We've made several different cheeses now with the milk from Holly, our Jersey cow. It's time for a new dairy adventure: Yogurt. So that's what we did recently with couple of quarts of Holly's milk.
Making yogurt is extremely easy. (It's a daily activity in households all over India, for instance.) All you need is warmed-up milk and a few tablespoons of your favorite yogurt. The live cultures in the yogurt will gradually convert the entire batch of milk to yogurt within several hours; all you need to do is let nature take its course. The appeal of making yogurt yourself, besides its ease, is fourfold: 1) it's cheaper than buying storebought 2) it has no gunky additives or thickeners 3) because it's fresh, it has lots and lots of reputedly beneficial bacteria (often known as "probiotics") 4) you can make it as tangy as you like, simply by letting it sit longer at room temperature (taste it until you like the flavor).
EASY HOMEMADE YOGURT
Unlike commercially produced yogurt, homemade yogurt has no gelatin, so it'll have a softer, looser texture; if you want it to be firmer, you can boil the milk for 10 to 15 minutes before cooling it, to evaporate some of the water. (The yogurt will have a slightly “cooked” taste, though.) Or you can drain it to release some of the water. Lowfat and nonfat milk (and yogurt) will work too, but they take longer to set than whole-milk yogurt.
MAKES 3 CUPS | TIME: AT LEAST 8 HOURS
1 qt. whole milk2 tbsp. plain whole-milk live-culture yogurt (check the sell-by date to make sure it's very fresh)
1. Pour milk into a large heavy pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to keep it from scorching. As soon as milk starts to foam up, pour it into a bowl, put bowl in a sink of cold water, and let milk cool to 110° (measure with an instant-read thermometer).
2. Whisk 1/4 cup or so of 110° milk with yogurt in a small bowl, then whisk into milk. Pour into 2 large glass jars, cover, wrap jars in towels, and put them in a cooler. Add a few more jars filled with hot water to the cooler to keep the milk warm, and cover the cooler. Let milk sit at least 8 hours and up to 12 to set (it will look and taste like yogurt when it’s done). The longer it sits, the tangier it gets; chilling it stops the process. Yogurt keeps, chilled, up to 1 week.
With Holly's milk, our yogurt tasted incredible.
YOGURT CHEESE (LABNEH)
I've always wanted to make labneh, too—Lebanese-style yogurt cheese. It's simple enough: mix the yogurt with a bit of salt and drain it until it's super-thick. It makes a wonderful spread for pita or sandwiches, especially if you mix seasonings into it (look for the February 2012 issue of Sunset; the Feel-Good Food column will explore this topic in more detail)
MAKES 2 CUPS | TIME: AT LEAST 24 HOURS
3 cups plain whole-milk yogurt1 tsp. fine sea saltExtra-virgin olive oil1. Pour yogurt into a strainer lined with a double thickness of cheesecloth and set in a bowl deep enough so that strainer sits above the drained liquid. Stir in salt, then lay ends of cheesecloth over yogurt, covering it. Chill at least 1 day and up to 2 (cheese will get denser and thicker the longer you drain it).
2. Spoon cheese into a tall, narrow jar and top with 1/4 in. oil. Labneh keeps, chilled, up to 2 weeks.
Then I discovered that you can drain the labneh until it's actually malleable (do it for about 5 days total, changing the cheesecloth whenever it's damp), form it into small balls, roll those around in whatever seasonings you like (stick to dried, though), and marinate the balls in olive oil for a couple of days in the fridge; bring to room temperature before eating. The balls turn into single-serving flavor bombs and are great for cocktail parties—set out a bowlful for people to spread on crackers or baguette slices.