Let’s make yogurt from scratch

Human digestive tract is home to a lot of bacteria and yeast. These micro-organisms are helping us to break down the food  so that mankind can get the vitamins, minerals and amino acids out of food. When these acid loving bacteria and yeast (good guys) are out of proportion with the alkaline loving bacteria (bad guys), problems start to arise. You won’t be digesting your food properly, you won’t be getting enough vitamins and minerals, you feel bloated, gas problems, cramps, feeling tired all the time etc.

You need to restore the balance. Other then giving up on commercially produced food (any ready to eat food that you pay for) and eating a more whole food diet of legumes, 3 colour vegetables, and fruits you must get lactic acid bacteria, pro-biotic bacteria, yeast and their friends into you. One way of doing this is to eat yogurt that you made at home; and I stress “home made“. Also if you are treated with heavy anti-biotic medicine for a while, you need to kick-start your intestine with good bacteria and yeast.

To make yogurt you need a mother culture and this is not the store bought yogurt. Some of my readers may be surprised by this statement and yes that is right, no commercial yogurt that is bought from shops should be used as mother culture when you are making yogurt at home. Sure it will work, sure you will get a yogurt looking product at the end but I do not support this idea.

First of all, the biggest problem of making yogurt at home is to keep the temperature consistent. Rags, blankets, oven etc. is not enough. I strongly recommend a little electric yogurt machine, something like the one below, which you can find on E-Bay, or the shops I have given on my resources page.

Electric Yogurt Maker
Electric Yogurt Maker

This 1 litre capacity yogurt maker is best to keep the temperatures at about 43C. Also with its small capacity, it will not let you sour the yogurt as the yogurt will finish before that happens. With my family of 4, we finish this 1 litre yogurt in 2 days and I prepare a new one for the next day and chuck it in the fridge in the morning. Sure you can make it in 3 litres or larger but it will continue to sour in the fridge if you are not finishing it in time. Do not forget that it is a living thing. It is better to make it in small quantities so that it will be fresh whenever you need it. Alternatively you can buy an extra inner container to make a second batch, if you are expecting yogurt eating guests.

Now let’s look into where we can get our mother culture to make yogurt. We are surrounded by the bacteria in our daily life. Yeasts, moulds, spores and all of their friends are in the air everywhere. We need to harvest  some lactic acid bacteria from a good source to make yogurt. Yogurt is a thermophilic culture as it is made around 43 to 50C temperatures. All mesophilic bacteria during the making die off as the environment is hostile for them and the resources are eaten by the thermophilic ones.

There are several sources where we can harvest these yogurt bacteria. One of them is ants nests. You now that mountain of crumbly soil around the entrances. That is the one we need to gather. Take a little tea spoon and collect about a table spoon of this soil into a sterile specimen bottle. Come on don’t be shy, do it! Oh if they are fire ants, stay away of course if it is not too late. 🙂

Ants Nest
Photo courtesy of http://geoffpark.wordpress.com/

The other source is ant eggs. If you are feeling adventurous, dig around the entrance to hunt some eggs, about a tea spoon will do.

Ant_eggs

Third source is bee larva with its food in the cell. The only problem is the hive should be organically managed. You wouldn’t want pesticides and fungicides in your yogurt.  Ask a beekeeper friend to collect you about a tea spoon in a sterile specimen bottle. The ones in the picture on the left hand side are what we are looking for.

bee larva

Also Kefiran that is strained kefir can be used as a starter. If you are already making kefir at home, strain about 30ml of kefiran and use this as a  yogurt starter. As kefir has a lot of bacteria and yeast in it, yogurt making process will kill some of these mesophilic ones and will leave you with thermophilic bacteria and some yeast only.

kefir

You only need  one of these sources of micro-organisms. If you can get only the soil, it is okay. You may try to make different starters and see how this affects the final taste of your yogurt.

Now here are the steps to a good and nutritious yogurt:

  1. Prepare your yogurt maker.
  2. Fill the inner bucket about 125ml of milk.
  3. If you are using ant’s nest soil, eggs or bee larva, put this into a little pocket of sterile cheese cloth and tie it so that they don’t mix with milk freely. You can add the kefiran directly into the milk.
  4. Add the starter to your milk and don’t stir.
  5. Put the inner bucket into your yogurt maker and replace the lid.
  6. Fill the outer bucket with warm water to create a water jacket around the inner bucket. As we are not using 1 litre of milk, we need a thermal mass to keep the heat inside.
  7. Check regularly after 5 hours and see if the mixture set. If you are using kefiran, it will be faster than 5 hours.
  8. Once your milk sets like a gel, you are good to go.
  9. Strain half of this gel making sure no residue of soil, larva or egg mixed in it.
  10. Use this mother to inoculate 1 litre of milk in your machine again. You can eat this second generation yogurt.
  11. Spread the goodness by sharing your mother culture with friends and neighbours.

Troubleshoot

  1. If the milk does not set, wait a bit longer. Check regularly.
  2. Check the machine if it is plugged and working.
  3. Check the water jacket with a thermometer to see if the temperatures are about 43C.

So, as you see dear reader, now you know an unconventional way of making yogurt. It may seem strange to you in the beginning but these practices are still applied through out Turkey, Middle East, some African countries and Asia. Once you make a yogurt this way, you will see the difference in aroma and taste. I strongly suggest you try all four methods one by one and choose the one that you like the most.

Once you go through couple of generations of your culture, the taste may change slightly as the flora gets stabilised and this is a good thing;  just like sour dough culture. Before you make your concrete decision, use the same culture at least 5 times to see how the taste and texture develops.

Happy yogurt eating.

What to do with Whey

When it comes to using the whey from your cheesemaking, there are many ways to utilise the excess water. Here are some ideas:

Ricotta

First and foremost, making ricotta. You can take out those water soluble albuminous proteins by heating the whey to 95C and adding some more milk to increase the yield. After making ricotta, there is not much goodness left, very close to water. Pour the rest to your worm farm and use it immediately.

Baking

Breads, cakes, sourdough can all be made with whey instead of water.

Sourdough starter

Start your starters with whey for 3 days and go back to normal filtered water. Acidic whey will help to yeasts to come out and will protect the environment from spoilage bacteria.

Kimchi or lacto fermentation

Especially whey coming from cheeses where Leuconostoc Mesenteroids starters used. It will jump start your lacto fermentation. Just add 2 tbsp to your jars. You can use only whey as well but some veggies may taste like cheese.

Drinking

Add salt and pepper with a bit of tomato juice, chill it and drink.

Kombucha

Try a whey kombucha with half strong black tea and half whey mixture and ferment.

Fertilizer

If the whey is fresh, pour it into your garden. Make sure it is fresh though, if the acidity is increased like pH 4.5, it will dissolve lead and aluminium in soil which is not good for living things. Dilute the old whey or add some lime to reduce acidity. Chuck it direct into your compost.

Brine

Prepare your brine for feta and halloumi from fresh whey before making ricotta. Whey has Calcium Chloride and other things as same as cheese. Once you adjust the acidity equal to that of cheese, it will be a perfect brine.

Salt Bath

As same as brine, some cheeses may have a salt bath after the press to infuse them with salt and to protect the rind during the aging. Prepare your salt bath brine from whey.

Food for pets

Give it to your chooks, dogs, goats or cows.

Cooking

Boil your pasta, make a tomato soup, use in stews, boil potato, steam veggies, boil chicken or bones and make a soup/broth.

As you see there are many ways to use whey. Do not waste any drop of it! 🙂

Planning

The biggest problem for home cheesemakers is to dedicate the time to cheesemaking without any interruption. Cheesemaking is not a single day process, it sometimes takes 3 days or even longer. When you are planning to try a new recipe there are things to do before hand for a smooth day of cheesemaking. I list those down here from my experience.

1- Write the recipe down to its details to your notebook.

You can even search/ask in the forum and see what people have to say. This will give you an idea of temperatures, time, pH, starter cultures and the other processes. If you are short of cultures, you can top them up before you start. Or may be your rennet is out of date or about to finish.

2- Draw your project plan.

This seems like an overkill but will give you an idea of how long it will take to get into the press/drain stage. I draw a vertical line in my notebook. Every horizontal line is 15 minutes and I write down the steps on this line.

Cheesemakers plan
Cheesemakers plan

3- Make sure your family knows that you are going to make cheese. Your other half may have something else planned for that weekend.

4- Prepare starter cultures in advance. If you are using commercial sachets, prepare them the night before so that you know they are active and working.

5- Lock away pets. You don’t want dog hair in your cheese. Also don’t let the kids run around and create more dust flying in the air and don’t bake bread the same day. Bread yeast will jump into your milk and multiply giving an off smell and taste.

Once your plan is ready you will see that you have everything you need and be more confident to try a new recipe.

Commercial starter cultures

You can make limited variety of cheeses with the mesophilic and thermophilic culture recipes I have given. Sooner or later you will want to be buying commercial cultures from suppliers for specific cheeses and also other cultures for ripening and washing.

The starter cultures are coming in sachets, kept in freezer and they are designed for like 500 or 1000 litres of milk. It would be impossible to measure them according to your recipe as we are using maximum 40 litres of milk in a batch. Also it would not be cost affective if you finish your culture in couple of makings. What are we going to do?

As soon as I receive the sachet, I sterilize a small scissor and the corner of sachet, cut carefully and transfer the culture to a clean and sterile specimen bottle like the one below.

Culture bottles
Culture bottles

This operation is only keeping them tight and secure. When it comes to using them, I prepare a mother culture according to the recipe given by Cheese Forum member Sailor. this method gives you an active starter culture, measuring will be easier and cost affective too. And let me tell you the real secret. Since I have started using the cultures like in the above mentioned method, the quality and consistency of my makings increased. As the culture is measured correctly and in working order, the acidity curves are getting better and consistent with the time.

The other thing is no matter how old your culture is sitting in the freezer or expired for that matter, you can revive and use it with this method. By keeping the temperatures constant and waiting to a coagulation will make sure that the population of your culture is constant.  You don’t need a pH meter, just wait till it curdles like yogurt.

For freezing and labelling your mother cultures, use clean and sterile ice trays and plastic zip lock bags with labels on them.

Mesophilic culture recipe

This simple recipe of mesophilic culture can generally be used for all recipes requiring a Mesophilic Starter. The taste of the final product will vary slightly from that of a true cheese culture.

  1. Start with 2 cups of FRESH store bought Cultured Buttermilk.
  2. Let the 2 Cups of buttermilk reach room temperature about 21°C to 24°C).
  3. Then allow the buttermilk to ripen for about 6-8 hrs. (Store bought buttermilk does not have a high enough concentration of bacteria to serve as a starter culture without ripening.)
  4. The resulting buttermilk will be much thicker and sour then what you started with. It should have the consistency of fresh yogurt, if it doesn’t let it sit a few more hours.
  5. Pour this culture into a full sized CLEAN ice cube tray and put into your FREEZER. As with all steps of cheese making, cleanliness is next to godliness.
  6. Once frozen, remove the cubes and put into a CLEAN sealed container or plastic freezer bags. It is a good idea to label the container to distinguish it from your thermophilic culture. And also the date of preparation will save you guessing it later.

The resulting ice cubes are each 30 ml of mesophilic starter. Add these cubes (thawed) to your recipes as required. The cubes will keep for about one month. To make more starter culture, simply thaw one cube and add into 2 cups of fresh milk. Mix thoroughly with a fork or a whisk. Allow the milk/culture to stand at room temperature for 16 to 24 hours or until the consistency of fresh yogurt. Then follow from step 5.

 

Thermophilic culture recipe

Thermophilic starter cultures are used mostly by the pasta-filata and cooked curd cheeses. Here is a simple recipe to produce an easy thermophilic culture at home.

  1. Start with 2 cups of FRESH milk. Heat it to 85°C on the cook top or in a microwave. Be careful not to heat too high otherwise the cream will separate.
  2. Let the 2 Cups of milk cool to at least 52°C.
  3. Add one table spoon of FRESH yogurt either homemade or store bought “live and active culture” type. Probiotic yogurt can also be used.
  4. Mix the yogurt into the milk thoroughly with a fork or a whisk.
  5. Keep the mixture at 44°C for 8-10 hours until a firm yogurt has set. This can be done by using a double boiler on a low setting or by placing the inoculated milk into a small CLEAN mason jar placed in a warm water bath. The bath can be kept warm by placing it on an electric range top at the lowest possible setting (so that ‘ON’ light is just on). Monitor the temperature closely the first few times you do this and you will become a better judge of the temperature settings of your range top. This way with future cultures you can set the process up and not worry about it for 8-10 hours. Alternatively, you can use an electric yogurt maker.
  6. Pour this culture into a full sized CLEAN ice cube tray and put into your FREEZER. As with all steps of cheese making, cleanliness is next to godliness.
  7. Once frozen, remove the cubes and put into a CLEAN sealed container or plastic freezer bags. It is a good idea to label the container to distinguish it from your mesophilic culture.

The resulting ice cubes are each 30 ml of thermophilic starter. Add these cubes (thawed) to your recipes as required. The cubes will keep for about one month. To make more starter culture again simply thaw one cube and use it as the fresh yogurt used in step 3.

One another way is to use kefir as thermophilic culture (here is the discussion I’ve started on Cheese Forum) . Kefir has got a lot of bacteria and yeasts that can be used as starter culture. If you follow the thermophilic starter procedures and use Kefir instead of fresh milk, you would be getting a good and strong culture ecosystem. Strain about 1 liter of Kefir (separate the gems) and use your yogurt maker or keep the temperature about 43°C to 50°C for a day. This will eliminate most of the mesophilic cultures and some yeast. When it is curdled like yogurt (about a day or 2) separate 500 ml and mix it with 500 ml skimmed pasteurized milk. Put in your temperature controlled yogurt maker and keep it 43°C to 50°C constant till it curdles again. If you do this for 7 to 10 times, you will get a strong thermophilic ecosystem with lots of different thermo bacteria. I am using this starter for some hard cheeses and feta mainly. It does have gas producing bacteria in ti and cheese ends up with holes. Aroma and texture is also very good.

Salt

Every household has it. It is in every living thing. Life started in salty water. We don’t know much about it but we use it everywhere. It opens up our taste buds and then the aromas flow into our brain in a better way.

salt

It is called NaCl, Sodium Chloride by scientists. We call it salt, it is easier. There are many types of it, kosher salt, sea salt, Celtic sea salt, rock salt, iodized salt, Murray river salt, Tibetan pink salt, smoked salt… They are all salt of course with different properties. They have different additional minerals, microbial life, and salt content.

Cheese making and salt crossroad during the ageing, brining, rubbing, milling. Salt prevents available water to go into bacteria by holding it. That is why some cheeses aged in salty brine solution (feta), rubbed with salt (blue), added during the milling (cheddar) to enhance the flavour as well as protecting the cheese from spoilage bacteria.

The best salt you can get would be home brand rock salt. As we cheese makers use a lot of it, I buy it in bulk. A grinder or mortar and pestle will make it finer to use in cheese and you can chuck it into brine as it is. I also use sea salt from the health food shop. It is the wet stuff in plastic bags.

Normal table salt and iodized salt are not recommended in cheese making as they have additives, iodine and other things added. Iodine kills lactic acid bacteria which are the starter cultures and anti caking agent does not allow correct flavour development.

So stack up some rock salt in your cupboard and always make sure you have excess as you don’t know when you will be needing it.

Oh also protects you from daemons if you spread to window sills. 😉

Rennet

The very first ingredient in your cheese making is rennet. As you may already know, there are recipes using lemon juice, tartaric acid, citric acid but those recipes are not for real cheeses. They are usually made fresh and consumed straight away.

Rennet is an enzyme or actually couple of enzymes. It is secreted from the 4. stomach called abomasum of grazing animals. When a young grazing animal drinks milk from its mother, the milk needs to get into a solid form so that it can be digested. Otherwise it would go quickly in the digestive track and the animal can not get the beneficial vitamins, minerals, fat and proteins out of milk. The enzymes named as chymosin, bovine and pepsin and a real rennet would have all 3 in it in different ratios. These days vegetarian rennet is mostly chymosin created by injecting the DNA of chymosin into a bacteria and let the bacteria create the enzyme.

Here you see the 4. stomach
Here you see the 4. stomach of a goat

Chymosin used to be called rennin thinking that it is secreted from kidney glands but it is renamed to give a better name and to prevent confusion for the science minded people.

Rennet is available at cheese making supply stores. In Australia, you can get it from web shops like http://cheeselinks.com.auhttp://www.thecheesemaker.com.au and http://greenlivingaustralia.com.au. Only vegetarian rennet is available through these shops. Although I looked for real calf or goat rennet but could not find it. There are some in 10 litres containers which is not practical for home cheese makers. I here thank you again to Barry Lillywhite for sending me some real calf rennet.

There are also two shops in Canberra selling rennet. These are Buts and Brew in Kaleen shopping plaza and Cooking Coordinates in Belconnen Fresh Fruit Market where I have given workshops before. These two shops are selling Mad Millie cheese making kits and they supply rennet and other things.

Rennet comes in a 50 or 100 ml bottles and the usage is written on it. It is usually added to at 2 ml or 1 ml per 10 litres of milk depending on the strength of rennet.

You can not take rennet through customs, so don’t try doing this. It is an animal product and not allowed.

Rennet can be kept in the fridge (not in freezer) and will service you till it expires. Even when they are expired, you can still use it by increasing the dosage as its strength is diminishing.

Also get couple of plastic syringes from chemists as you will need these to measure the rennet correctly. Using more rennet than specified in hard cheeses results in bitter taste and defects. In fresh cheeses it is not so much important but still obey the instructions that came with it.

Cheesemaking workshop – done and dusted

When I have received a phone call from Canberra Environment Center’s Ryan, to do a cheese making workshop, I didn’t know what was I signing up for :-). When he asked “can you do a second one the same day” I said why not. Luckily, cheese making is something I love.

Apparently, there were a lot of people eager to get into cheese making and this option was one of the cheapest for them compared to other cheese making classes. There were 41 people in 2 sessions. With all the adulteration going on with our food supplies, it is becoming more and more important to produce our own food by any means.

Cheese making workshop poster
Cheese making workshop poster

It was also a learning process for me as I have never done it at this scale. I made a nice plan to cover all 4 cheeses, setup boilers and burners in advance and everything was going as planned. Truth is nothing goes as planned. I apologized from the participants and ruled out the Mozzarella. Only myself made the mozzarella and others watched as the kitchen didn’t have enough microwaves for everybody.

The Workshop Plan
The Workshop Plan

It was still a good practice for everyone to make a feta. The problem is, cheese making is not a 3 hours process. 1 day for renneting, cutting, cooking and moulding and another day for draining is required.

What I have learned from this workshop:

1- Cover only 1 or 2 cheeses. so that everyone can get to make these properly

2- Adjust milk supplied. We ended up excess, very quality milk that day.

3- Drink more water for me. At the end of the day, my throat was dry as a cardboard.

4- Turn on the camping stoves when there is no boiler on top sitting.

And the mozzarella I made is tasted by the participants with the ever beautiful sourdough bread made by Robert Guth with a glass of organic wine.

At the end of the day, I was feeling real tired and my knees weren’t holding anymore but I was feeling happy that maybe I have converted some of the participants into cheese makers.

We are planning a hard cheese workshop now. Stay tuned.

What is Cheese?

The answer should be quite straightforward: “Cheese is milk which has been concentrated and preserved.” Preservation is, in a nutshell, the slowing down of the natural progression of putrefying organisms. In natural cheese-making one uses the following scientifically and historically sound methods of preservation:

Extraction of Moisture

All organisms have a minimum required moisture intake necessary for survival. This requirement will increment relative to the energy used. Whilst a micro-organism is reproducing it will use more energy thus, by making less moisture available we restrict it’s capability to reproduce, or even to survive at all if we so wish.

Removal of Energy Sources

In milk, the main energy source comes in the form of lactose (milk sugars). The lactose is dissolved in the water content of milk. If we reduce the moisture we also reduce the available energy.
The lactose is used mainly by the acid producing “starter” bacteria so, by encouraging the growth of these we reduce the lactose available to spoilage organisms.

Acidity Balance

All organisms have an optimum acidity at which they will operate best. By controlling the acid production we, again, control the spoilage organism’s survival and reproductive capabilities. We also control the actions of desirable organisms of course.

Salting

Salt inhibits the energy uptake of bacteria. The tolerance to salt will depend on the individual species of the bacterium and will vary from one species to another. The amount of salt used in cheese-making will depend on the type of cheese and the organisms that we wish to restrict. Salt is not used simply as a flavor enhancer.

Unfortunately, the answer is nowadays not so simple. Large-scale cheese production includes the use of a mind-boggling array of additives and preservatives. In Britain today at least 75% of home production contains genetically modified material via G.M rennet. I would expect the percentage to be somewhat higher in the U.S.

Often the justification for genetically modified food production is that it helps to feed under-developed third-world countries. The other side of this argument is that it has lead to extreme unemployment in the agricultural sector. Smaller scale production would give us better quality and safer food and also a better quality of life for many.