Adventures in Dairy Part I – Making Yogurt, Kefir and Ranch Dressing

So I think I’ve got the art of yogurt making down.   As I mentioned in my review of Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, I think what I had been doing wrong was not putting the jar in a warm enough spot.   I’ve been putting the jar on top of a warm stove (like they said in the book) or on a heating vent.   When the weather gets warmer I can do a sunny window or outside.

Last week I made cranberry sauce to go with a turkey I cooked.   I’ve been mixing the cranberry sauce with the homemade yogurt.   That shit is amazing!   I’ll be sad when I’m out of cranberry sauce.

I also tried adding garlic powder, salt, pepper, green onion, dill and parsley to it and mixing it up to get ranch dressing.   It tastes like ranch dressing.   I’m glad I have this one figured out because I love ranch dressing but it’s something that I don’t want all the time and it’s difficult to find a good one.   It seems like your choices are either ones made from soybean oil and a million other ingredients, “greenwashed” organic ones or ones made from natural products but really miss the mark.  By being able to make it from plain yogurt I can make as much or as little as I want.    I would feel like I’m splurging if I had a conventional ranch dressing loaded with fat, but I wouldn’t feel the slightest bit guilty about eating homemade yogurt and herbs.   Usually I use balsamic vinegar and maybe olive oil for salad dressing.   If this year ends up like last year when we had more arugula than anything, I’d rather have arugula with ranch over balsamic vinegar.

Making yogurt is easy now that I “get it”.    Put a quart of milk on the stove on low heat until it starts to bubble (maybe 10 minutes), let it cool down to the point where it’s just warm, put about a tablespoon of yogurt with active cultures in it, seal it up and put it away somewhere warm for about 8 hours or so.   As long as I retain a little bit of the yogurt each time, it’s sustainable as long as you have milk coming in.   If you’re starting from nothing, pretty much any store bought yogurt will work.

Homemade yogurt is different from the typical yogurt at the store.   Most commercial yogurt has pectin or gelatin in it to make it thicker and you can taste the whey a little more in homemade yogurt.   I remember buying some Kalona organic yogurt several years ago and being a little sketched out by it because it was runny and had a bit of a cheese smell to it.   When you’re used to yogurt that’s thickened and artificially sweetened it does take a little bit to get used to it.

I’m all about kefir now.  It’s basically fermented milk.  I’ve never had it up until recently, but planned on trying to make it.   I bought a bottle of it at the grocery store on New Year’s Day to see what it was supposed to be like.  It was a 15 minute drive home and I figured I’d just drink part of the bottle and save the rest for later.   I drank all for servings (a quart?) by the time we got home.  I think it was Lifeway peach kefir.

I ordered some kefir grains off Amazon (Kefir Grains – Living Probiotic Enriched “as seen on The Dr OZ show”) and about a teaspoon or so of grains showed up.   Seems small, but that’s all you really need.   You’re supposed to make the first three batches with only a cup or so of milk and throw it out in order to activate the grains and make sure everything is working like it’s supposed to.   The grains swell in size and if you put them in milk and sit it out about 8 hours later you have kefir.   The fermenting gets stronger as you leave it out.  I had one that was out for over 24 hours and it had a bit of an alcoholic taste (yes, it does develop low levels of alcohol).   It’s a lot more palatable than it sounds.   I put blueberries and honey in the first batch I drank which was good, now I just drink it as it is (but I wouldn’t be above mixing it with something else).   I’ll make about a quart at a time and drink about 8 ounces or so a day.   I think if I would throw some salt in it I would pretty much have Turkish Ayran, a popular yogurt drink in that part of the world.   I had it in Istanbul and honestly didn’t care for it much.

Both kefir and yogurt are good for you with all the probiotics and beneficial bacteria and all of that.  It helps your digestion and people who aren’t well-adapted to digesting lactose can usually do yogurt and kefir.     Honestly, I’m not very well versed in the in’s and out’s of the health benefits of fermentation, but I know it’s good for you.    There are some things that just feel right to eat and yogurt and kefir are among them.

I picked up some of the things to make soft cheese like ricotta and mozzarella.  I think I’m going to tackle that next in the world of dairy then maybe try some other cheeses if that goes well.

See also The Maiden Voyage of Our Fermenting Crock

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