January 25, 2008

Yogurt and a How-To

Left to Right: Greek-style cow's milk yogurt, Sheep's milk yogurt, Goat's milk yogurt

I have a love for cultured foods, and by cultured I mean fermented, probiotic, or otherwise microorganism enhanced and wonderfully metamorphosed food. Researching cultured foods of the world has become a passion of mine, and I've been working on collecting information for a cookbook on the topic. But enough of that! Today I want to talk yogurt.

Yogurt is probably one of the easiest things in the world to make. There seems to be a lot of mysticism surrounding the process, and lots of gadgets you could buy to make it "foolproof". I think it's relatively foolproof without the gadgets, to be honest, and I'll tell you how I do it. But first, I bought a few interesting types of yogurt to contrast and compare my findings. The yogurt was made from sheep and goat milk. I couldn't resist. I wanted to see what the taste and texture differences were between the two, especially since I've never tasted sheep milk before. I also tried a cow's milk greek-style yogurt as well, so three different types of milk were represented.

The sheep milk yogurt was made by the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company located in Old Chatham, NY, which is less than 125 mi from my location in southern Westchester, so I appreciated the almost-local nature of it. I also really liked that it is made from plain sheep milk and cultures, and that's it, no stabilizers or additives. Texture was nice and smooth. That said, I was very wow'd by the "lamby" taste to the milk. Having never eaten a sheep dairy product before, that lamby taste is something I've only ever associated with lamb meat, so it threw my taste buds into a bit of a connundrum. I can't say that I liked it, but to be fair, I think I'll have to try it again now that I know to expect the lamby taste .

The goat milk yogurt was made by Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery located in Sebastopol, CA. It says on the carton that it was the first goat milk dairy in the US to be designated Humane Raised and Handled, which is very much appreciated. This yogurt does have tapioca and pectin in it, which I wasn't particularly happy to see, but to be fair, I have never made yogurt from fresh goat milk, so I'm not sure if it perhaps sets up very runny and needs a bit of a firming agent. Anyhow, the texture was smooth, and firmer than the sheep yogurt. I really liked the taste. It was tangy and delicious. It wasn't unusual to me as I eat and enjoy fresh goat cheese quite frequently and the taste is along those lines.

The Greek-style yogurt that I tried is the Trader Joe's brand. I very much appreciate that their dairy products are rBST free, and that there were no added ingredients, except for nonfat milk. I really liked the texture, it was creamy and thick, and would work as a delicious sour-cream substitute. Adding nonfat milk powder is a trick you can use to thicken yogurt without adding non-dairy thickeners, which brings me to the how-to portion of todays entry.

How to Make Yogurt

1 qt. milk
Plain yogurt of your favorite brand containing live cultures
dry milk powder, optional

The most important thing in making yogurt is to have clean utensils. This will include your hands. Bring the milk to a boil in a pot that has a lid, and then remove from the heat.

Let the milk cool until you can stick your finger in the milk and count to 10 before it's too hot to stand.

Whisk in 2-3 T. of your plain yogurt into the milk. If you want thicker yogurt, whisk in 1/4-1/2 cup or dry milk powder.

Put the lid on the pot and put in a warm place for about 5 hours. What I use for a warm place is my oven that I turn on the lowest it will go for a minute or two, and then turn off. If your oven isn't gas with a pilot light, wrapping the pot in a towel to keep it cozy might be an idea, or just wrapped in a towel on your counter if your kitchen is very warm . Keep in mind the whole idea is the same as rising bread...warm let's the little cultures grow and turn your milk into yogurt, hot kills them, and cold makes them inactive. Use your best judgement, and if you look after 5 hours and it's still milk, don't go crazy, just re-use the milk and try again.

Remove to a container with a lid for storage in the fridge.

Don't forget to leave a little bit in the container to use for your next batch!

Some variations to think about:

Add lemon zest, juice and a bit of sweetener to the milk, and then add your culture, proceed as above, and voila! lemon yogurt. You can make vanilla and chocolate yogurt in this fashion as well.

A delicious Indian variation is to use condensed milk, which you can boil down yourself if you so choose, and jaggery, which is unrefined sugar. Dissolve it in the hot milk, let it cool to the appropriate 10 second temperature, and then add the culture and proceed as normal.

After the yogurt is done, stir in some of the fruit jam of your choice for flavored fruit yogurt like you could buy in the store.

Like to make homemade butter? Fresh buttermilk makes really tasty yogurt.

I love to eat yogurt plain with some honey drizzled on it. Heavenly!

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