Adventures In Making Yogurt at Home

I have always known that yoghurt is good for us, and regardless of the health facts have always been able to consume giant quantities of it with no problems, but it never really occurred to me that there would be much of a difference between commercially manufactured yoghurt and the stuff you make at home.

The benefit of homemade yoghurt, however, is that there are many many more of the beneficial bacterias present. At the supermarket, yoghurt often contains additives like gelatin and pectin to ensure the yoghurt sets and remains firm, along with other preservatives so as to give it a longer shelf life. While this process ensures that you get a tasty, thick yoghurt, it doesn’t do much in terms of keeping the bacterias alive. I’m not saying supermarket yoghurts would be bad for you or anything, but I’m not sure they’d be quite as beneficial as fresh, homemade stuff. I guess it’s like most things, really – homemade is usually much healthier, if only because it’s guaranteed to be fresher.

Anyhow, the reason behind this rant is that I’m into experimenting with yoghurt cultures at the moment, and today I made cream cheese.

I’ve so far made one batch of fairly thick, natural yoghurt (pictured above). This entailed the use of one whole sachet of Easiyo natural yoghurt starter, mixed with cold water, and incubated in the Easiyo thermos (filled halfway with hot water) overnight. Although this was delicious, and very healthy, I am intrigued by suggestions by fellow yoghurt makers that you can make the same yoghurt product by only using a fraction of the suggested quantity of Easiyo starter, or by using a few tablespoons of the previous batch of yoghurt.

I have tried this in a few different ways. Firstly, I tried using around 1 litre of fullcream milk, and 2-3 tablespoons of my first batch of Easiyo yoghurt. It didn’t work – I pretty much just got drinking yoghurt. I turned this into a strawberry smoothie.

Yesterday we bought a sachet of the probiotic Easiyo yoghurt, which contains the l.bulgaricus, s.thermophilus, l.acidophilus, bifidobacteria, and l.casei bacterias. I read up about yoghurt and probiotics on Wikipedia lastnight, and the science and history is just amazing. It truly appears to be one of those super foods that, if eaten regularly, should fix a whole truckload of common ailments that I for one can tend to suffer from.

My second attempt (lastnight) was to put 2 heaped tablespoons of probiotic Easiyo starter powder, and 4 heaped tablespoons of skim milk powder, into the 1L Easiyo container, and top with water. Shake, and incubate in the same way for the same time as before. Although this very nearly set, it was too watery and a little bit lumpy. Today I strained this through some paper towel – made into a sort of paper sieve or ‘cup’ suspended over the top of a glass, and secured on using some clothes pegs – so that the excess water (sometimes called whey or buttermilk) would trickle through, and the milky thick yoghurt part (kind of like curds) would remain suspended atop the paper. I didn’t have any cheesecloth to do this on a larger scale, so the paper-towel-over-a-glass system worked well. To ensure the paper towel didn’t break and all my hard work fall back into the whey, I spooned out the thus-far drained yoghurt and replaced the paper ‘cup’ with new paper towel about 4 times during the process. When the process was nearly finished, I guess I had about 1/4 of a litre of ‘curds’ left. At this point I put a piece of folded up paper towel on the top of the ‘curds’, and placed a small jar ontop of this to weigh it down a little, before carefully placing everything in the fridge.

After about an hour or so, the yoghurt curds had drained and thickened to a consistency similar to a thick sour cream or spreadable cream cheese. I spooned the curds out and off of the paper towel into a bowl. I added about 1 teaspoon or so of ground seasalt, a dash of pepper, and some finely chopped spring onions & garlic chives. The result was absolutely delicious – it tasted quite a lot like Philly cream cheese, but fresher. I served it with some slices of homemade bread, sundried tomatoes, olives, pickled cucumbers, and some botton mushrooms (sliced in 1/4s, and sauteed in a generous amount of olive oil and a dash of hot chilli sauce). This made for a fresh and easy late lunch. The bread was great to mop up the mushroomy olive oil and sundried tomato juices.

We will use the leftover ‘whey’ or ‘buttermilk’ to make pancakes for dinner tonight.

This afternoon, while everything was draining, I made up another batch of yoghurt. As my last attempt very nearly set, I thought I would increase the amount of milk powder and culture and see what happens. This time I put in 4 heaped tablespoons of the culture, and 2 cups of skim milk powder. The latter idea came from someone on the Earth Garden forums who lastnight suggested I use more skim milk powder, as it makes the yoghurt very creamy.

Fingers crossed this method works out. If it does, I should be able to make 1L of probiotic yoghurt for under $2.50. If I buy some yoghurt culture wholesale, I should be able to get this price down even further.

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