I have been interested in cheesemaking and have done quite a bit of research on it. Most people suggest trying to make yogurt or buttermilk first. So we did just that.
Buttermilk is super easy to make. Because the bacteria in buttermilk are mesophilic there is no heating required. Mesophilic bacteria thrive at room temperature (68°F-72°F). So, to make buttermilk you just pour about three quarters of a cup or 6 ounces of fresh buttermilk from the grocery store or your own homemade buttermilk into a quart jar and fill it up with regular milk (we used whole milk) cover and let it sit on the counter for 24 hours until clabbered (thickened). If it does not clabber in 36 hours then, your culture was dead. You can still use the milk for baking.
I don't have a picture of the buttermilk we made, but it turned out great. If your buttermilk is a little older that you will be using for a culture then add 1 cup instead of 3/4 cup. The longer the buttermilk is in the fridge the more bacteria die off. Because buttermilk is so acidic it will last much longer than regular milk in the fridge.
Use buttermilk in place of milk or water in baking recipes. Especially those that use baking soda. The resulting baked goods will be moister. The baking soda likes the acidity and will help raise the batter/dough more.
My sister-in-law made the most delicious buttermilk waffles using our homemade buttermilk. They were so moist and fluffy. Much better than pancake mix.
Okay now on to the yogurt. The bacteria in yogurt are thermophilic which means they are heat loving. They prefer temperatures closer to body temperature. Which is why yogurt is good for your digestive system.
Making yogurt is slightly more difficult than making buttermilk but still pretty simple.
Here's what you do:
Heat milk (we used 3 quarts) to 185°F or just before boiling. This serves two purposes. First, to kill any unwanted bacteria in the milk/pot. Second, to unravel the protein a little bit which makes the resultant yogurt more creamy. Once again, we used whole milk. But 2%, 1% or skim would also work. The results will not be as creamy as whole milk.
Cool the milk down to approximately 110°F. Do this by setting pan in a sink full of ice water. It will cool down rapidly. Do not inoculate the milk above 125°F. It will kill the bacteria that make the yogurt.
Once the milk has cooled to 110°F add 1/4 cup plain yogurt. Make sure the yogurt contains active live cultures. The fresher the yogurt the better. The more bacteria will still be alive. I've heard Dannon plain yogurt works best. We actually couldn't find that at our grocery store. So we used Dannon plain Greek yogurt. Which worked great. The cultures are the same, which is really all you‘re using the plain yogurt for, to inoculate your milk.
After inoculating milk, stir thoroughly to mix cultures throughout. Pour mixture into sterilized quart jars. Cover with sterilized lids. Place jars of yogurt on heating pad and turn on low. Some suggest medium. I guess it depends on your heating pad. We want to try to keep the yogurt at between 100°F and 120°F for several hours. Anywhere from three hours to about 15 hours. The higher the temperature say 120° the faster the yogurt will be done. But you are more likely to get graininess and whey separation. Using a lower heat around 100° will take much longer but the slower process will result in a creamy texture with less separation. The whey is the watery stuff you see when you open a carton of yogurt.
We left our yogurt on the heating pad for about 15 hours on low. The longer you leave it on the heat the thicker and more tart it will become. When the yogurt is done it will not be as thick as the commercial yogurt you buy at the store. Most commercial yogurt is thickened with gelatin, pectin, cornstarch, and/or other thickeners.
Alternative heating methods include:
Turning your oven to 100°F, if your oven will go that low. Put your yogurt in 100° oven overnight.
Igloo cooler with warm water (not too hot so you don’t kill the bacteria). Place your jars of yogurt in a water filled cooler and close the lid. You’ll periodically want to check the water temperature. If it gets too cool, add more warm water. Remember the water should be between 100°F and 120°F.
When the yogurt is done, place in refrigerator and let cool 3 to 4 hours before eating. It will also thicken a little as it cools.
At this point you can add whatever you like. We made a fruit on the bottom type sauce out of our home canned cherries. The cherries were drained and pitted and chopped. The liquid from the cherries was heated with a little sugar and cornstarch slurry until thickened. The cherries were added back to the sauce. The mixture was placed in the bottom of 16 ounce plastic freezer jam cups and topped with our homemade yogurt. Delicious!
To make Greek yogurt: add cream (about a pint) to ½ gallon milk. And make the same as above. When yogurt is done, instead of placing in refrigerator, place yogurt in a cheesecloth (flour sack towel or handkerchief) to drain the whey. Let drain for several hours or overnight. The results will be a much thicker, cheese like yogurt.
Stay tuned for our attempt at cheese making in the near future.