Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Fermentation of Milk, a culinary enleavening experience in Two Parts

You can always count on my refrigerator harboring the odd pint of spoiled milk. I hang on to it, convinced one day I shall find a way of transforming it from "bad" to "wondrous life-saving elixir". Then someone comes by and points out the mold, the stale cheesy smell, and tosses it out. Then I start over. I am amazed at the flourishment of all sorts of life with regard to milk.

But I digress. Cow's milk is for children. Adults thrive on culture... fermented milk. Here's how to make two which feature interchangeably in XYZ recipes: YOGURT and SOUR CREAM.

A note on the equipment - you will need:

  • A good candy thermometer that YOU can find the following temps easily 98, 100, 115, 120, 125, 190, 200 degrees F even when it's steamy and milky. Make sure it has a clip so you can clip it on the side of the container/pot or else you will find yourself standing over a pot of warm steaming milk for longer than you like holding it in 2 inches of fluid without touching the bottom of the pot. They cost around $5.
  • A heavy (stainless steel preferably) pot.
  • A funnel or a pyrex measuring container with a spout
  • A food thermos, has a wide opening so you can get the yogurt out after it has incubated. Thermos brand thermoses has a nice one that holds over a quart for about $15.00.

For the longest time commercial yogurt sold in stores had no live cultures. It was packed with sugars and that corn syrup. People wised up and all of a sudden commercial yogurt companies had to bend to people pressure, and they put the live cultures in - well, we think they're still in there! Now they pose off as being the owners of a very special traditional knowledge...hey, lets make our own yogurt, and keep our own starter culture to pass around to family and friends - this way you can make sure it it isn't genetically engineered!


1 quart whole milk
1/8 to 1/4 cup powdered whole milk or 1/8 to 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup starter culture with AT LEAST:
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
It is said these two strains are the closest to what the Mongols used (kumiss) which came from the steppes, you know, home to those people who live to 120 zillion years.

For the starter culture use a good quality plain commercial yogurt. I recommend, if you can get it, Nancy's plain non fat Yogurt. You can be assured that your yogurt will turn out perfect and BETTER tasting (if you thought that was possible) than Nancy's. Nancy's is far better than Dannon or the others, in my opinion.

Nancy's yogurt has all the good stuff:

L. acidophilus

  • Acidophilus produces enzymes that improve the digestibility and absorption of vitamins.
  • Acidophilus suppresses the overgrowth of yeast infections following antibiotic therapy.
  • Acidophilus, by balancing the bacteria in the gut, helps with dermatitis and acne.
  • Acidophilus is able to survive digestive acids and enzymes to become a resident of the small intestine where it becomes therapeutically effective.

S. thermophilus

  • Thermophilus produces high levels of the enzyme lactase, which assists humans in the digestion of milk based foods.
  • Thermophilus helps form the body and flavor of yogurt.-that tartness you taste with Nancy's is the live culture!

L. bulgaricus

  • Bulgaricus increases systemic immune response.
  • Bulgaricus produces an antibiotic-like substance called Bulgarican.
  • Bulgaricus produces lactase, the enzyme needed to digest milk products, thus helping lactose mal-digesters enjoy yogurt.
  • Bulgaricus helps give yogurt its distinctive flavor and creamy consistency.

L. casei

  • Casei is a highly prolific probiotic.
  • Casei, being a probiotic, successfully survives digestive acids to take up residency in the intestines where it provides many health benefits.
  • Casei significantly enhances lactose digestion.
  • Casei reduces the risk of infection from E. coli, salmonella, shigella, lysteria and intestinal viruses.

L. rhamnosus

  • Rhamnosus stimulates an immune response to invading foreign organisms.
  • Rhamnosus suppresses rotoviruses and diarrhea-causing organisms.
  • Rhamnosus is effective in treating colitis.

B. bifidum cultures

  • Bifidum is known to make milk products more digestible to lactose-intolerant consumers.
  • Bifidum eliminates yeast and intestinal virus infections Bifidum repairs and prevents intestinal inflammation.
  • Bifidum contributes greater protection to breast-fed infants by stimulating the immune system.
I like the Springfield Creamery team because they were "the first to use live acidophilus and bifidum cultures in yogurt over 30 years ago." Casei immunitas closed, Dannon!

I do not recommend using Corporate Probiotics. Be careful. Those clowns are mucking around AGAIN in all sorts of ways, including genetically engineering our beneficial bacteria. Worse, they have stolen traditional processes and decided they can make it better with their "More is More" mantra ... NO! More is greed, gluttony and ... so George! Check out what HEALING CROW has to say about the "yogurt conspiracy".


Take the 1/4 cup of starter out of the refrigerator and place it in a large (2 cup) pyrex measuring container, to bring to room temperature.

Take the 1 quart of whole milk and add the extra powdered milk or cream to it. Mix well.

(At this stage you would later add certain flavorings but if you try to do this now without ever having made plain you will screw up and likely make something that tastes like frog vomit.)

Heat the milk slowly to between 190 and 200 degrees. Keep at 200 degrees for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. You will notice that at around 190 to 200 it begins to bubble ever so slightly at the edges of the pot, it will steam but not boil. I keep mixing with a wire whisk constantly.

After 10 minutes of this, remove from heat, but keep the burner at the setting you had for 120 in case you have to warm it back up for whatever reason.

Let it cool to 130 degrees then remove one cup full and bring this to 120 degrees by placing it in a blow of tepid not cold water. (You want this cup to cool down a tad faster than the pot).

When it is at 120 degrees pour over the starter in your pyrex container. Mix gently but well. This mix has a mind of its own and will lump up just like that. Make sure it doesn't drop below 115 degrees so work fast.

While you were mixing the starter with the cup of milk, the rest of the pot milk is cooling - and should now be close to 120.

Pour this pot milk into the food thermos, and check the temperature. It should be at 120 degrees and not more. It's OK if it goes down to 115, but you only have these 5 degrees of separation to work within.

(If you pour the pot milk into the thermos when it's at, say 130 degrees, it will take forever for it to cool down to 120, even if you leave the lid open, it's a thermos!)

Now, add the starter mix you prepared to the thermos with 120 degree milk, mix well, and close it up tightly.

It will keep at between 115 and 120 which is perfect. You don't want it to drop below 98 degrees, and I think better firmer yogurt is made if you stay within 115 to 120. Other recipes will say heat to 190 degrees, or cool to 98 degrees as boundaries, but I say 120 and 200 are the only numbers you have to remember for perfect yogurt.

Let it rest for 6 hours.

Turn the stove burner off!

After six hours, open it up, and pour into a container, marking the date and time. Feed some to your cat - they LOVE warm freshly made yogurt - and NEED the probiotics too.

As for you, hands off, put into the refrigerator for a couple of hours, better yet overnight. You will likely find the taste less harsh than the original, and the texture more solid, less commercial.

If it didn't come out this way, then start over and follow the instructions to the T. I never failed on my first try and I made all sorts of mistakes so this is about as fool proof a recipe as you'll get.


Most commercial sour cream I find in my local supermarket, with few exceptions, such as NANCY's, has corn starch to make it artificially thick and no live cultures. Nancy's sour cream:

  • No additives, thickeners, or preservatives
  • Cultured for 18 hours with acidophilus, bifidum, and four lactic cultures
It is a food group by itself. It is addictive. I can eat no other commercial sour cream. By comparison, other commercial sour creams taste like milk with corn starch and lemon juice. Even so, if you make your own sour cream it will taste better than Nancy's.

The process is far less involved than yogurt IF you start out with ultra-pasteurized (heated past 280 F to extend shelf life) heavy WHIPPING cream, (not HEAVY CREAM) According to "Whats Cooking America - What is Cream - Are you Confused?":
  • Heavy Whipping Cream has 30 % butterfat
  • By contrast Heavy Cream has 36-38% butterfat.
  • Heavy Whipping Cream is Cream with enough butterfat in it to allow it to thicken when whipped.
    Does not whip as well as heavy cream but works well for toppings and fillings.
  • Almost all whipping cream is now ultra-pasteurized, a process of heating that considerably extends its shelf life by killing bacteria and enzymes.
The issue of ultra-pasteurization is not just about the killing of bacteria etc. The process changes the protein structures and that is why you have to heat it up to 200 F if you do not start out with the (ultra-pasteurized) whipping cream - not all heavy creams are ultra- pasteurized.
  • Pasteurized and Ultra-pasteurized: Creams will generally be labeled pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized creams will remain fresh longer but pasteurized will provide a better flavor, will whip up fluffier, and will hold up longer.
If you don't have or want to start out with something that processed, then the method for making sour cream is exactly the same as yogurt where you have to heat to 200 degrees and let it cool back down to 120.


1 Quart of heavy whipping cream - decide whether ultrapasteurized.
1/4 cup of starter culture - use Nancy's yogurt or your own yogurt as above


Using Ultra-pasteurized:

In a heavy steel pot, heat the whipping cream slowly (stirring gently and constantly with a wire whisk to ensure even temperature distribution) to 120 degrees F.

Add the culture, and mix well. Do not let the temperature drop below 115.

Pour into a food thermos for six hours. Remove from the thermos, and refrigerate overnight. Actually you can use it after a couple of hours, but it sets better overnight.


eXTReMe Tracker