Get Real: Cultured Dairy Basics
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Hi, I’m Wardeh from GNOWFGLINS. GNOWFGLINS is a mouthful, I know. It means Enjoying “God’s Natural, Organic, Whole Foods, Grown Locally, In Season.” (Because you were dying to know, right?) I’m here today sharing today about cultured dairy and especially homemade cultured dairy. This is a topic dear to my heart. At various times, my family and I have raised dairy goats and a milk cow. Culturing is something you’ve got to do to keep up with milk! Plus it tastes so good you just can’t get over it. Let’s get into this!
What is Cultured Dairy?
All those dairy foods I mentioned are cultured. A culture (beneficial organisms) are introduced into milk or cream, then over time they consume the milk sugars (lactose). The acids they produce curdle or thicken the dairy and add wonderful flavor. That’s cultured dairy at its most basic level, though it can be more complicated with the addition of rennet to make curds and cheese presses and so on. But basically, that is cultured dairy in a nutshell.
What’s So Great About Cultured Dairy?
Most everybody loves cultured dairy. But beyond taste, what’s so great about cultured dairy? Let’s talk about that, but please keep in mind that not all the “cultured” dairy at the store is truly cultured nor good for you. Lots of products contain fillers, or have been heated, or were created some other way than through culturing. We’re talking here about cultured dairy that is made by the process I described above, and in addition, the final product is not heated.
First, cultured dairy is healthy. It contains probiotics, or healthy organisms for your gut. The culturing produces enzymes to help you digest the dairy, especially lactase to help you digest whatever lactose the organisms haven’t eaten. And culturing makes calcium more assimilable.
Second, culturing dairy is a way to preserve it, or make it last longer. Though it will still need cold storage, cultured dairy is protected by the presence of beneficial organisms. They sort of set up camp and repel spoiling organisms. Also, the acids they produce create an environment that spoiling organisms don’t really like.
So, culturing dairy tastes great, is good for you, and is a method to preserve milk. Are you sold on it yet? Want to try some easy recipes? You’ll save money and get healthier and tastier results if you do it yourself. Plus, the following recipes require hardly any effort.
Also known as creme fraiche when it is has a thinner consistency, homemade sour cream tastes unbelievably good and couldn’t be easier.
- 2 tablespoons store-bought sour cream with active cultures
- 2 cups heavy cream
Yields about 2 cups. Combine the cream with the sour cream in a pint-size glass jar. Mix well. Cover the jar with a paper towel or cloth napkin and secure with a rubber band. Culture at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. The sour cream is done when it is set to a consistency you like. Then cover with a regular lid and transfer to the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Store in the refrigerator. Keeps a few weeks.
If you culture your yogurt for 24 hours, you’ll get maximum reduction of lactose. Usually people culture for 6 to 8 hours. Delicious in dressings, smoothies, or served with fruit and raw honey.
- 1/2 gallon whole milk
- 2 tablespoons high-quality plain yogurt with active cultures (such as Nancy’s, Mountain High, etc.)
Yields 2 quarts. In a saucepan over low heat, heat milk to almost boiling, about 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat. Cover pan with a cloth and let milk cool to around 90 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit,
or comfortable to the touch. Pour into quart jars. Add 1 tablespoon of store-bought yogurt to each jar and stir well. Cover. Put in a dehydrator* set at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 to 8 hours, or up to 24 hours for maximum lactose reduction. Transfer to refrigerator to chill thoroughly before eating. Reserve some of your homemade yogurt to make the next batch.
*Or put a pot of just boiled water in a towel-lined cooler, along with the jars. If culturing longer than 6 to 8 hours, replace the water with more boiled water at about 12 hours. Don’t disturb or open the cooler unless absolutely necessary.
Strawberry Cream Cheese
- 1 quart cream (not heavy)
- 4 tablespoons sour cream or buttermilk with active cultures
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup strawberry jam or mashed, sweetened strawberries
Yields about 2 cups. Add the starter culture to the cream. Stir the culture in well. Cover the jar with a cloth napkin or paper towel and secure with a rubber band. Let the cream ripen at room temperature for 8 to 15 hours, or until set up like firm yogurt.
Line a colander with 90 count cheesecloth. Put the colander in a bigger bowl or pot. Pour the cultured cream into the cheesecloth. Find a way to hang the bag of cultured cream so that gravity will help the whey drip out. In the picture, I have used a stick over a bowl to suspend the bag up in the bowl.
Let drip for 12 to 18 hours, or until as dry as you’d like it. Remove cream cheese from cheesecloth into air-tight storage bowl.
If desired, separate into two portions and only make strawberry cream cheese with half the amount. Mix jam or mashed strawberries into the cream cheese, to taste. Try not to overmix so you have nice ribbons of strawberry coloring throughout the cream cheese. Refrigerate. Keeps for 2 weeks.
See this video for more flavor ideas, including Cinnamon-Walnut and Onion-Chives.
Want to Learn More?
Visit my blog for more recipes, like cultured butter, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, and this video with more flavors of cream cheese. Also, I teach an online class on cultured dairy and basic cheese, with lots recipes, techniques, and background information (for as little as $8 per month). You can also check out my offline resources: the Cultured Dairy and Basic Cheese eBook or my print book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods (which contains two chapters on dairy culturing).
Please share in the comments: What are your favorite cultured dairy recipes? Do you have any questions for me?
- Use one of Wardeh’s recipes above and culture your own dairy!
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