Sunday, July 11, 2010

Yogurt and Cheese Made From Scratch

It's quiet here at the ETC at the moment. We're down to just one apprentice, Paul, and one staff member, Merry (that's me.) Almost every one else is off visiting family, working off site, or attending festivals.

But, that's ok. The quiet and the slow pace has opened up a space for more homesteading kitchen skills to happen! Over the past couple of weeks I've pickled okra from the organic CSA we belong to, researched what to do with all the beautiful white cucumbers coming in form the garden (I think refrigerator pickles are the way to go at the moment), and had fun getting as many dairy products from a gallon of milk as I can.

Our first attempt at mozzarella produced something that tasted like the familiar cheese, but was crumbly instead of stretchy. It was still deliziosa on our home made pizza that night. We added the ricotta we made from the left over whey, some cheddar donated by a guest, and fresh tomatoes from the garden. Yum!

Today's bread-and-cheese adventure was fresh bagels and cream cheese. Well, not strictly cream cheese, rather Lebnah, the middle eastern cheese created when you let the liquid drip out of yogurt. Did I mention that we made the yogurt ourselves? And the bagels? (I love cooking in community.) I've done this process of turning milk into yogurt, then yogurt into a spreadable cheese several times and I always love the results. Sometimes the yogurt turns out more liquidy than other times, but I'm ok with that.

Merry's Milk to Yogurt to Cheese Process:

Materials & Ingredients:
  • Two quart glass jars & their lids
  • A pot large enough to house the jars
  • A food thermometer
  • A small cooler designed to hold a six pack of cans & a quiet place for it to rest over night
  • Dish clothes or tea towels
  • A spoon
  • Oven mitts
  • Cheese cloth & a place to hang it when it is full of yogurt
  • A small to medium non reactive bowl (stainless steel or ceramic is fine)
  • Half gallon of milk (pasteurized is ok, but not ultrapasteurized)
  • Some yogurt that contains live cultures
The Process:
Note: I start the process about 7:30 to 8pm. It's just the right time for me to make the yogurt, wash up the dishes, and get to bed at a reasonable hour. In the morning the yogurt is ready for my breakfast!

Step One. Yogurt:
  1. Fill both quart jars with milk.
  2. Place them in the pot and fill the pot with water until it reaches 3/4 of the way up sides of the jars.
  3. Place over high heat on your stove and heat the jars in this water bath until the milk reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This kills bacteria in the milk that may make you sick or give your yogurt a bad flavor. Stir occasionally to distribute the heat evenly throughout the milk and to prevent a skin from forming on top.
  4. Using the oven mitts, as the glass jars will be hot, remove them from the water bath and let cool until the milk is 110 degrees. This is the right temperature to make your desired bacteria cultures nice and happy.
  5. Add a few spoonfulls of your already-made yogurt to both jars. I'm sure there is a recommended amount, but I never can remember what it is. I just add two or three spoonfuls. Put the lids on the jars.
  6. Line your little cooler with a dish cloth or tea towel and put the jars in it. Gently stuff more cloth around the jars and on top of them to help insulate. You want the temperature to stay as constant as possible for as long as possible. This allows the good bacteria cultures to grow and multiply all night long.
  7. Place your cooler in its over night spot, then leave it alone. Yogurt doesn't like to be disturbed while it's doing it thing. Be sure that it is away from curious pets, and that everyone in the house knows not to move the cooler in the night.
  8. Go to sleep. Or go out partying. Or stay up all night playing WoW. Whatever makes you happy. In the morning, you'll have two quart jars of yummy yogurt to enjoy with your breakfast.
Step Two. The Lebnah:
  1. Fill some cheese cloth with one jar's worth of yogurt. I usually have a few strips of the cloth that I lay down inside of a bowl, criss-crossing the layers of fabric. I then pour in the yogurt and fold over the inner layers, tying them up so that they hold in the yogurt. The outer layer gets tied towards the tips of the strip, making it an easy to hang sling for the cheese-in-potential. Be sure to double knot it so that it doesn't slide undone as it hangs.
  2. Hang this sling over the bowl for twenty four hours, letting the whey (the yellow-ish, cloudy liquid) drip out of the yogurt and into the bowl. No need to hang it in the refrigerator, usually. I've had success leaving it out at room temperature. However, we don't have air conditioning here. So, when it's hot outside I get to worrying about spoilage. I take the middle rack out of the fridge, place the bowl on the bottom shelf, and tie the cheese cloth to the top rack. I get a good night's rest knowing that it won't spoil.
  3. A day later you've got two, count 'em two, usable dairy products. The first is the cheese. The cheese cloth will still be a little moist, so unwrap it on a plate or in a bowl. It should have the consistency similar to ricotta or really smooth cream cheese. It will also have a bit of tang that makes is ultra yummy to spread on toast or bagels. The second product is the whey. I've used it to make biscuits, and I hear you can do all sorts of other nifty stuff with it like cook grains or add it to smoothies. Store them both in separate sit tight container in the fridge, and use them with abandon!
So, there you have it. Making yogurt and spreadable cheese is so simple and so empowering. Whenever I make them, I feel this wonderful connection to thousands of years of ancestors that have done the exact same process. So, why not give it a try? You might be surprised by the results. And I'm not just talking about the yogurt.


  1. Thanks for that bit on yogurt making! and a spreadable cheese! I'm gonna try it. I've done mozzarella, and butter, but would like to become more familiar with yogurt. I'm privy to almost a gallon and a half of raw milk a week with a cow share I have. Good stuff there!

  2. You're welcome! What a wonderful opportunity to have that milk. Good luck with the lebneh. I've tried mozarella a couple of times, but can't seem to get it stretchey. It's still good, though. Butter is next on my list for sure!