We’re slowly getting the hang of this milk thing. I’m working with three — no, four — main components: the milk, yogurt, cheese, and whey. Here, let me show you.
The first few weeks, I thought the milk tasted stronger than it should. Farmy, or something. I’d read that a rapid chill-time was key to keeping milk fresh-tasting, so I started making my younger son keep the “collecting” bucket in a pan of ice water while he was milking, and now the milk tastes much better.
While my son was getting a bit faster at milking, it was still taking him at least an hour to get a gallon and a half. So, at my dad’s urging, we borrowed an electric milker from a neighbor and now he’s getting two-plus gallons in about fifteen minutes. (Update: this morning it took three minutes.) The whole process still takes time — setting up, washing the milker afterwards — but it’s much faster.
We get hardly any cream! We’re not sure why — is she saving all the hind milk (where the cream is) for the calves? is her diet missing something? is it because she’s a Holstein? — and I’m pretty bummed about it, but, oh well. I never skim the milk. We just shake the cream in before using it, and if I want cream, I buy it from the store.
A friend told me that boiled milk makes a thicker yogurt, which seemed counterintuitive — one would think that a barely heated milk would allow for more bacterial growth which would then lead to a thicker yogurt — so I experimented: barely heated fresh milk versus boiled milk, and, sure enough, the boiled milk was thicker.
I’ve also tried stirring a bit of xanthan gum into the milk prior to heating and incubating. The resulting yogurt was extremely thick — nearly half of it was whey — but far too tangy and grainy. So never mind that idea.
with the xanthan gum: grainy
I’ve also strained some of the homemade yogurt to make Greek yogurt. I like it, but I think I prefer the looser, non-drained version. It’s lighter and sweeter. More refreshing.
My mom doesn’t like the layer of cream that you get on the top of homemade, raw-milk yogurt and challenged me to figure out a way to make it without that separation. I queried all my raw milk yogurt-making family members and friends, and did a bunch of internet research, but no luck. Apparently, a cream cap on raw milk yogurt is just par for the course. Sorry, Mom. Just scrape off the cream cap and carry on.
The other day I made some yogurt that turned out wildly tangy. I had no idea why; I’d done it the exact same way the day before. Perhaps I’d left it in the incubator for a little too long? But I’ve left it in even longer other times and it’s been fine. The only other thing I could think of was that I was also making two cheeses at the time and perhaps a bit of citric acid dust floated through the air and screwed it all up? Who knows. We fed it to the dogs.
I still haven’t landed on a perfect yogurt-making formula. Sometimes, for whatever reason, there’s more whey on top, or it’s super creamy or extra thick, or it’s unusually sweet. I can’t figure it out. I know a lot of you making your own yogurt at home, so if you’ve discovered some tricks — religiously temping the milk, using fresh starter every time, or using a lot of starter or a very little starter, whatever — please share. I’d love to get really good at this.
Future yogurt plans: I’m starting to sell some of the homemade yogurt to a few friends, and I want to try making these long-term storage yogurt cheeses, which means I may need to haul my dehydrator down from the attic since, in the dehydrator, I can make a gallon or more of yogurt in one go. Anything else I should make with the yogurt?
I’ve been steadily experimenting: ricotta, fromage blanc, queso fresco, queso blanco, cuajada (a Nicaraguan farm cheese), paneer, etc. The actual names are sort of confusing, since, in some cases the methods are almost identical — like, paneer and queso blanco are basically the same thing, and ricotta is like paneer but without the pressing, and so on.
set with rennet and mesophilic starter: for queso fresco
The similarities make me think that cheesemaking is, perhaps, a lot like making bread: once you get a feel for it, you can kind be as precise or as casual as you like — it all depends on what you’re going for.
set with rennet: for cuajada
So I’m beginning to relinquish my death grip on the recipes and instead focus on how it feels, messing around with different coagulants and temperatures and methods, as per however the heck I feel and based on what I want. It’s liberating.
curds for queso fresco
So far, cuajada might be my favorite — I’m building the recipe based on memory, and some internet research — and paneer is a close second. Ricotta third.
after six hours at 35 pounds of pressure: queso fresco
But these cheeses are quite different from their store-bought equivalents, so you can’t always use them interchangeably. Therefore, I’m working to create my own cheeses that I’ll name based on how I use them. Accurately-named cheeses will help manage expectations and allow me to keep my methods straight in my head.
butter chicken with paneer
So… recipes forthcoming, I hope. Stay tuned!
I don’t have a good use for the whey.
I’ve made bread with it — whey in place of water — but while it makes a wonderfully tender bread, it only uses a few cups. And I have gallons.
One friend suggested using the whey to make mint tea.
I said that sounded gross.
She said, Think mango lassi.
But then I tried it and, while actually surprisingly good, the tea had a heavier mouthfeel and I’m used to mint tea being light and bright. But I bet it’d be good in a smoothie, yes? (Or it would be, anyway, if I wasn’t already making smoothies to use up all the milk and yogurt.)
And then another friend suggested using the whey in place of water in soups — potato, veggie, chowder, etc — but again: I have gallons of the stuff. Also, it’s not exactly soup weather.
So for now I’m either feeding the whey to the dogs or dumping it down the drain.
One enormous plus of all this milk? We’ve dramatically reduced our plastic waste. I never really thought about it all that much, but now, after a morning of cheese and yogurt making, the counter will be littered with dirty jars and I can’t help but realize how much plastic I’m not using. It’s a pretty cool feeling.