Learning About Natural Cheesemaking With David Asher in Brooklyn

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Yogurt cheese, perfect for a beginner like me.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a day of cheesemaking workshops with David Asher, a cheesemaker who runs the Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking, a “traveling cheese school” with origins in the Gulf Islands region of British Columbia. The folks from Slow Food organized these workshops and a reception the Friday evening before. After having had a look at Asher’s remarkable book, The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, they were so impressed with the knowledge within, they felt compelled to invite David Asher to come to NYC and teach classes on his unique style of cheesemaking.

A big part of this book asserts that you do not need to buy freeze dried cultures to make cheese, and that it can all be done with kefir, which contains most bacteria needed to culture milk for cheese; using raw milk is encouraged for the most part, too. Rennet is also employed in making many of the cheeses, while a simple acid—lemon juice, vinegar, or kefir—is used in a small number of cheeses to separate out curds and whey. Bottom line—industrial practices and ingredients are unnecessary to make delicious, flavorful cheeses.

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The building that houses Crown Finish Caves. The light was beautiful that evening.

I chose to attend the reception and take the first day of workshops. The reception was quite nice, and took place in one of the tunnels at Crown Finish Caves, a cheese aging facility located three stories below street level; originally the space was a brewery. Because it is so far below ground and the walls are so thick, it keeps a relatively constant temperature, perfect for affinage, or, aging cheese. A number of farms create their cheeses and age them here.

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The tunnel in which we attended the reception and heard David Asher talk about kefir and cheese.

At the reception, which took place in one of the tunnels, David talked a lot about kefir, his love for it, and its usefulness in making cheese. Before the talk there was traditional music played by a small band, a little local food and drink, and lots of cheese afterwards. David even passed out kefir grains to anyone who wanted one (they were quite large). I put mine in dead (UHT) milk and it fermented it! The magic of kefir.

The next morning I returned to Brooklyn for a day of making simple cheeses—yogurt cheese (and yogurt), paneer, and chevre. Each of these is created differently—to make yogurt cheese, you hang full fat yogurt in butter muslin (or a du-rag) until the whey drips away; for paneer, you boil milk and add acid, which creates curds and whey; and with chevre, you add kefir and rennet, and hang the cheese like yogurt cheese, or you can ladle it into forms.  Continue reading “Learning About Natural Cheesemaking With David Asher in Brooklyn”

The Joy of White Moustache Yogurt

sour-cherry-white-moustache-yogurt-side

For a little while now, I’ve seen this fancy-looking yogurt in specialty shops in NYC—White Moustache brand. It comes in glass containers, has a hip look (moustaches are big in NYC these days), and is made Persian-style, which is a thick, strained-type yogurt (think FAGE). While shopping at Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker Street, I came across it and decided to take the plunge—and boy, am I glad I did.

This is the best yogurt I’ve ever tasted—even better than the strained raw yogurt I make at home. It has a wonderful texture—smooth and creamy, yet light, and was perfectly balanced in the sweet/tang department. You’d that that even with sweetened sour cherries, the yogurt would taste more sour than most, but this did not have any harshness to it whatsoever. The natural sweetness of the milk is clear in the taste of the yogurt.

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The yogurt itself takes three days to make, and is truly handcrafted. They fill each container by hand and make all the fruit/veg elements. A jar at Murray’s was priced at $5.99, and I think with all things taken into consideration, it’s worth it.  Continue reading “The Joy of White Moustache Yogurt”

Strained Yogurt

strained yogurt in the morning

Sometimes I find myself with very runny yogurt. Like, watery runny – sometimes yogurt just does that. Non commercial yogurt can be kind of temperamental, and since there are no gums or stabilizers involved, consistency is not always guaranteed. Runny yogurt can also be the result of user error, or wonky cultures, or temperature fluctuations. There are a lot of variables.

Since I’ve been eating raw yogurt, I have gotten used to yogurt with a looser texture. But sometimes this texture is even too runny for me. Early on, I just got kind of bummed out and ate it anyway (a shame to waste a whole quart of it).

However, these days I recognize that really runny yogurt is an opportunity for a truly delicious solution: strained yogurt.

Strained yogurt is everywhere in my neighborhood. Living in the most intensely Greek part of Astoria, Queens, I am surrounded by Greek culture, including Greek food culture. Dishes like souvlaki, donner pork, galaktoboureko, and frappes appear on diner menus, and no one considers this odd or unusual. Most people I know have a container or two of Fage yogurt hanging out in their fridge.

A couple weekends ago, I got my hands on some raw yogurt that was really runny, so I automatically took out my straining setup and poured the yogurt in it. This setup consists of a tall plastic container and a strainer lined with three or four layers of cheesecloth that I set on top of it. I put the yogurt in the strainer, then place the container lid on top of everything. I set it in the fridge on the bottom shelf and put it out of my mind until the next morning. Continue reading “Strained Yogurt”

Making Raw Yogurt

fresh milk with yogurt starter
Fresh milk mixed with yogurt starter

The other day I decided to make yogurt.

The last time I tried making yogurt was a lackluster experience. It was eons ago, in another life, and we had a Salton yogurt maker. It had 6 ceramic cups and made unremarkable yogurt  – it was extremely runny, even moreso than the raw yogurt I am accustomed to now, which is thin compared to commercial yogurt. We abandoned the project after a couple of tries.

after culturing
After culturing

Fast forward a couple of decades and to this raw milk yogurt tutorial. I was really inspired by it – it sounded so easy to make.  And it was!  Basically, I stirred a tablespoon of nice raw yogurt into a pint of fresh raw milk (I did not heat it), put the lid on, wrapped the pint jar in a towel around noon and set it in a cabinet above my fridge that gets nice and warm (but not too warm). I checked it around 10am this morning, and it was yogurt!

It had the curds that I’m used to, and the beautiful separation of cream and milk. It’s easily mixed back together, so no worries there.

yogurt texture
Yogurt texture

It’s fresh and tangy and lovely. I’m thrilled!  I’ll be making this regularly and experimenting with the recipe a little. I think I’ll try straining some at some point, which makes a thick, creamy wonderful product. Next time I might use cream as well.

A few things – from what I’ve read, the milk should not be older than 5 days to be effective in making yogurt. Also, I am not sure if this recipe would work with pasteurized milk. And with any kind of preserving/fermenting, make sure your jars and lids are sterile. If you have observations to share on this, please leave a comment!

This post is participating in Real Food Wednesday, hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Cream of Carrot Soup

cream of carrot soup
Cream of Carrot Soup

I love carrots – after parsnips, they are my favorite root vegetable (apart from potatoes, sweet potatoes, and those kinds of tubers) to roast. Whenever I see crudités, I head for the carrots first. I’ve eaten more than my share of carrots at recital receptions, and I never tire of them. I do find packaged “baby carrots” to be a bit amusing – big carrots whittled down to become small carrots (I have no idea how they do it exactly). Actual baby carrots right out of the ground are a totally different creature and are sweet like candy.

I made a carrot cake the other day, from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks site. It’s a wonderful cake, very earthy and sweetened with bananas and dates – there’s no refined sugar (or unrefined sugar, actually – it’s just fruit sweetened) in this carrot cake. It’s one of my favorite things about this cake.

carrot cake
Carrot cake from 101 Cookbooks

I did make a maple syrup sweetened mascarpone frosting for it, but after tasting the whole shebang, I found it made the whole thing too sweet, so I scraped a lot of it off.  There’s only a thin layer now, and it’s perfect.

After I made this carrot cake, I had a bunch of carrots left over, so I decided to make soup out of them. I whipped up this cream of carrot soup the other day and it turned out to be simply amazing. It’s basically carrots and onions cooking in milk and then pureed. Cooking vegetables in milk and pureeing them is one of my base recipes – it works well with broccoli, cauliflower, root vegetables, and even dark leafy greens.

My bet is that one could make this dairy free by using homemade almond milk in place of the cow’s milk. Carrots and almonds go so well together. Maybe garnishing the soup with dukkah would be nice in that case, too!

Cream of Carrot Soup

1/4 white onion, preferably organic, chopped
carrots, preferably organic, washed and grated enough to make 1.5 cups
1 tbs unsalted grass-fed butter (I like using Kerrygold)
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 orange
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt/kosher salt
1/4 tsp Aleppo pepper/red pepper flakes
2 c. whole milk (mine is raw, but any kind of grass-fed milk would work just fine)
salt and pepper to taste
whole milk yogurt (I used raw yogurt, but regular whole milk yogurt would work, as would strained yogurt)
za’atar (optional, but delicious; fresh thyme leaves would be an alternative)

Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then add the chopped onion. Cook for a few minutes until softened, and add the grated carrots. Cook for a few minutes until they soften, too.

Add the olive oil and stir until combined. Squeeze half the juice of the orange (so, juice from 1/4 of an orange) onto the onions and carrots. Add salt and sprinkle on the Aleppo pepper.

Add the milk and combine everything in the pan together. Turn the heat down on low (do not let this mixture boil), put a lid on the pan, and simmer for 20-30 minutes until everything is soft. Note: you may have to place the lid on the pan at an angle if things are too hot, to let the steam out, and so as to not cause over-boiling (milk burns easily and smells terrible when it does).

Take the pan off the heat and blend everything in the pot with a stick blender (you could do this with a regular blender, too, but it’s just more work). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into bowls and top with yogurt and za’atar (optional) to taste and squeeze a little more orange juice onto the soup.

Serves 1-2 people.

This post is participating in Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Food Lover’s Cleanse Day 7

Day 7 of the Food Lover’s Cleanse started with a delicious combination of raw yogurt, half a pear (diced), roasted pecans, chia seeds, and maple syrup.  It was an incredible combination – tasted a bit like dessert, actually.  Pecans and maple syrup are a winning combination, and I think that those were flavors that really made this dish.

This was the first time I’d tried chia seeds, and I really liked them.  The recipe originally called for flax. Chia has a similar nutritional profile as flax, but contains a little more ALA (alpha linoleic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid).

Lunch was leftover roasted broccoli with apples and walnuts added.  Not very pretty, but very tasty.  I ate it with leftover bulgur pilaf.

I snacked on marcona almonds and a couple of dates in the afternoon.

Dinner consisted of a delicious curried lentil soup and some salmon cakes which contained the new-to-me kaffir lime leaves.

They have the most incredible aroma and taste.  I found it was easier to work with them by soaking them in hot water for 5 minutes or so.  If you don’t, they’ll just shatter and turn into a kind of dry leaf dust, but that might be something appealing in certain cases.  I just couldn’t get over how amazing these leaves smelled.  They really did add something different to the salmon.

The lentil soup was really good and I am going to enjoy eating it for the next few days.  The resident picky eater did not like it, though.  The most unusual element in it was the chickpea puree and butter added toward the end of the cooking time.  It makes the soup creamy without adding cream; it adds a nice richness that I like very much. It also tastes great with extra lemon juice squeezed into it.

I rounded out the meal with a mâche salad with shallot vinaigrette. Dessert consisted of a tangerine and an ounce of dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt. Love that combination.  Fruit and chocolate for dessert is much more satisfying these days.

Cultured and Fermented Foods – Yogurt, Kefir, Kombucha

fermented foods

Some of the most delicious traditional foods I’ve tasted are cultured and fermented food and drink. Before I started eating such things, I really had no idea how extensively humans utilized fermentation, aside from yogurt and kefir. I’ve found that I love the raw yogurt and kefir I get from the farm as well as their kombucha. Plus, my body loves these fermented and cultured products – when I eat them, I feel great!

So, when I first started drinking raw dairy, I limited myself to just drinking fresh cow’s milk. I was comfortable with that, and I was just trying it out (so I thought). I didn’t anticipate how much I’d come to love it compared to the conventional organic milk I had been drinking.

It was only after a few months that I even considered moving beyond that to exploring the raw cultured and fermented dairy available to me. I’ve been eating yogurt for ages, so I tried that first. Delicious! I actually had tasted kefir before, but I suspected that this raw kefir was going to be different from the essentially “drinkable yogurt” I’d consumed before. I tried it, and found it to be quite tasty, too, but definitely different from yogurt.

Along with these two dairy products, I started drinking (and brewing) kombucha. I took a kombucha brewing class at The Brooklyn Kitchen, which was a lot of fun and very informative. I brewed kombucha pretty regularly until I moved and my SCOBY kicked the bucket. I now purchase kombucha from the same place as where I get my raw dairy, and plan to start up the brewing process again later this spring.

After a conversation I had with my friend Charlene, I started to wonder how the bacteria differ among the three products I eat on a regular basis: yogurt, kefir, and kombucha. They all contain probiotics for a healthy gut, but different kinds of friendly bacteria. I decided to do some research.

Yogurt is ubiquitous. It’s in all the supermarkets and convenience stores. It is considered to be a true health food, and is delicious. It is made from whole milk, lowfat and nonfat milk, but I prefer to eat yogurt made with non-homogenized whole milk.

Yogurt is made by heating milk at a low temperature and combining it with bacteria to encourage fermentation (which then preserves the milk). The most common bacteria in yogurt are: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and L. acidophilus (this produces vitamin K, lactase, and several anti-microbial substances). Streptococcus lactis, S. cremoris, thermophilus, and L. plantarum (also found in lacto-fermented vegetables) may also be present. In short, lactobacillus helps convert lactose and other sugars to lactic acid, and Streptococcus is the force behind the souring and coagulation of milk.

Yogurt has been made for millennia and is one of the oldest ways of preserving milk.

Milk Kefir resembles yogurt in it tartness, but does not share the same texture. It is produced by combining milk and kefir “grains”, which are a SCOBY – a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. The grains kind of look a little like lumps of small tapioca balls smushed together in a rough paste, and have a spongy texture.

The grains are placed in the milk and the mixture is allowed to ferment for as short as 24 hours. Kefir can become slightly alcoholic (about 1%) if let go for an extended period. Each time you make kefir, the grains grow and expand, so people tend to share their kefir grains with others.

kefir grains

Kefir shares some bacteria with yogurt, including Lactobacillus bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, Streptococcus lactis, S. cremoris, thermophilus and L. plantarum. Additionally, Lactococus lactis subsp. Lactis, Lactococus lactis subsp. Cremoris, Lactococus lactis subsp. Diacetylactis, Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. Cremoris (also found in cultured butter), Lactobacillus kefyr, Kliyveromyces marxianus var. marxainus, Saccharomyces unisporus (yeast) are in kefir. It is full of probiotic goodness.

Kombucha is a fermented sweetened tea with origins in China. The tea ferments for a number of days under something colloquially called a “mushroom” and technically called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). It also can become slightly alcoholic (1.0% to 1.5%) depending on the brewing time.

As I said above, the SCOBY contains a symbiosis of bacteria – Acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria) – and yeast – Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Candida stellata, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Torulaspora delbruecki, and Zygosaccharomyces bailii.

kombucha brewing

Kombucha sometimes tastes a little vinegary after a spell, and that is due to the presence of the acetic acid, which provides much anti-microbial activity. It also contains butyric acid, gluconic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, oxalic acid, usnic acid, as well as some B-vitamins. It does not contain glucuronic acid, contrary to popular belief and scientific testing.

Look for a future post on fermented vegetables, additional dairy products, and non-dairy drinks as well. The world of fermented food is vast and delicious!

This post is participating in Real Food Wednesday, hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Kefir grains photo: (cc) user Phrood on Wikimedia Commons via a Creative Commons license.