Fresh Yogurt was my first true foray into fermented foods; although I’d baked yeast breads for years before I started making yogurt, using instant dried yeast didn’t feel much different from using baking soda. Yogurt felt different. It’s just one ingredient: milk. And you do one thing to it: heat it. Then you stir in a little finished yogurt and ignore it—for hours. Yogurt makes yogurt. I couldn’t believe something that tastes so good and that I eat so often makes itself.
Yogurt got me hooked on homemade dairy, and the more I learn, the more there is to learn. It’s like learning math, or music, or knitting, or painting: You can successfully make something simple with little effort, and then you can spend the rest of your life making increasingly complex and delicious forms of that simple thing.
Like most fermentations, the mere simplicity of the ingredients and process underlying dairy ferments makes them daunting: one small change can create a different flavor, texture, or product. The waiting periods involved also tend to deter first-time cheesemakers. By starting with the simplest dairy products, like yogurt, buttermilk, and basic fresh cheeses, you’ll become comfortable with the concepts and terminology of cheesemaking and ready to explore the wider world of homemade cheese. Some ingredients and tools, as well as basic techniques, can ensure you embark successfully on your fermented dairy adventures.
Tips & Tricks
The posts on this site include tips and tricks for the dairy ferments in the given recipes. But keep in mind these points every time you plan to ferment cheeses and other dairy products:
- Start right. The general tips for fermentations still apply: Keep it fresh and clean, and give it time. For dairy products and cheeses, that means buying fresh milk, ensuring all of your tools and equipment are clean and sterile, and planning for and being patient with the holding and aging times. Heat sterilization may be new to you but is easy: simply immerse your cheesemaking tools for 5 minutes in water that’s at a rolling boil. Plastics can be sterilized in a gallon of water mixed with 2 tablespoons of bleach and then thoroughly rinsed.
- Read and reread the recipe. Even though the techniques and the ingredients and tools used in cheesemaking are straightforward, you may initially be unfamiliar with some of them. Read the entire recipe long before you plan to make it to be sure you don’t need to make any special purchases or adaptions, read it entirely again before you start the process, and refer to it often while you work.
- Go slow. When you ferment dairy, you’re encouraging good bacteria to grow in the milk. This takes time—including during the first step of heating milk. Set your stovetop on low heat so that the temperature rises slowly. It should take at least 20 minutes to heat the milk. Then take your time as you work through the process. You’ll be rewarded from your first bite.