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Archive for November, 2009

The Home Dairy

Yogurt

The kitchen has finally cooled off enough that I want to be in there again, or rather, the temperatures in New England have dropped so fast that I find myself wanting to use my oven and stove top for added heat.  I know that I have a lot of “odd” hobbies, but probably the one I am questioned about the most frequently and with the most enthusiasm is the concept of the home dairy.

While I wish I had cows or sheep or goats, I don’t and I can’t where we currently live, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have oodles of local dairies to choose from for raw materials that are treated with more care and respect for the product than the supermarket or big-box store brands.  Anyone can make cheese and yogurt at home, and it’s really not that difficult with the right tools and a little practice.  Perhaps the easiest I’ve found is making yogurt at home – it’s simple and it’s inexpensive when you look at the quantity and quality of product you get, and the supplies needed are minimal.

First, you will need an incubator of some sort – I use the Yogotherm available from several online retailers.  I used to use the plug-in multi-jar models when I first started, but the Yogotherm is one giant tub and uses no electricity, which means easier maintenance and clean-up all around.  Then you need a starter – I’m partial to Bulgarian starters which you can re-culture for a month or two using your first batch of yogurt.  Also, active/live bacteria cultures are a good thing.  Next comes the milk.  I prefer whole Jersey milk due to the higher fat content and richer flavor and texture, preferably from a local dairy.  The only milk that absolutely will not work is ultra-pasteurized because basically the milk has been blasted with so much heat that it no longer chemically resembles milk and the proteins have been utterly mangled.  Honestly, I stay away from that stuff with a ten foot pole at all times if possible – I’d like to keep my milk nutritionally intact, thanks!  If you want to use low or no fat milk, be aware that your yields will be much lower, and you’ll likely have to fortify the mixture with non-fat dry milk solids (not to mention that it will taste nothing like Fage Total, which is my ultimate goal).  A stainless steel pan, dairy thermometer (reads lower temperatures) and stainless steel spoon will round out the equipment arsenal.

The procedure is fairly basic, and you certainly don’t need to be handy in the kitchen to do it.  First, heat a half-gallon of milk to 180 degrees Fahrenheit  over medium heat.  Next, pour the milk into the Yogotherm “bucket” and let cool to between 110 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit.  Add in one packet of starter culture and stir or whisk to combine.  Put the top on the Yogotherm bucket, place the bucket in the insulator, and put the insulator in a non-drafty warmish (room temperature or a bit more) area for 6-8 hours.  The longer you let the yogurt sit in the incubator, the tangier it becomes.  Remove the bucket from the insulator sleeve, and put in the fridge.  Congratulations!  You have yogurt!  If you want to make fancy Greek-style yogurt, simply get a super-fine cheesecloth (not the kind you find in the supermarket, but an actual cloth used to make cheese – more like muslin) and scoop the regular yogurt into it and let hang to drain for 1-3 hours.  The whey will drip out, and you’ll have super thick and creamy yogurt remaining.

Yogurt isn’t a hard concoction to make by any means, and when you add some honey or homemade jam to sweeten far surpasses anything you can buy in the supermarket and it’s local, sustainable and healthy to boot.

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