Monday, June 4, 2012

By Request - Homemade Yogurt and Cream Cheese!

Since Jon is out fishing and the spark plugs are in bed, I finally have a moment to post about my homemade yogurt and homemade cream cheese.  These are actually one and the same recipe; the cream cheese only requires an extra step or two after making yogurt. 

I first made yogurt using this recipe:  Yogurt in a Crockpot

It's really that simple.  Honestly!  I've used both whole milk and low-fat milk with great results.   However, I'm the type of person who needs to know the "reasons why" behind the "how-to."  I'll go through the steps with explanations.

Q:  Why heat the milk on low for 2.5 hours?

A:  Heating the milk for that length of time allows it to reach a temperature high enough to kill off all the potential bad scoobies in the milk.  While we're after the good bacteria found in yogurt, we don't want any evil counterparts populating right along with the good guys.

Q:  Why let the crockpot sit for three hours after heating?

A:  Once heated, the milk will be too hot to receive the good yogurt-producing bacteria and will kill off these wanted good guys unless the milk is allowed to cool. 

Q:  It says to incubate the yogurt bacteria for 8-10 hours.  I forgot my crock of yogurt overnight and it incubated 18 hours.  Is it still good?  (Rumor has it that this actually happened to me.)

A:  Yogurt can culture in as little as 4 hours and up to 24 hours without spoiling.  However, the longer the yogurt cultures, the more lactose (milk sugar) the bacteria will consume.  Thus, a longer culture will produce a more bitter but more digestible yogurt.  If you are not lactose-intolerant, you may prefer a sweeter, shorter culture.  If you struggle with digesting dairy, try a full 24-hour culture and see if you get better results.  (A special thank you to Kitchen Stewardship for answering this question when I overcooked my yogurt...or thought I had.)

You can stop at this point and enjoy your homemade yogurt.  Don't forget to save a serving to use for starting another batch of yogurt!  It's been said that you can only use one generation of homemade yogurt starter before having to purchase a new, store-bought starter, but others have said they've made several generations of yogurt before needing a fresh starter.  I've not tried the multiple-generation approach, so please do so at your own risk. 

If you want homemade cream cheese, you'll only need some cheesecloth, a colander, and a large pot or bowl.  I used my stainless steel colander and dutch oven, but then I read that you shouldn't use any type of metal because it can react with the yogurt.  Mine turned out just fine.

Layer several thicknesses of cheesecloth over the colander and dump in the yogurt.  (Note:  for my cream cheese, I used an entire gallon of whole milk.)  Tie up the ends of the cheesecloth, taking care to tuck the ends inside the colander instead of letting them hang over the edge.  Wardeh from Gnowfglins says that if the ends aren't tucked inside, the whey will drip out of the pot and all over the counter - yuck! 

I put the lid over the colander/pot combo and set it in the fridge overnight.  I poured off the yellowish liquid that had accumulated at the bottom.  This is whey, which can be used for many different uses listed here, and which can also be frozen if you can't use the entire amount in about 6 months.  Mine stores nicely in mason jars in the refrigerator. 
You can sort of see that there is a bit of yogurt at the bottom of these.  I used 6 layers of cheesecloth, but I'd recommend trying 8 to see if fewer yogurt granules make their way into the whey.  (Whew, these homonyms are getting tricky!)

After letting the yogurt-turning-cream cheese sit another day in the refrigerator, enough whey had separated to leave a lovely knot of cream cheese sitting inside the cheesecloth.  The consistency was just perfect, and Jon said the taste was about 80% there.  I added a dash of sea salt, and if I'd put in a bit of sweetener, I think it would be almost exactly like the storebought stuff.  Since I'm cutting back on my sugar intake, though, I didn't try adding any sugar.  I like it just as it is. 

This is the now-nearly-empty tub of what was once a nearly-full tub of homemade deliciousness.

And this is why that once-full tub is now so nearly empty!  The only thing better would have been to use a homemade bagel instead of a Costco one. 

Although yogurt and cream cheese take many hours to culture, there isn't much work other than waiting patiently...which, for me, is hard work!  I hope you get to try it.  If you do, post pictures!