Milk Products … Deliciously Fermented!

Here’s a great article from our Country Life Archives – recommended reading for all would-be cheesemakers. When you’re done reading, click here to see Lehman’s complete line of Home Dairy Supplies.

There are as many different fermented milk products as there are different wines and ales. Their histories are deep and diverse. Their benefits and qualities are the subject of folklore and religion, and many are debated throughout the scientific community. The goal here is to present a brief discussion of the different health characteristics possessed by fermented milk products, an introduction to the various products, and simple recipes for their preparation.


Without delving into a discussion of the healthiness of milk, a topic debated by many vegans, it is unarguable that fermented milk products have nutritional and caloric characteristics similar to milk from which they are made. They are good sources of calcium, riboflavin and protein. In addition, there are many benefits that are not offered by uncultured milk. They have a fine curd which makes them more easily digestible than sweet milk. Lactose is converted to lactic acid; this both makes the food easier on lactose-intolerant people and provides an acid that is generally considered a digestive antiseptic. Lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacteria found in yogurt, may synthesize Vitamin B in the intestine. Cultured yogurts are higher in folic acid, recently required by the FDA to be added for fortified certification, than other yogurts. Lactic acid bacteria fights pathogenic organisms: Salmonella typhi die; escherichia coli are unable to develop, and S. paratyphi and Corynebacteriae diphtheriaelose their pathogenic properties. Fermented milk cultures have been reported to help treat achylia gastrica, peptic ulcer, cholecystitis, gastroenteritis, colitis, diarrhea, and dysentery.

There are some truths and some misconceptions about drawbacks to cultured milk products. It is said that they cause dental decay. Unchecked by proper dental hygiene, the bacteria and sugars in cultured milk can wreak havoc on your teeth. However, with your natural protection by saliva and regular brushing, there is no more damage created than that done by many of the other foods commonly consumed. It is also said that some people just should not consume cultured milk. For the few who have a congenital deficiency of the enzyme galactose-l-phosphate-uridyl transferase, this is true. Many yogurts are high in galactose, and this in combination with the deficiency may lead to the development of cataracts.

With all of the various health benefits from cultured milk, it is nice to know that there are so many ways to enjoy it.

YOGURT: Yogurt has many faces – plain and flavored, sweetened and unsweetened, mild and tart, soft and firm. It can be made from the milk of almost any animal, and even from soy milk. The culture should contain a combination of L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophilus; since they work better together than they do separately. To make yogurt, heat the milk up to a boil to kill bacteria that would inhibit the Lactobacilli. Then, let the milk cool until it is just warm. Add your starter; this can be commercially bought starter, or just a little yogurt from your previous batch. Be warned: too much starter will make the yogurt lumpy. Incubate the yogurt. The yogurt must be kept warm to keep the cultures active, but not so warm that the bacteria is killed (around 115 F). Longer incubation produces a tarter taste, and more lactic acid. Do not over incubate, to the point where the curds are toughened.

KEFIR:Kefir is very similar to yogurt. The main difference is that kefir curds have a small surface tension. This allows the curds to be easily broken into small pieces. The small curd size gives kefir a liquid consistency, allowing it to be drunk, and it also makes it easily digestible. Kefir starter is in the form of grains, convoluted gelatinous particles from fermented milk containing three kinds of lactic acid bacteria and lactose-fermenting yeasts.

To make kefir, you again begin with any milk. For kefir, it is unnecessary to pre-boil the milk. Add the kefir grains, and allow the milk to culture at room temperature for 2 or 3 days. Then strain the thickened milk. The kefir drains through, and kefir grains are strained out. You can use these grains in your next batch, or store them dry. Simply air dry them on cheesecloth for 2 days, put them in a paper envelope, and store in a cool dry place. The grains should remain active for a year or more. To reactivate, soak the grains overnight in water, strain and add to one cup milk, let sit for one day, strain and add to 2 cups of milk and so on until the grains can culture a quart of milk or to taste.

CHEESE: Of all the products fermented milk is capable of producing, cheese is the most significant. There are a myriad of different cheeses, with slight differences in preparation producing vast differences in the product. The simplest recipe I have seen yet is for Paneer, a delicious cheese used in Indian cooking. The recipe goes as follows: bring 1/2 gallon of milk up to a boil; add the juice from a half of a lemon; turn off heat and stir; drain off the curds with cheese cloth, and press to form and harden. For now, that’s all we’ll write about cheese. I know this doesn’t even begin to give justice to the whole topic of cheese, but bear with me as there will be lots more to come.

OTHER PRODUCTS: Fermenting milk is capable of producing a number of other products, such as sour cream and buttermilk, but one worth mentioning is whey. It is the liquid byproduct of making cheese and yogurt. Scoop it off the top of your yogurt, or save it when you drain it from your cheese. It contains the milk’s lactose and water-soluble vitamins. It can be a drink by itself, or a nutritious supplement to broths or breads.