place in a glass, enamel, or stainless steel container and let sit in a warm oven overnight (warm = 150 degrees, or an oven left with the pilot light on). In the morning it should have "set up" and be thick, you can transfer to cold storage. For thicker yogurt you can soak up the extra whey, or tie it briefly in cheese cloth at the end to remove the whey.

I have had a harder time with raw milk yogurt. That is because you only heat it to 110 degrees (enzymes begin to die at a wet heat of 117 degrees - "coincidentally" the same degree point at which the nerves on the end of your finger will tell you a liquid is hot to the touch). Then you do a little yogurt starter dance by removing 2tbs of the warm milk and adding 1 tbs of of the yogurt. You stir well and place this in a wide mouth mason jar. Then you add 2 tbs + 2 tsp yogurt to the jar and stir well. Then you place this in a consistently warm place (95 degrees, like a dehydrator) for 8 hours and transfer.

The difficulty with raw milk yogurt is that the milk cultures war with the yogurt cultures, and sometimes the milk wins. Thus you have some kind of cultured milk, but nothing resembling the thick, creamy yogurt to which we are accustomed. Also, sometimes I have attempted to create too warm an "dehydrator" (by filling mason jars with boiling water and placing in a cooler with the jar of cultured milk) resulting in a weird separation of curds and whey (but not the desired "curds and whey" of nursery rhymes). This was because I have also had too cold a "dehydrator" resulting in it not setting up at all after 8 hours. Alas, raw yogurt has eluded me. I actually have had some success with a compromise of heating the raw milk to 130-135 and then letting it cool to 110 and then adding a dried yogurt culture and letting it sit 8-12 hours in an oven with the light kept on, but I have not kept this up to see if the culture remains intact batch after batch with this method.

To my glee, for "Culture Your Own Dairy" month, my new affiliate, Cultures For Health, has send me two dry yogurt cultures along with wonderfully comprehensive instructions for making it raw. Armed with these new cultures I can start fresh as well as provide you with a review of their product. I will be providing a photo how-to, as well as a review complete with a tasting panel that includes more judges than live in my house.

In case you are wondering what an affiliate means for this little blog, it means that if you were to decide to order something through Cultures For Health, and you did so by clicking on the little button on my side bar, I will actually get a percentage of the sale. Fun for me, but also, it is a company making cultures with traditional methods and without added "stabilizers" so I am happy to promote them.

I hope you'll have fun with this month's challenge. I also have planned an interview with cheese maker extraordinaire Scott Catino, who will hopefully give us novice home-dairy-culturers some tips on making our own cheeses at home. I think cheese making would count as taking the challenge to a third level.

Further! Stay tuned as my affiliate, Cultures For Health, is also generously providing Prepare To Eat with a free culture for one lucky reader. I will have info on the contest/giveaway later this month.


  1. oooh. this is very exciting.
    i've done non-raw yogurt, mozzarella, and creme fraiche, but none of the rest.
    i hope you get to the real buttermilk - i'm quiet curious about that (hhmm. and kefir...)

    um. i'd totally be down with being a cheesemaking partner if you, you know, needed extra hands or something.

  2. Teal! Ooo, good you have some experience already! I will make sure to touch on whole milk buttermilk and kefir this month just for you =) As for cheesemaking, I really think I will need a partner ;) I'll let you know.

  3. This is wonderful and timely! I've been making my own buttermilk to use in bread because I don't want to buy a whole carton just for the 1/4 C I need. I do have a question though about the cost effectiveness of, say, making your cream cheese and whey as you do here. If you've bought all the yogurt already, and you're just turning it into the same amount of cream cheese it seems like you're not saving much money...what is the advantage? Some things seem obviously cheaper to make yourself (buttermilk, and creme fraiche can get expensive) but something like that I'm just not sure it would save much money for the extra time it takes.

  4. Sarah -

    Good questions. To be honest, I don't ever buy cream cheese, and only separate it and use it because I actually need the whey for culturing other things (lacto-fermenting veggies and such things).

    You can also get cream cheese and whey from raw milk that you let separate for a couple days and then do the same strainer process, but that seems like more time and we hardly have enough milk supply here just to drink. If you have a good, inexpensive source of raw milk, that could offer great purity and savings as well.

    For me, if I make my own yogurt, I use my raw milk ($6 a gallon), so I could make yogurt for essentially $6 a gallon, which is far cheaper than the store, and guarantees a higher quality which would translate to the cream cheese as well (which I think runs closer to $2-$3 for 8 ounces if we're talking organic).

    I will be posting on the yogurt within the next week as well, and with the new method and cultures I have, you can stir it and leave it on the counter, hence removing much of the extra time and inconvenience of other yogurt processes. Perhaps I'll have to do a price comparison as well.

    Hope that helps!

  5. I use Piima yogurt culture and it comes out nice and thick w/o any fuss - provided I don't let it culture too long. It's made from 100% raw milk. I find by the time I've loaded my soaked granola & fruits on top of the yogurt it doesn't matter if it's a little runny anyway. The best part about the Piima is the taste - very sweet and creamy. I think it's my favorite strain of yogurt yet!

    If you need a cheese partner let me know, I've been making mozzarella but just about to make tomme and cheddar. Wish me luck!

  6. Sustainable Eats,

    Thanks for commenting and for the Piima review. This week I am working on a Viili and a Matsoni, but now I might have to try the Piima! I just discovered your blogsite, and will look forward to hearing more about your cheese adventures. I would love to figure out a good homemade cheddar.

    If you do something this month, comment back here so that I can link to you as part of "culture your dairy" month.


Questions and Comments welcome! If you would prefer to contact me privately, please email mariannescrivner (at) gmail (dot) com.


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