Yogurt and Cheese Experiments


A friend texted me this: did I want a lot of milk and light cream? There was a bunch leftover from an event the other day. Never one to hesitate in these situations, I was suddenly the owner of 4 quarts of organic milk and a case of light cream. I was in a hurry when I stopped by to pick it up. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the milk and cream were all ultra-pastuerized. Bummer, I thought. It was also some weird Omega 3 milk. Why do they have to add stuff to it? Please don’t put fish oil in my milk. And light cream on it’s own is so useless–it’s basically coffee creamer. These were all good for baking, it’s true, but I had hoped to make a large batch of fresh cheese and yogurt. Then I thought: why not experiment? It’s all free, right?

After a little research, I realized that although a lot of people nix the use of ultra-pasteurized milk in cultured dairy products, there are also lots of folks who say it’s not a big deal. Generally, I don’t buy anything ultra-pastuerized, which is, by the way, milk brought up to temperatures of 280 degrees then chilled quickly–basically dead milk that can last on the shelf a long time (more in depth discussion here). There is so much information out there on the inter webs, it can get dizzying when people are shouting different theories. Basically, as in all of life, there are some things that you just have to find out for yourself.

Speaking of finding out for yourself, it’s also important not to be fooled by simple recipes. Even (fool proof!) ricotta recipes vary in many slightly different ways. When do you add salt? Do you like lemon, vinegar or citric acid to curdle the milk? For a change, I used this recipe from New England Cheesemaking Supply, which varied slightly from my regular recipe in that it added the acid and salt before bringing to temperature. By the way, there are two ways to make what we call ricotta: the true one made with whey, and the fresh cheese I made, which you could also call farmer’s cheese (Is there a difference? Should we all be calling these fool-proof ricotta recipes farmers cheese recipes?).  So many questions! I hope I’m not boring you.

I used two half-gallons of milk, and two pints of light cream, and here I used citric acid (whereas I’ve usually used vinegar or lemon in the past). It came out beautifully. Maybe the best ricotta I’ve made. The higher fat content of the cream helps, I will guess. Always a bonus, there’s more than a half-gallon of whey to enjoy. Last night I used it in a great soup–beef pasta and chard. It was one of those soups you are wary about–will this be good? It was amazing, due to all the rich things I put in it, not least of which was the whey. If you use your whey, what do you use it for? I use it mostly in bread baking and soups.

As the clock was ticking for this milk and cream, I also made a big batch of yogurt. There must be five million posts on how to make yogurt, including some of my own. I loved reading this one I stumbled upon, in which this jeweler describes all the ways he makes yogurt that would make purists shout. He knows he’s flying in the face of convention, and doesn’t care, okay? I love that. It’s really all about what works for you, don’t you agree? This time I only brought the temperature of the milk to 160 instead of the oft-quoted temperature of 180ish. I’ve tried this before, but it didn’t come out right. But who’s to say what the reason was? It wasn’t a scientific experiment. This time it worked perfectly. Was it because I used cream? Or milk powder? I find that both of these add a lot of heft to my yogurt.

My recipe was this: two half-gallons of whole milk, two pints of light cream, and one 7-ounce container of Fagé yogurt, full fat (which is always hard to find, for goodness sakes). For four quarts of that mixture, I used the old cooler technique to incubate (in which you put the full inoculated jars into a cooler filled with warm water) but for the rest I tried something new, again, and used my slow cooker. This is a widely discussed method that I’ve never used because why mess with a system that works? For the sake of experimentation, I went for it. I found that for large amounts of yogurt it’s very helpful, especially if you intend to strain the yogurt. Why bother with jars if you are going to scrape it all out any way? I didn’t have the time to do the whole process in the cooker, so I heated and cooled my milk, then inoculated, then poured it into a already warm cooker that had been turned off. I wrapped it in an insulated bag and put it down by the wood stove. There are always odd things like this around my house: vinegars with blobby mothers wrapped in towels, slow cookers in inverted insulation bags by the fire. Does your house look like this too?

So go ahead, do something someone told you not to do! Experiment a little! Everyone knows that mistakes makes discoveries, and you may like what you find.

  1. Thank you for sharing all this! Did you know that ricotta means “re-cooked” in Italian? That’s referring to the fact that the real stuff is a byproduct of the cheese-making process and thus always made with whey, not milk or cream or anything else. Not to seem pedantic, but there is a real distinction between the light and fluffy (some might say watery) true ricotta and what you have referred to as farmers cheese. Both are delicious of course. Aside from in soups, bone broths and pickles, I like to use my whey to make a wonderful sorbet, just mixed with honey and a little orange flower water and processed in my ice cream maker.

    1. Yes, I did know! I mention that in the post, but not as detailed. I’ve actually tried to make it that way but it was a fail. And yes, there is a true difference. I’m fascinated by these subtleties.

      Your sorbet idea is incredible. I’m totally trying that! Have you written about that–wasn’t that in Edible HV?

  2. I like whey with lemon or lime juice as a drink – I think the proportions are in the Nourishing Traditions book – but I like it in bread and soup too. (But once I made a great soup and my lactose intolerant husband ate a great deal of it and had problems – I didn’t make another soup with it, that I fed him anyway…) I’ve totally been craving homemade ricotta, it’s nice you write about it and inspire me. A gallon of non-homogenized, organic whole milk is running me more than $8, so you can be sure I’ll be using the whey in something!!

  3. The same people who don’t want you to buy ultra-pasteurized dairy products also wouldn’t approve of the dry milk powder, i.e. WAPF. I’ve been making raw milk yogurt for years. No, it’s not super thick, more drinkable than spoonable. We get raw milk from friends of ours with Jersey cows and I innoculate it with Stoneyfield yogurt from the store, and incubate in the oven with just the light bulb on for about 24 hours. I have to stick a dishtowel in the oven door to get the right temp which is around 110. I use 2 quart Mason jars and leave 3-4 inches of space at the top of the jar. A widemouth Mason fits most blender blade assemblies. So when it’s time to add fruit to the yogurt it is done right in the jar, and put on the blender. No need to dirty the blender jar. Once you get into the homemade yogurt habit it’s easy to keep going, and is such a quick & easy & healthy thing to do.

    1. Helen, thanks for commenting! And I love to hear other people’s techniques. Everybody varies.

      I love my yogurt–I love it creamy and thick, but I do also like it soft and soupy, which is what I get too when I use raw milk. I love even clabbering the milk and calling it yogurt. It’s truly amazing what you can do! A lot of people say not to use raw milk for yogurt, as well, and you and I both disregard that. ; )

      So, what’s the deal with the powdered milk? Why is that a no-no? I’ll have to look that up.

  4. I too use powdered milk. It makes the yogurt thick enough that I don’t have to strain it. So there’s no whey. I use some local pasteurized organic milk which also happens to be fairly cheap. I used the 2% Fage to inoculate the first time I made the yogurt, but now I use my own yogurt to innoculate. I’m not certain why people recommend continuing to use the commercial yogurts to innoculate. I’m a microbiologist and the bacteria should continue to live just fine whether I’m using commercial or not. So I just use my own. Since the Bifidobacteria are anaerobes, I try to take my innoculant from the bottom of a jar. I heat the milk until it foams and then let it cool. After that, I put it in the oven with the light on. I generally do this just overnight. I’ve been getting thick, creamy yogurt for years when I’m in the yogurt mood. Recently I’ve found some 11 oz jam jars that I really like for incubation. They are a bit bigger than the usual yogurt containers and I like to pig out a bit with yogurt, so they are really nice for that. But I also use pint wide mouth canning jars. I definitely want to make ricotta though. I was planning on trying to make it from whey. I’d also like to try mozzerella and thought I’d try the whey from that.

    1. Oh, I always like hearing people’s techniques. Thank you! I don’t know why I never use my old yogurt for a new batch. I’m just that way I guess!

  5. This is soon great. And, I now feel like an unobservant dummy that I didn’t realize you had a blog until yesterday. So glad to be enlightened! Question though: I tried to “follow”, but it seems there might be an issue if I don’t have a wordpress account. Do you know if that is indeed the case?

    1. I forgot about this post! Cool. I’ve been sort of quiet here for the last year, but started up again, so it’s slightly secretive! I think you can just sign up to get new posts…but you might have done it already!

    2. I think it did work in the end, just seemed odd at first when I “confirmed subscription”. Love everything I’ve seen on here (your writing is superb & your photos are stunning – no shock there though, lol) and can’t wait to have time to delve deeper into past posts.

      BTW: just set another monster batch of yogurt away to work its magic until tomorrow morning. We did a super easy method that worked beautifully yesterday (as evidenced by the results this morning)…I heated the milk to 110 in my dutch oven; combined a few ladlefuls with a hefty amount of starter (in this case, Stonyfield organic grass milk full fat yogurt), and set it in the oven, at which point you turn the oven light on and leave it on for the duration. In less than 24 hours it was perfect. So psyched it worked well, because I need some part of this milk glut to be easy. 😀

    3. Such kind words, thank you, Kristin! Your yogurt sounds great–I never had too much luck with my oven light. Just recently I scored a new yogurt maker (but only makes 5 cups) at a thrift shop for $5, brand new. What’s awesome about it is it came with a great strainer, and if I leave it over night it makes a great yogurt cheese. I mix it with fresh herbs and serve it with crackers or bread. Less yogurt to eat, but more whey…there’s always something!

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