Saturday, April 10, 2010

Getting Cultured

Homemade butter, wrapped for a hostess gift

Fromage blanc, draining in a butter muslin

The fromage blanc after draining is complete

The now-empty Fromage Blanc jars and the not-quite-ready Creme Fraiche, and Kefir jars.

I've been feeling guilty about not trying new things with our Jersey milk, so yesterday when Emma brought in the morning's milk I strained it and poured a gallon of it into a pot to pasteurize for fromage blanc. It is a soft cheese that has the consistency of cream cheese. You can flavor it with herbs and spices or use it plain as a substitute for cream cheese or ricotta. The pasteurizing part was the only thing about making it that was in any way difficult.

I have an electric stove, so anything that has to be maintained at a certain temperature pleasures me not. I was supposed to bring the milk to 145 degrees and then hold it there for 30 minutes. I turned the stove off when it got close to that, but the milk heated up to 155 anyway. Then I set the timer at five-minute increments and checked the temperature to see if I should turn the stove back on. By the time the milk had cooled to where it was supposed to be, the time was up.

Then I just had to wait for it to cool to 86 degrees, at which point I could add the fromage blanc starter and mix it in. I covered it and let it set for 12 hours. Just before I went to bed, I ladled it into a muslin-lined colander and then tied it up to drain from the kitchen faucet overnight. It's supposed to keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks.

Once the fromage blanc was setting, I started the kefir. I used a recipe from Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, for it and the creme fraiche.

According to a quote in Nourishing Traditions from Donna Gates, author of The Body Ecology Diet:

"Kefir is a cultured and microbial-rich food that helps restore the inner ecology. It contains strains of beneficial yeast and beneficial bacteria (in a symbiotic relationship) that give kefir antibiotic properties. A natural antibiotic--and it is made from milk! The finished product is not unlike that of a drink-style yogurt, but kefir has a more tart, refreshing taste and contains completely different microorganisms. . .kefir does not feed yeast, and it usually doesn't even bother people who are lactose intolerant."

The kefir recipe called for two cups of whole milk. The recipe gave an option for adding a 1/2 cup of cream. I had plenty of raw cream, so I took the option. I cut the whole milk to 1 1/2 cups, though. I think I need some kind of fat-content measuring tool. If I had to label my dairy products they would probably all have to be labeled, high-fat, part cream instead of low-fat, part skim.

The kefir should have been a snap, but since I used cold milk, I had to bring it up to room temperature. I thought I would speed things along by heating water first in the microwave, then setting the milk jar in it. I neglected to check the temperature of the water, though, and I set my jar of milk/cream in it and promptly broke it. That wouldn't have been too bad to clean up, but when I heard the glass pop, I instinctively jerked the jar out of the water, raining milk/cream all over me and the kitchen floor. So I had to stop and mop. Then I went through the above steps again, except I cautiously stuck my finger in the heated water to test it before putting my milk jar in it. Once the milk reached room temperature, I stirred in a tablespoonful of kefir powder, covered it with a cloth, and stuck it in a south-facing window.

I began the creme fraiche, a European style sour cream. I remember Julia Child saying how put out she was about it not being readily available in American grocery stores, as it is a key ingredient in French cooking. The recipe is really easy, a pint of cream and a tablespoon of commercial buttermilk or creme fraiche from a previous batch. I was using commercial buttermilk. But when I opened it, it smelled a little off--maybe because I bought it in December. So now it was stop and shop. I looked for Nathaniel and Emma to tell them where I was going. They were doing their online composition class. . .

I jumped in the car and made a quick (for me) trip to the grocery store. Along the way, I stopped and took some pictures of wildflowers. Thanks, Lady Bird.

All I had to do when I got home was stir the tablespoon of buttermilk into the cream, cover tightly, and place in the window for 20 to 24 hours.

I still had about three cups of raw cream left, so I made butter with it. I've finally figured out that I don't have to wrap my mixer in saran wrap if I use the mixing bowl shield and the regular beater with the mixer set on a low speed. It takes longer, but I can walk away and do other things until I hear the sound change when the butter breaks. What I haven't figured out is how much salt to add when the butter is done. I'm wondering if it will always be a hit-and-miss kind of thing, because homemade butter is not factory-consistent. Fiona is completely grass-fed now, except for the alfalfa she gets at milking time. I thought the butter would be stronger tasting, but instead it seemed milder to me. Trying to taste and salt, I overdid it.

The next batch might taste like mint, as Fiona grazed a planter full of it yesterday. I'll have to find a recipe for chocolate bread if that is the case.


dhan said...

whether the difference between kefir and yogurt?
Which is better between them?
whether kefir has the same flavor of yogurt?

Wendy Haught said...


From what I've read, the kefir is better for you. Mine tasted very similar to plain yogurt.

The difference is in the good bacteria. While yogurt helps restore the good bacteria to your intestines, it does not have the "antibiotic quality" that is attributed to kefir. At least, that is the way I understand it.