Saturday, February 7, 2009

Less really is more: a cultural revolution

You might remember my posts on yoghurt and cultured butter. It is with great excitement that I revise my recipe for both.
I was at a dinner party the other night and somehow or other talk turned to making yoghurt. Someone asked if anybody had had success making it at home. I said that yes, I had and gave her my recipe. Another woman piped up with her views on yoghurt making, but soon the subject was exhausted and we moved on to other things. A few days later, however, the piper-upper showed me a recipe which would take my dairy culturing to a new level. It was from Sandor Katz's book, Wild Fermentation. It turns out that I have been overcrowding my bacteria. He suggests using only one tablespoon of starter yoghurt per quart of milk (I had been using 1/3 cup starter yoghurt per half gallon of milk--about two times too much). He says that the bacteria need room to do what they do and if too many bacteria are present they can't, resulting in runny yoghurt.
Unfortunately, my farmer's cows are running dry and I haven't been able to get milk for over a month, which means I haven't been able to make yoghurt. I did, however, apply the same ratio to making cultured butter with amazing results. I put one tablespoon yoghurt in one quart raw Jersey cream and let it culture for 24 hours in a warm (28-30 degrees Celsius) place. When I tried to pour it into the bowl of my KitchenAid the next day nothing happened. Not a single drop came out. The entire jar of cream had been transformed into this beautiful, thick, slightly sour substance. I had to scoop it out with a spoon. The butter I made from it is the best I've made so far (I expect the butter in Spring to be better, though, because the cows will be eating fresh grass) and the buttermilk actually looked and tasted like buttermilk.
I am completely convinced. More starter does not mean creamier yoghurt, quite the contrary. So, when you next make yoghurt or butter, respect the personal space of your bacteria and you would want your personal bubble respected.

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