Make Your own Fermented Dairy Products

Tap the benefits of delicious fermented dairy products.

| February/March 2005


Goat cheese makes a great topping for salads, while kefirsmoothies and yogurt paired withfruit and granola make healthysnacks.

Photo courtesy Scott Hollis

Cultured dairy products — yogurt, soft cheeses, buttermilk and kefir — taste great, and are easy and fun to make at home by simply adding cultures of selected strains of yeast or bacteria to start the process of fermentation. The cultures add rich and tangy flavors to the dairy products. These cultured foods boost your immune system, provide calcium and aid your digestion. For those with lactose intolerance, these foods are also a welcome alternative. According to Steve Hertzler, assistant professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University, “The active cultures in these products convert lactose, a carbohydrate found in milk, into a more easily digestible form.”

People have been making yogurt and other cultured dairy products for thousands of years. Traces of fermented foods have been found in Mesopotamia, which is considered the birthplace of civilization, but experts suspect these foods originated with nomadic tribes of western Asia and Eastern Europe because fermentation made their dairy products easier to transport and less prone to spoilage.

Cultured foods are surprisingly quick and simple to make at home, and your homemade products can taste better than many over-sugared grocery store brands. You can add your own favorite toppings such as fruits, nuts and sweeteners, too.

Getting Started

If you’ve ever worked with yeast or sourdough starter cultures for making bread, you’re already familiar with making cultured dairy products depending upon what you’re making, you can use store-bought yogurt or buttermilk to develop your starter culture. Or to be certain of a good, strong culture, you can purchase a commercial starter. This is often a one-time purchase because with a little care, you can keep your family of friendly microbes hard at work for years to come.

They are not overly fussy about the fat content in milk, so you can make yogurt from whole or skim milk. Use organic milk whenever possible, and if you have access to milk from grass-fed cows, the flavor and nutrition of your yogurt will be much improved.

It’s true that humans derive many benefits from eating “living” dairy products, but the microbes that actually do the work have selfish motives. These bacteria feed on the carbohydrates in milk — namely lactose — for energy. This process creates other more acidic byproducts that impart the tangy flavor found in yogurt, buttermilk and kefir. Not all bacteria are “friendly,” so the trick is controlling the process to cultivate the types you want.

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