Most of us have seen or eaten cultured or fermented dairy at some point. Yogurt and sour cream are probably the most commonly consumed cultured dairy foods. Today we will look at those and others that you can make at home and incorporate into your daily diet.

First of all let’s discuss the benefits of fermenting dairy:

  • It contains friendly bacteria that are necessary for health. These bacteria help stave off candida overgrowth and improve digestion.
  • It is better tolerated by those who might be sensitive to milk and cream.
  • It improves the nutrient profile of the milk or cream.
  • It extends the shelf life of milk or cream.

So, what are these cultured dairy products, how can we make them at home and how can we introduce them into our daily diet? I’ll share with you some tips from my own limited knowledge…

Yogurt

Almost all of us have had yogurt at one time or another. In fact I was pleasantly surprised to find out that how to make yogurt in the crock pot has been one of my most popular posts. One thing that I have learned over the past few months is that you can make raw yogurt without the use of a yogurt maker. I have a few different raw yogurt cultures that I hope to play with soon, but the basic method for raw milk yogurt goes something like this:

  • In order to secure consistent results you must first make a starter from the powdered culture and pasteurized milk.
  • Combine said starter with raw milk and allow to culture in a warm place until thickened.
  • Save the pasteurized culture for your next batch and continue making yogurt, preparing a new batch of starter when necessary.
  • Chill in the refrigerator overnight for optimum consistency.

Yogurt can be eaten plain, with fruit and/or sweetener, used in smoothies, strained to make a delicious greek yogurt or yogurt cheese and used in recipes like my yogurt ranch dip.

You can find powdered starters here, which is where I procured mine.

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is something that is also familiar to most of us. It is thick and tangy and adds a lovely flavor to baked goods and ranch dressing. Unlike the buttermilk that comes from the making of real butter, the buttermilk you buy in the store is cultured. But again, you can make it at home with raw milk. The basic method for raw buttermilk goes something like this:

  • Create and maintain a pure starter by using pasteurized milk and the powdered culture.
  • To make buttermilk combine 3/4 cup of raw milk with 1/4 cup of the pure starter, being sure to retain 1/4 cup of the starter for your next batch of pure starter.
  • Allow to culture in a warm place for 12-18 hours.

Buttermilk can be used to add great texture and tang to baked goods, added to ranch dressing or even drank straight from the cup.

You can find powdered starters here, which is where I procured mine.

Kefir

Kefir was fairly foreign and intimidating to me up until a couple of years ago. I tried making some with grains from a friend, but without any instructions I failed and so did my kefir. With detailed instructions I was aware that the first few batches may not “kefir” and so I used only a cup of milk for those and was patient enough to keep trying until by the 3rd batch we had kefir. Since then we have had at least a pint of this jewel on hand at all times for smoothies.

The basic method for raw kefir goes something like this:

  • You will receive kefir grains (gelatinous cottage-cheese like lumps) along with a little bit of kefir.
  • Dump both the grains and the kefir into about a cup of raw milk.
  • Cover with cheesecloth or a cloth napkin secured with a rubberband.
  • Leave in a warm place for 12-24 hours.
  • Your first few batches may not “kefir”, thus leaving you with soured milk – which you can use for baking. Don’t be discouraged. Simply strain out the kefir grains and start another batch.
  • You will know your milk has kefired when it is thick (won’t run up the sides when tilted) and smells slightly yeasty.
  • Strain or fish out the grains, place them in a clean jar, start another batch of kefir and refrigerate the old one.
  • I have found that when I am pressed for time or am low on raw milk I can put the finished kefir (with grains) in the refrigerator for a day or two before starting a new batch.

Our favorite way to eat kefir is in smoothies in combination with fruit. I have also read that you can drink it plain or with a little vanilla and sweetener.

You can find kefir grains here, which is where I procured mine.

Creme Fraiche or Sour Cream

If you have some extra cream sitting around you can make creme fraiche using your homemade buttermilk. I have yet to make this myself since cream is at a high premium in our home, but I hope to one day if we happen to have extra. From what I’ve read the basic method for making creme fraiche or sour cream goes something like this:

  • Mix about a cup of raw cream with approximately 1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon buttermilk.
  • Allow to culture in a warm place until thickened.
  • Refrigerate.

Use as a topping, a base for desserts and on everything else you can think of because it will be so yummy and nutritious.

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So that is what I know about cultured dairy. I found out that it is much more approachable than I thought and easy to continue to maintain. I am thankful to have found help with starters and detailed instructions in order to take that leap and feed my family more yummy, healthy and frugal foods.

How about you… which fermented dairy foods have you tried? Did I miss anything that you can share with the rest of us? The next part in this series will address lacto-fermented vegetables, just in time for preserving the harvest.