Fantastic homemade cheese and yogurt

I’ve been wanting to start making homemade cheese for a while now but reading up on the process is sort of intimidating because of big words and concepts, like heat-acid coagulation vs. rennet and all the alien-sounding cultures, like Lactobacillus delbrueckii and Streptococcus thermophilus and lactobacillus acidophilus.

But all that is just a distraction from the amazing variety of tasty and healthful dairy products that can easily be made at home.

It took a trip to Washington State to visit with a friend who is an expert at this cheesemaking and yogurt thing.  She shared and explained and kicked us over the tipping point into trying it for ourselves.

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Homemade Yogurt

When I was a teenager in the early 1980’s, nobody around here knew what yogurt was but marketers were trying to introduce it.  We were pretty skeptical about eating fermented milk. It seemed like some crazy foreign thing – too European for south Mississippi boys.

Nowadays everybody knows what yogurt is, and Greek yogurt is all the craze, but I bet a lot of people don’t understand just how much better homemade yogurt is than the mass-produced, preservative-laden yogurt-like goop that you can find in stores!

Here’s how you can make your own yogurt that is far healthier and far yummier than anything you can buy.

Ingredients and equipment:

  • 1/2 gallon full-fat organic half-and-half.  Actually look at the ingredients and don’t get anything that has corn syrup or preservatives in it.  That stuff is nasty and can sometimes interfere with the fermentation process.  I try to avoid consuming anything that is so nasty that bacteria won’t even eat it!
  • 1-2 packets of dry yogurt culture similar to Freeze-dried Yogurt Culture (or 1-2 cups of live yogurt from your previous batch)
  • Electric yogurt maker similar to Euro Cuisine 2qt Yogurt Maker

Making homemade yogurt could not be easier.  Pour half the cold milk into the yogurt maker jar.  Add the dry culture or the live yogurt and whisk.  Then add the rest of the milk, close the jar and place it in the yogurt maker.  Cover the yogurt maker, plug it in, and leave it alone (don’t touch it) for 8-12 hours.

At the end of this time, the yogurt should be firm enough to stand a spoon up in – about the consistency of store-bought sour cream.  If it seems thin or sloshy, let it go for another 4-8 hours and try it again.

When starting from scratch (you don’t have live yogurt to add), you’ll have to use dried starter packets.  When we have done this, it has taken almost twice as long to ferment and thicken a full 2-quart jar.  Fermenting two quarts of milk using 1-2 cups of live yogurt works much more quickly.

IMG_1663Homemade Farmer’s cheese

Farmer’s cheese is a dry, crumbly, slightly sweet white cheese.  It is super easy to make at home and it is very versatile, in that it can be used as the basis of a lot of dishes – especially for Mediterranean-style cuisines.

Ingredients and equipment:

    • 1/2 gallon full-fat buttermilk (not ultra-pasteurized)
    • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (or other vinegar) or lemon juice
    • 1-2 tablespoons of pink Himalayan sea salt
    • Thermometer
    • Cheesecloth or a Linen bag

Heat the milk, stirring frequently.  When it reaches 180 F, turn the heat off, add the salt, and stir until it dissolves.  Then add the vinegar or lemon juice and set the pot aside to cool and coagulate for about 15-20 minutes.  After it is cooled and coagulated, pour the pot through several layers of cheesecloth or a linen bag.

If I use cheesecloth, I like to twist the top (after it has drained) to form a cheeseball, then press the ball (still in the cloth) between two dinner plates in the fridge for a couple of hours to form it into a flat wheel.

If I use the linen bag I’ll hang it over the sink or a pot to drain then turn the crumbly dried cheese out into a storage container.

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To clean up, spray the linen bag with water until visibly clean and be sure to boil the bag for 2-3 minutes to sterilize it just before you use it again.

Nota bene – You can also use the linen bag to turn your yogurt (from above) into Greek-style yogurt because the only difference between yogurt and Greek yogurt is the latter is strained to remove more whey to make it thicker.  Alternately, when you are making the yogurt, you can thicken the milk by adding in a cup or two of powdered milk before fermenting it.

Faux-ricotta with green onion and dill

This makes a creamy, spreadable or dippable cheese, somewhat similar to ricotta, that you can eat with crudites or bread.  It is one of those super-simple no-recipe recipes!  Everything is to taste and there is no measuring!

Mix a handful of the Farmer’s Cheese (that you made earlier) with a couple of large spoonfuls of the homemade yogurt (that you also made earlier).  Stir it until the Farmer’s cheese is crumbled and mixed throughout the yogurt.

Then stir in whatever herbs you like.  I like to use a handful of finely chopped green onions, a tablespoon or so of dried dill, and a touch more salt.

Faux-feta

Farmer’s cheese can also be used as an acceptable substitute for Feta on a Greek Salad or in other Mediterranean style dishes.

Since the Farmer’s cheese is not brined (like real Feta is), you’ll want to add more salt when you heat the milk to make the Farmer’s cheese and perhaps even a touch more salt after the cheese is dried and crumbled.

Some Feta-snobs claim that true Feta can have peppery or gingery undertones – but the predominant thing that I taste (admittedly in store-bought Feta) is salt.  If you want to try for a perhaps truer simulation in your faux-feta, you might add a pinch of ginger or pepper as you are heating the milk.  

Come to think of it, I bet it’d be fantastic to add a LOT of roughly-ground black pepper when you are heating the milk so that your final product ends up being a black pepper Farmer’s cheese!

 

All photos courtesy of Elise D. Parker – Roaming Parkers