Do you like to mix your granola with yogurt in the morning? Or add a generous dollop of sour cream to chili or nachos? Then you’re already familiar with the amazing deliciousness of fermented dairy products.
These nutrient-dense probiotic products are effortless to make at home, and they’re far cheaper to make than they are to buy at the grocery store. Read on to learn how you can make some of your favorites quickly and easily, starting today!
What are Fermented Dairy Products?
Fermented dairy products undergo a fascinating (and tasty) transformation from their original state.
Essentially, ingredients such as bacteria, yeast, or acids (like lemon juice or vinegar) are added to milk or cream and allowed to ferment at room temperature or by introducing heat to the mixture.
As the fermentation process does its magic, the added bacteria transform the sugars naturally found in sugar (lactose!) into lactic acid. Since acids are now present in the dairy, potentially harmful bacteria are prevented from developing.
The good bacteria make the dairy thicker and creamier while imparting the signature sour flavor that we associate with yogurt, sour cream, and so on.
Why are They Beneficial to Us?
You’ve likely heard about probiotics and why they’re so good for our health. If you haven’t, check them out!
These live organisms encourage beneficial bacteria growth in the gut, thereby improving nutrient absorption and digestion. Furthermore, they boost our immune systems and inhibit potentially harmful pathogen growth.
Fermented dairy products are chock full of beneficial probiotic bacteria, which include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These are particularly important for restoring and maintaining healthy gut flora.
Women with IBS, Crohn’s, or Celiac disease especially benefit from improved gut health, as the gut microbiome is linked with the estrobolome and thus affects reproductive organ health.
Yogurt is one of the easiest fermented milk products you can possibly make. In fact, you don’t even have to go out and buy (or order) special bacteria for it: all you need is your favorite store-bought plain yogurt, and you’re good to go.
Heat one quart (four cups) of whole milk in a slow cooker on low heat for two hours. Then, turn the heat off and let it rest for another two to three hours. While this is resting, measure out three tablespoons of the store-bought yogurt of your choice. Transfer this into a small bowl and allow it to warm to room temperature.
After the milk has rested in the slow cooker, gently stir the yogurt into it. Use a whisk to disperse it evenly through the warm milk, but again, do this gently—don’t beat or froth it.
Then, wrap your slow cooker in a bath towel or blanket and leave it alone for 12 hours. Don’t turn the heat back on or anything: simply neglect it and let the lacto bacteria work its magic. After the 12 hours have elapsed, unwrap the crock pot and check out the amazing yogurt you’ve created.
There are also convenient yogurt makers on the market that take the guesswork out of making it. If you plan to make a lot of yogurt, it might be worth bringing one home. This one from Euro Cuisine is highly rated and affordable.
The yogurt will be a bit runnier than standard store-bought varieties, as commercially created fermented dairy products almost always have thickening agents added to them.
You can create thicker yogurt by letting it sit a bit longer, which will also make it more sour, or by adding a bit of powdered milk.
If you haven’t tried kefir yet, it’s absolutely worth looking into! It’s a bit sour, like other fermented dairy products, and slightly fizzy/carbonated—like drinkable yogurt that tingles in your mouth. You need kefir “grains” to make it.
These are readily available at most health food stores or at Amazon. They’re a mix of yeast, active bacteria, and protein.
Kefir originated in the North Caucasus and has become a mainstay of that region’s cuisine ever since. It can be created with the milk of just about any mammal and can be used in several different ways.
Some people use it in place of a sourdough starter for bread baking, while others use it like buttermilk in recipes. Kefir can also be enjoyed raw, used like yogurt with muesli, added to soups and stews like sour cream, or sipped as a nourishing, replenishing beverage.
To make kefir, you need to purchase some grains (in a store or online) or get them from someone who already makes their own. The ratio of grains to whole milk is one cup of milk to one tablespoon of grains.
Warm the milk in a saucepan to around 185°F (85°C), and remove from the heat. Stir in the kefir grains, cover with the pot lid, and let sit on your countertop at room temperature for 24 hours.
Then strain it through a sieve or cheesecloth, and enjoy! The solids you’ve strained out are the next generation’s kefir grains. Save these in a jar in your refrigerator until you’re ready to use them for another batch. The kefir you’ve created will keep in the fridge for up to a week.
3. Sour Cream
Sour cream is one of the most well-known and loved fermented dairy products. It’s made by introducing lactic acid to cream and allowing it to ferment until it’s a thick, sour, delicious substance.
This can then be added to recipes like beef Stroganoff or cheesecake, or used as a topping for baked potatoes, chili, borscht, etc.
To make it at home, you need heavy (e.g. whipping) cream, whole milk, and lemon juice or distilled white vinegar.
In a small bowl or canning jar, combine one cup of cream with one teaspoon of lemon or vinegar. Let this sit for about 15 minutes, then stir in a quarter cup of whole (3.25%) milk. If you’d like to make more than this, simply double all the ingredients.
Whisk or stir all of this together well, then cover with cheesecloth or a clean dish towel and secure that in place with a rubber band.
Let the container sit on your kitchen counter for 24 hours, and then taste it to see if it’s sour enough for your tastes. If not, let it sit for another 12 hours. Chill this for a few hours before serving, then refrigerate whatever is left over. This should keep in the fridge for up to a week.
Although buttermilk may not immediately come to mind when you think of fermented dairy products, it’s one of the most versatile items on this list. Furthermore, it’s one of the easiest to make.
Simply stir one tablespoon of lemon juice or distilled white vinegar into one cup of whole (3.25%) milk. Stir this well, and let it sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. Stir again, and let sit an additional 10 minutes.
Voila! Your buttermilk is now ready to be used in countless different recipes.
Some of the most common dishes that incorporate this product include:
5. Soft Cheese
Soft cheese is one of my favorite fermented dairy products as it’s versatile and easy to make. You can add various ingredients to it, and it’s absolutely delicious no matter how you serve it.
To make soft cheese, you start with something called “clabbered” milk. This can only be made with raw (i.e. unpasteurized) milk, as the naturally occurring bacteria in raw milk is what will cause it to ferment in a healthy, beneficial manner.
For clabbered milk, you simply need to pour raw milk into a sterilized glass jar, put the (also sterilized) lid on loosely, and allow it to sit at room temperature until it starts to separate. Depending on the surrounding temperature, this can take between one and three days.
At this point, you strain the clabbered milk through a couple of layers of cheesecloth for 12 hours to separate the curds from the whey liquid. Reserve the whey to make lacto-fermented vegetables or to add to various dishes for extra nutrients and beneficial gut flora.
At this point, you have soft curds that you can eat on their own or transform into the soft cheese of your choice. You can make these sweet or savory or keep them neutral as desired. A few options include the following:
- Mix them with milk or cream to make cottage cheese (neutral)
- Blend them smooth in a food processor or blender with some honey or sugar to create ricotta or mascarpone for desserts like cheesecake (sweet)
- Blend them very lightly in a food processor or blender. Add in herbs of your choice, salt, pepper, and other seasonings for a Boursin-like soft cheese spread (savory)
The latter is my personal favorite. I use a mixture of minced chives, parsley, garlic powder, sea salt, black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. You can even bake this slightly in a ramekin for a delectable spread to use on bread or crackers or to blend into your favorite pasta.
Now that you know how to make a few different fermented dairy products, you can incorporate them easily into more of your daily meals!
These products will help improve your gut health with beneficial probiotics and nourish you with healthy fats and proteins. Best of all, you can make most of them regularly with ingredients you already have at home.