Thursday, September 17, 2009

Eat Your Curds and Whey

After living in virtually dairy-free Thailand for three years, I returned Stateside to find that I was utterly intolerant. Intolerant of lactose, that is. Eating dairy left me doubled over with cramps. I soldiered on, vowing to make myself, well, less intolerant.

Six years on, I can eat most cheeses and even some ice creams sans problems. Milk? Bad idea. When I found out I was knocked up this past spring, I amped up the calcium supplement. Still, I was worried that this little bugger was sapping all the calcium I was ingesting and then some.

And so began the yogurt experiments. I'd had bad experiences eating yogurt in the past so I was reluctant to try again. But after making it through a few small, handy containers of the good stuff without any problems, I decided yogurt was safe. Perhaps I'd just had bad yogurt (i.e. that with milk solids in it) in the past or maybe my bad reactions had been coincidental... or psychological.

Since spring the old man and I have been plowing through containers and containers of yogurt like nobody's business. I was making trips to the co-op just to buy yogurt: large tubs of vanilla for my morning cereal and a variety of smaller, fruit-bottomed ones for our snack through the day. Unfortunately, this was costing not just us but the environment. The number 5 on the bottoms of the white plastic might have been "666": the mark of the unrecyclable.

Just as I was beginning to lose faith that we'd never find a way to feed our craving in an eco-friendly way, my mother-in-law brought a copy of the Star Tribune with an article about making your own yogurt. After I let the article float around from pile to pile of junk in our house and to appropriately needle my guilty conscience, I pulled it out, checked the directions and bought the two ingredients I needed for yogurt: milk and a small container of plain, sweetener, and stabilizer-free yogurt.

I opted for the unhomogenized milk in the glass bottles and "Cultural Revolution" yogurt. My first batches, I've made with whole milk because it seems to be the easiest. Well, turns out making yogurt is pretty easy in general.

I boiled a quart of the milk in a saucepan until bubbles began to form (about 180 to 190 degrees). Then I waited. And waited. I needed the milk to cool to about 115 to 200 degrees -- or, as some recipes indicate, until I was able to stick my little finger in there for ten seconds without burning it. Since I only have two pinky fingers, I prefer to use a candy thermometer.

(You might be able to see the bubbles forming in this picture if you look closely.)

Once cooled, I removed about 1/2 cup (I used one ladle full) of the warm milk to a bowl and stirred in about 1/2 cup of the yogurt (some recipes suggest only a few tablespoons are needed). I mixed well and then slowly added it back into the saucepan of warm milk, combining well.

I poured the milk/ yogurt combo into a large quart glass container (there was a little left for one smaller pint container), covered, and set it on top of my fridge wrapped in dishtowels. No need for a fancy yogurt incubator! I left it there overnight and in the morning: voila! Yogurt. I poured off the whey and put the containers in the fridge. The longer it sits in there, the more tart it becomes. Now that I have my own yogurt, I can just set aside a little bit each time to use to make the next batch -- so they only thing I have to buy is the milk. I've done two batches now and both have worked out great -- perfect with granola and fresh fruit in the morning and now that my yogurt is in handy glass containers, I don't have to worry about the waste! For the husband, I mixed some up with some berries and some honey for a little container on the go. (Although fresh fruit does make homemade yogurt a little runny.)

Next up: experimenting with lower fat content milk and making strawberry-flavored kefir (a yogurt drink) for my husband.


Christie Cottage said...

I love the title "Eat your curds and whey"

Yogurt is definately an acquired taste and since they have all the flaored ones now, I buy it :-)

Rhena said...

It's true! It is an acquired taste -- and especially if it's plain.

Kate said...

looks remarkably easy. If you want a less runny yogurt you can drain it in cheese cloth to make "greek" yogurt. I LOVE kefir. You've inspired me. Perhaps when i get back from NY in a few weeks!

Angel said...

Why not buy or make yogurt from coconut milk? So Delicious makes delicious coconut milk beverages (just like milk), yogurt, and even kefir (with live/active cultures) that are really good.

Rhena said...

Kate! You read my mind! I've got cheesecloth on my "to buy" list just in case it gets runnier and less creamy as I lower the fat percentage.

Angel - I've never had it but it sounds DELICIOUS! I'm going to have to check into it. (Although unfortunately, we don't grow coconut trees in Minnesota, so it'll be hard to find it local! ha! ha!)