Our kitchen is a very busy place. We make the majority of our food from scratch and cultured milk products are a big part of our kitchen rituals. Kefir, yogurt, piima, tara, viili, these are all varieties of cultured milk that we enjoy.
Ingesting and creating these at home is one of the ways that we support our digestive health. By offering our body the probiotics that are abundant in cultured food products we increase our ability to digest and assimilate food. Digestion is at the heart of immune health and supporting the immune system helps our entire system. Not only do these fabulous tasting beverages support immune health, but we can turn them into soft spreadable cheese and add herbs to them. When we add herbs we can increase the bio-availability of the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K, thus increasing their nutrient density.
Culturing milk and fermenting food in general is a food preservation technique first and foremost. Since the domestication of animals making cheese and culturing milk has been a common way of preserving milk. Today in the west we enjoy cheese and cultured milk from around the world, yet few people make cheese and cultured milk at home. This time honored way of preserving food is a way to store food without refrigeration. If you have a cool place in your home, you can store the finished product outside of the refrigerator. Milk left on it’s own will eventually sour, but by adding specific bacterial cultures we create a unique product with a flavor and acidity that is pleasant and enjoyable.
I began making cultured milk products and cheese in my kitchen close to two decades ago. And while I am lucky enough to have access to farm fresh raw milk, I am aware that not everyone has access to milk directly from the farm. If you do have access to milk directly from the farm, definitely use that for culturing. If you do not have access to farm fresh raw milk, try to find the lowest heat pasteurized milk available in your area, avoiding milk that is ultra-pasteurized and thus highly processed. And when working with pasteurized milk it is ideal from a health perspective to ferment it. Fermenting or culturing your milk, will bring nutrients to the milk which were lost during pasteurization. The fermentation process leaves in its wake vitamins, enzymes and beneficial bacteria.
Cultured milk is created by adding bacteria to milk. The bacteria consume the milk sugar and change some of it to lactic acid. Yogurt is a popular example of cultured milk. Another example that is increasing in popularity is Kefir.
Kefir is similar to yogurt in that it is created by introducing a certain variety of bacteria to milk. The bacteria added to kefir create a low curd tension, which means that it is more fluid that yogurt. Kefir is typically ingested as a drink due to the consistency, whereas yogurt is often eaten with a spoon. Kefir tends to have a sour-bubbly taste and is sometimes called the champagne of cultured milk. The bacteria culture for Kefir actually contains some yeast which leaves a variety of cultured milk that has slight alcohol content.
Below are a couple of examples of milk products you can make in your kitchen. The starter cultures can be found in natural health food stores, on the internet and/or from friends. Just ask and anyone who has a kefir culture going will eventually have too much and be glad to share it with you!
This recipe creates 1 gallon of yogurt and can be adapted to create smaller batches. This recipe can be made with goat, cow, sheep or whatever milk you have on hand.
You will need:
- a pot that will hold one gallon of milk
- one-gallon glass jar or other glass container with a lid that will hold one gallon of milk.
- 1 cup plain yogurt for starter (check the content of the yogurt you purchase and be sure it contains 3 or more live active cultures).
- glass measuring cup (holds two cups)
- a thermometer
- a long spoon (one that fits to the bottom of the glass jar)
- a cooler (or other insulated location to incubate the yogurt)
- a towel
- heat milk slowly to 115 degrees
- measure 1 cup of starter in the glass measuring cup
- add ½-3/4 cup warm milk to the starter and mix thoroughly
- pour this mixture into glass jar/container
- In 2-3 cup portions add warmed milk-stirring thoroughly each time continuing until all of the milk has been added. (Stirring well assures your yogurt will be smooth)
- check the temperature several times during this process
- The goal is for the milk to be 110 degrees F when all the milk ahs been added. The mixture will incubate at 110 degrees. If the mixture is too hot it will kill the bacteria-if it is too cold the bacteria will not completely culture the milk. Under cultured yogurt may be stringy.
- Place container wrapped in a cooler that contains 120 degree water and/or other insulated place (the oven can be used just be sure it is not turned on during the incubation period) for 24 hours.
- Enjoy and store unused portions in a cool place or refrigerator.
Kefir (pronounced: keff é-er)
Kefir is a variety of cultured milk. It is similar to yogurt in that it is created by introducing a variety of bacteria to milk. The bacteria added to kefir create a low curd tension which means that is more fluid than yogurt. Kefir is typically ingested as a drink due to the consistency whereas yogurt is often eaten with a spoon. Kefir tends to have a sour-bubbly taste and is sometimes called the champagne of cultured milk. Its fermentation actually leaves us with a variety of cultured milk that has a very small alcohol content.
To make kefir from the “grains” (note this is a matrix that the bacterial culture live on and is not a grain) or culture:
- Place grains in a jar
- Pour milk over the grains
- Let set at room temperature for 24-48 hours (until the curd coagulates)
- Strain grains and enjoy the remaining liquid. Place unused portions in the refrigerator.
- Either place more milk on the grains or refrigerate for later use.
Kefir and Yogurt Cheese
You can create these when you have excess yogurt or kefir. Both of these make wonderful cheese spreads. You can add salt and/or fresh herbs. The yogurt cheese is delicious in recipes calling for ricotta and kefir cheese is a good choice in recipes that call for sour cream. I often top my beans and rice with Kefir cheese. Yum!!
~To create these: line a large strainer with cheesecloth.
~Pour or scoop yogurt or kefir into the cheesecloth.
~Tie the corners of the cloth crossway and hang in a place where the whey can drain for 2-12 hours-the amount of time will depend on the consistency you are looking for.
~Once the cheese has reached the desired consistency scrape the cheese from the cloth and place in a jar.
~Add salt and/or herbs as desired. Store unused portions in the refrigerator for up to a week.
(If you catch the whey you can use it to culture other foods, drink, use as a cooking liquid, feed to your pets or water your garden or house plants!!)
By Linda Conroy