There are many things that worried me as I prepared to start the GAPS diet, not the least of which was the fact that I had to ferment dairy. Ferment dairy? Does that sound foreign only to me? I already felt accomplished making my own kraut, crispy nuts, and dehydrating our wonderful fruit harvest. But dairy...dairy goes bad.
Yet, I pushed through the doubts, mustered my courage, and read a lot of blog posts. Oh, yes, there are plenty of posts about yogurt making, but I have been asked for these directions enough times to justify adding another post to the mysterious world of culturing milk. I included pictures for all you visual people, but there be warned: just because my uncle is a professional photographer, does not make me one! If you want eye-candy, go to his website, not mine!
To start making your own yogurt and sour cream, ensure you have a big pot, the thinner metal the better; a large bowl wide enough for your pot to rest in it; a calibrated thermometer; jars with their lids; a starter, culture, etc.; and some time.
Now, I use raw milk, which means the milk has not been pasteurized, killing all the beneficial microbes naturally found in milk and distorting its protein structure. For many years, however, we could not get our hands on this white gold, so we had to settle for store-bought milk. You can make yogurt with this, too. Never fear.
I use one gallon of milk, one quart of light cream, and one quart of heavy cream. Yum!
The first step requires heating the milk. Yes, even though your lovely milk is raw, heat the milk. With raw milk, you warm it to a gentle 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Please note, your milk is still technically raw. Why heat it then, you ask? Good question. Raw milk is full of lively microbes, but there are many different strains of these probiotics present, and they will compete during the culturing process. The yogurt will end up tasting odd and may very well separate in to curds and whey. Unpleasantness, especially after spending this time and money on yogurt. Heating the milk to 110 degrees controls the levels of probiotics so competition is not as rampant, making the yogurt sour nicely and develop a thick, silky texture. And remember, all this and your milk is still raw!
If you cannot use raw milk, then buy organic, full fat, low temperature pasteurized milk from the store. If you can get it unhomogenized, consider yourself blessed. Read carefully, now. Instead of heating your milk to 110 degrees, heat it to 180 degrees. Why? Well, sorry to say, since the milk was pasteurized at the factory, it lost its natural protection from invading microbes: its own probiotics. Sigh. Tragic. Why did they do this in the first place? Anyway, your milk is now contaminated with some pestulant flora, and we do not want them growing during the fermentation process. Heating it to 180 degrees kills all the beasties in the milk so none of them propogate later on. The microbes you will use to culture your milk will come from the starter you use in a later step.
White, foamy beauty waiting docilely in a pot.
So, pour your milk in the pot, cover it with
any lid you can find the correct lid, and turn the burner to medium high. Stay in the kitchen while the milk warm because we do not want to overheat or burn it. With my thin metal pot, I generally check the milk about seven minutes in to the heating process and it is almost at 110 degrees. Of course, if you are using non-raw milk, it will take longer to reach 180 degrees.
Checking the temperature. Sorry about the blur!
While the milks warms, procure a wide, sturdy bowl and place it on a flat surface. This will later be holding your pot of milk along with some ice.
Always keeping an eye on the milk on the stove, fetch enough jars to hold your milk and cream (a gallon of milk requires four quart jars, plus however many jars you need for your cream), and cover the bottom of each jar with your starter. What could your starter be? Well, any probiotic food or capsule, really. People have had success with using their probiotic pill, others prefer using some of their last batch of yogurt, some get fancy and order starters online, while still others, like me, buy organic yogurt from the store and use it as their culture. Do what works best for you. With raw milk yogurt, many find that using yogurt from their previous batch results in really sour yogurt due to the wider variety of probiotic strains with which you are working. I tried it once, and the taste definitely had to grow on us. My general practice is to buy organic, full fat, unhomogenized yogurt from the store or farmer's market to use as my starter. The farmer's market yogurt makes our yogurt so creamy in taste - delicious! Unfortunately, we do not get over there often, so we resort to Erivan yogurt from Whole Foods. Erivan is only found on the east coast, so do your research and see which starter is best for you!
You see how I cover the bottom with my starter yogurt? It is about 1/4 cup starter to 4 cups milk.
Forget not thy milk warming on the stove. That would bring about no pleasant happening, now would it? Do not fret if you do happen to heat past the 110 degree mark. The yogurt is not going to be ruined, and you will still enjoy the benefits of the bacteria from your starter yogurt. In fact, the yogurt will be thicker the more you heat it because there will be less competing strains. And if you are not using raw milk and you miss the 180 degree mark, hey, your milk is dead anyway.
Once you hit 110 or 180 degrees, depending on your milk, immediately transfer the pot of milk to that wide bowl mentioned above. Take of the lid of the milk pot and fill the wide bowl with ice and some water, making sure to leave room in the bowl for melting. There. Now your set up should like this:
The bowl is wide enough to fit the pot and ice water. Remember to leave room for melting ice if you do not want to deal with Niagara falls all over your kitchen counters!
Leave the milk in the bowl until the temperature goes down to 80 degrees. Once it reaches 80 degrees, you will fill the jars with your milk, but for now, just be patient until it cools all the way. In the meantime, take your cream (which you did not heat) and pour them into a few jars with starter yogurt on the bottom. Take a spoon and stir the starter into the cream. That is all you need to do for sour cream! By now, your milk should be cooled...
Checking the temperature. Still a bit more to go until 80 degrees!
Has your milk cooled down to 80 degrees? Good! Only a few more steps to go until creamy goodness. Carefully pour the milk into your prepared jars. Get a long spoon and stir the milk into the starter, as you did with the cream above. Gather all your lids and screw them on the filled and stirred jars. You should have something looking like this:
That was not so bad, was it?
And into the dehydrator they go! Or not. We use a dehydrator to culture our dairy, but you may not have one. (Hint: if you are on the GAPS diet, I highly recommend one as almost absolutely necessary.) If that is the case, a crockpot on low has worked, as has the warming drawer which comes with some ovens nowadays. But, did you know people have been fermenting dairy long before ovens and dehydrators were invented? That is right! Fermenting is not an exacting science. If you have a water closet or an area near heating vents, or even on top of your fridge - any place with a steady temperature around one hundred degrees - feel free to use it. In our family, we pop it in the dehydrator at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours. Whatever you use to culture your milk, be sure it is at a temperature around 100 degrees and for at least 24 hours. Not hard, eh? Here are our babies in the dehydrator. See the smaller cream jars in the front?
I see eight jars!
Whew. Feeling overwhelmed? Do not worry, it gets easier every time and, in reality, there is not that much to it. Just develop a rhythm: warm milk, cool milk, pour milk, and do not spill! Here is a review of the directions: