Get cultured

You guys! I made yogurt! and it was easy!

The whole yogurt-making adventure started one weekend this summer when we were staying at a family friends' house for a family wedding, and were treated to a sumptuous breakfast that included homemade yogurt.  I'd been buying 2-3 quarts of yogurt a week all summer (my daughter likes smoothies for lunch) and something went PING! in my mind.

So I asked our hosts about it and, after a bit of digging, figured out where to buy the starter culture (  I pasteurized some milk, dumped in some culture and some non-fat milk powder (for extra thickness), and then set the whole shebang in my slow cooker sous-vide setup at 106 degrees. There it sat for several hours while I resisted the temptation to check it out every few minutes ("Are we there yet?" "Are we THERE YET?!")  And voilà! Creamy, tart, smooth, firm yogurt - better than the store's, and at most half the price.  You don't need a sous-vide setup to do it, either.  Apparently you can use a styrofoam cooler with hot water in it, or a warm oven.  Or you can go ahead and spring for the cute little appliance.

This particular starter can't be used again, or "re-cultured".  But I've since learned that I could do the same thing using some store yogurt as a starter, or using an "heirloom" starter culture (which requires weekly upkeep).  Still, I like the convenience of just keeping some friendly bacteria in my freezer and needing nothing more than milk on hand to make yogurt as rarely or as often as I like.

Fermentation and culturing and canning have always, for me, been a sort of DIY threshold I wouldn't cross.  (It was enough work to grow the stuff!  Can't I just go ahead and eat it?)  But this week I've made yogurt and fridge pickles - baby steps on the way to a happy coexistence with the world's better-natured microbes.  And fortuitously, Cultured Foods For Your Kitchen, by Leda Scheintaub with a foreword by fermentation guru Sandor Katz, arrived on the doorstep this week.  I think it's a sign.

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