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Adventures in yogurt

Yogurt seems to be 4x or more the price of an equivalent quantity of milk, so some years ago I experimented in making my own: heating up milk, letting it cool, putting it in a Mason jar with some culture, burying it a nest of plastic bags (for insulation) for 8-12 hours. It worked decently once I got used to how runny it was... a precursor to the European Style Yogurt I now regularly get from Trader Joe's.

I decided to get into it again. Problems: the Mason jar is only 32 ounces, and while I have lots of bags and lots of boxes, I don't the same convenient nest. Could make one probably... but I wanted larger batches anyway. So at first I dropped some culture into a gallon of milk and was going to let it sit on the counter. But after a bit of research I decided the world probably meant it when they said yogurt is thermophilic, so I poured off a lot into a pot and warmed that up. Not the usual way, to 180 F to then cool, which aims at altering the proteins; just enough to get the culture going. Then I let the pot sit on the stove, figuring the pilot lights might keep it warm, but that didn't seem entirely the case, so I added more heat periodically.

End result: something between yogurt and cottage cheese, as it curdled somewhat. Don't know the cause: could be the high heat at the bottom from the gas flame, could be the acid from the yogurt, or having stirred it, or all three. I don't actually mind it, and it's drinkable. But next time I might try putting it in the stove and let the pilot light there combine with the walls to keep it toasty, and also not disturb it.

I also did some research, and found that ayran = lassi = yogurt + water + whatever flavoring you want (salt, sugar, none works for me, etc.) TJ European yogurt + water comes out very much like such drinks.

There are also milk fermenters that *are* mesophilic, growing well at room temperature: matsony, viili, piima, filmjolk. I wonder if anywhere local sells cultures, or I'll have to order them. Kefir and kumis are also room temoperature, but are a mix of bacteria and yeast (thus providing the alcohol that kumis is noted for) -- a very weird mix in kefir's case, cauliflower-like kefir grains that reproduce in the milk. But it got me wondering what happens if you add baking yeast to milk... the experiment has not yet been attempted.

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Damien Sullivan

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