Dairy Night in Canada

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_IGP6898Ed. Note: I’m excited to let Krista take a rare blog turn — particularly as this covers some of her specialties. Look for some more entries from Krista soon.

Regular followers of Donald’s writing will know that I am now officially a hockey widow again. And I’ve got to say that, while it was nice having the option of a Saturday night social life during the lockout, my weekends have been much more productive since the return of Hockey Night in Canada.

Why more productive, you ask?

Well, I have this little problem with sitting still… I’m not very good at it. Saturday night hockey gives me a solid 3+ hours to putter around the kitchen, making food for the week while indulging in a glass (or two…) of wine, and often watching something on my iPad.

So, last Saturday — Hockey Day in Canada — I kicked off the evening by making our yoghurt and soft cheese for the week. I use Crosswind Farms goat milk for both my cheese and yoghurt, because I really like goat’s milk (OK, I like goats – I’d have one of my own, but Peterborough can’t even get its act together to let us officially have chickens in the city, so I feel like a backyard goat might be pushing it).

Since I make a soft, unripened cheese – somewhere between a ricotta & chevre in texture – the process is simple and doesn’t require any special tools or ingredients. The whole process takes remarkably little work, really. Let’s be honest, if it wasn’t so easy, I wouldn’t make it pretty much every week!

Actually, it is easy enough (and has enough hands-off time) that, last weekend, I made a batch of granola and a giant pot of apple sauce at the same time as the yoghurt and cheese. And I watched a great documentary on Myanmar to boot! I mentioned that I wasn’t very good at sitting still, right?

Since both the yoghurt and cheese making processes start by heating up the milk, I always make both at the same time. I’ll give recipe sizes for 1L of milk, but feel free to adjust for the amount of milk you want to use.

Heat milk to 170-180F.  Monitor carefully.
Heat milk to 170-180F. Monitor carefully.
• Heat 1L of milk to between 170F – 180F, stirring frequently.*
• Remove from heat and let cool to 115F (or use my friend Myra Hirschberg’s temperature gauge: when you can hold your finger in it for just 10 seconds before it is too hot, that’s just about right. Thank you Myra! I have used this technique successfully many times!).
• Remove about ¼ cup of the hot milk, add a generous 2 tablespoons of “starter” to it, and stir well.**
• Pour your mixture back into the pot of warm milk and stir well.
• Ladle the mixture into sterilized containers for storage – I use 250mL mason jars, not quite full, so they are already in breakfast sized portions.
• Keep the yoghurt–to–be at 115 degrees for the next 3 – 4 hours. I do this using my dehydrator and a timer (since I always make it at night), but I’ve heard that putting it in a gas oven with the pilot light on also works well. Failing either of these options, I’m sure I’ve heard my friend, Johanna Hart, talk about keeping her yoghurt wrapped in a blanket on a heating vent – I’ll let her comment on the details of that method!

Ladle the mixture into sterilized containers for storage.After this period of keeping your product warm, you will hopefully have cultured some lovely bacteria and turned your milk into yoghurt. Homemade yoghurt doesn’t have the same consistency as store-bought yoghurt, so don’t be alarmed. I find it is generally not as thick, but

Heated milk and starter.
Heated milk and starter.
a bit smoother (and it does have a skin over the top which I just remove before I put the lids on). You will also find that the consistency may change from one batch to the next as it can be affected by temperatures, times, type or even batch of milk. And sometimes — not very often — it just doesn’t set. Stick to the temperature guides as closely as you can and most batches should be successful. As for the details, experiment until you find a brand of milk and a timing/temperature system that works for you.

*Not all milk brands are equal – stick to brands that have been pasteurized at the lower end of the temperature range or you will not be able to culture the bacteria. I use Crosswind Farm’s goats milk, but Kawartha Dairy also works well if you want cow’s milk. I have made yoghurt with skim milk, whole milk and everything in between. Not surprisingly, the skim milk produces a thinner yoghurt, but you always have the option of straining it through cheese cloth at the end (like you would to make Greek yoghurt) if you want it to be thicker.

Ladle the mixture into sterilized containers for storage.
Ladle the mixture into sterilized containers for storage.
**Starter is plain, full-fat, ideally thick yoghurt that provides the initial culture for growing and thickening your milk into yoghurt. Astro Balkan Style works well and is easily accessible, but I’m sure there are lots of brands that will also work. You can save some of the yoghurt from your first batch to use as starter for you next back to avoid having to buy a small container of yoghurt every time. This isn’t like sourdough starter though, after a number of batches, you will want to go back to store bought starter to rejuvenate the culture.

Soft, unripened cheese
I am by no means a cheese-making expert (although learning to make “real” cheese may be a project at some point this winter). This technique, which I’m still playing with as I experiment with slightly different textures, allows me to quickly and easily make a cheese that stores in the fridge for a couple of weeks and that I use on crackers, in salads, on pizza, in frittata… you get the idea. The consistency is somewhere between spread-able and wet-crumbly.

Yes, those are the official descriptors.

I have to tell you, the key to having flavour in your cheese is salt. Trust me here. When I say “salt to taste,” be generous.

Soft curds being strained from the whey.
Soft curds being strained from the whey.
• Heat 1L of milk to about 175F, stirring frequently (even slight changes in temperature seem to affect curd size and therefore the final texture – play around with the details based on what you want to use your cheese for).
• Remove from heat and add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice – stir – you will see the curds and whey start to separate immediately.
• Let cool (temperature is not as important for this one).
• Strain the curds and whey through a few layers of cheese cloth (keep the whey if you make bread and substitute it for the water to get a lovely, soft texture).
• Wrap the cheese cloth tightly around the curds and fasten with an elastic. Leave to drain for at least a few hours – overnight is fine. I often put something heavy-ish (like a can of beans) on the cheesecloth-curd bundle just to help it drain.
• Once the curds have drained, transfer to a clean glass storage container, salt generously, and store tightly-covered in the fridge.

Leave to strain through cheesecloth -- overnight does the trick.
Leave to strain through cheesecloth — overnight does the trick.
*The flavour does improve after the cheese has been in the fridge for a few days. That said, this is an unripened cheese, so don’t leave it too long! I’ve read somewhere that you can mix a tablespoon of lemon juice into the drained curds before storage as a bit of a preservation measure. I’m not sure of the effectiveness or necessity of this though (the cheese never lasts very long in our house anyway!).

And there you have it. The home cook version of both cheese and yoghurt.

A quick note: These are just methods I’ve put together based on what I’ve heard and read from others, with a lot of trial and error thrown in. I would definitely recommend doing a bit of your own research on food handling before starting work on your own dairy products.

Enjoy Dairy Night in Canada!