Monday, March 19, 2012

DIY Roundup Part One: Dairy Projects

Hi all!  I've been off blogging for the past month or so, partly because I took a few weeks of much-needed Laptop Vacation, and partly because my energies lately have been drifting away from sewing and towards what I like to think of as "lifestyle DIY."  I've been having a few thoughts in this direction lately, and when Dear Fiancee came home from her library day job with a copy of Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, I was sold.  Readers, I have tried every project in that book that an apartment dweller can reasonably try.  In the past month, I've started an herb garden, cut my own hair, brushed my teeth with baking soda and a cloth dentifrice, made my own lip balm, forayed into traditional food preservation techniques, lassoed wild yeast out of the air and put it to work for me in the form of a sourdough starter, and so on, and so forth.  I figure I've been keeping this to myself long enough: it's time for a DIY Roundup series.

Today I'll be laying out how to make butter, yogurt, and cheese--future posts will be themed around fermentation-based food preservation, apartment-friendly herb gardening, homemade cleaning products, and probably a few more things I can't think of at the moment.  As I'm not an expert in any of these things, often I'll just be referring you to a wonderful tutorial someone else put together.  I hope this inspires somebody!

First, and easiest, is butter.

All you need to make butter is a medium-sized container with a secure lid--I use a quart canning jar--and enough heavy whipping cream to fill about half the volume of your container--I do a pint at a time. It has to be heavy cream, not light--there's not enough butterfat in light cream to make successful butter.

Butter is so easy it doesn't even need a recipe (though this blog post illustrates the process well). Just put the (room-temperature) cream in the jar and shake the bejeezus out of it until your arm is really sore, then put it in the other hand and shake some more. It doesn't matter if you shake side to side or front to back. It doesn't matter how you hold it. I change up my grip periodically so the muscle soreness is evenly distributed later on (that's what she said). After a minute or two, it will stop feeling like liquid and start feeling like a solid mass of whipped cream, which is what it is. Don't get discouraged! If you've been patient and let the cream come all the way down to room temperature, it should take between five and ten minutes before you hear the telltale shuk-shuk-shuk sound that means the butterfat and the buttermilk are about to go their separate ways. Keep shaking, and pretty soon you'll see some nice fat yellow butter shaking around in what looks like skim milk.

Now, drain off the milk--I save it to drink later, it's pretty tasty--and rinse the butter in some very, very cold water. You can drain it out in a sieve if you want, but that's really hard to clean. I usually stick the butter in the fridge for ten minutes, then take it out and rinse it between my hands in water so cold it hurts my skin. You want to get all the milk out, because that shit will go rancid quickly if you leave any of it in the butter. Keep rinsing until the water runs clear, then put the butter in a Tupperware-type container and mix in some salt with a knife--just a little bit will make it taste delicious and keep longer. There you have it--butter!

BONUS PROJECT: use the exact same process, but before you put the cream out to sit at room temperature, stir in a couple of tablespoons of yogurt.  When you shake it out, you'll get a thick, tangy substance very akin to creme fraiche.  Don't bother trying to rinse it between your hands--just pour off the buttermilk and eat the cream (on toast, mmmmm) within a week or so.

Second, and a bit more complicated: yogurt.

I'll acknowledge here that I've never actually made successful yogurt.  What I end up with, every time, is something closer to a yogurt drink--smoothie consistency, delicious yogurt flavor.  I stir in some maple syrup and drink it for breakfast.  I know I must be doing something wrong but I haven't figured out what it is yet.

I've been using this recipe from the New York Times, crossed with the recipe from my Mark Bittman Bible.  Essentially, the procedure is this: First, take a quart canning jar (if you happen to have a million of them lying around, as I do), and put half a cup of preexisting yogurt in it--this can be from your previous batch, or the commercial stuff, though make sure it's a brand like Stonyfield that has a bunch of Lactobacillus cultures in it.  Then put three and a half cups of milk in a saucepan and bring almost to a boil, stirring the whole time.  The milk should be steaming and bubbling around the edges but not fully boiling yet.  Take it off the heat and let it cool enough that you can hold your finger in it for a moment or two but it feels hot.  Pour the hot milk into your canning jar and mix with the half cup of yogurt, stirring as you pour.

Then you have to leave the yogurt in a warm place for four to six hours and let it develop.  I usually wrap it in kitchen towels and put it on the range of my gas stove, which stays pretty warm--but, again, I end up with yogurt drink, so I might not be keeping it hot enough.  This is what those fancy yogurt makers are for, but I'm cheap and I like to DIY things.  If you have a better solution, I'd love to hear it.  (I've heard that the inside of a gas oven, off but with the pilot light lit, is the perfect temperature--I'll be trying this next time!)

Voila!  Yogurt!  Or yogurt drink.  Either way, stir some maple syrup into it and it'll be delicious.

Lastly, and kind of a pain in the ass: cheese.

Since this is a slightly more complicated recipe--requiring skill, patience, and more-or-less exact temperature measurements--I'll direct you to this excellent tutorial on the condition that you replace the 3/4 cup of white vinegar it calls for with either the same amount of lemon juice or a quart of buttermilk and a few tablespoons of lemon juice.  White vinegar tastes awful.  If you want to make a sliceable hunk of cheese rather than cottage cheese, line your strainer with muslin, drain out most of the whey, then fold up the edges of the muslin and use twine to tie it into a tight bundle.  Squeeze out as much excess whey as you can with your hands, then tie it to a faucet and let it hang for a few hours, as pictured above.  Voila, cheese!

Another perk of cheesemaking is that it leaves you with tons and tons of whey, which looks like this:

I freeze it and use it in place of water in my bread--more on that later.  :)


  1. Why does one shake the cream instead of using beaters to make butter? I haven't tried it, but I imagine it would work the same?

  2. Absolutely--butter is just overwhipped cream--but I like the jar method because it's human-powered, it's an arm and back workout, and it generates fewer dirty dishes. I don't have a dishwasher so that's a big deal. :)

  3. now if only the farmers market had dairy...