The fermentation of dairy products is probably the method that we are all most familiar with, and consume most often. Products like cheese, yogurt, and kifir are a few of the more popular. These methods for fermenting milk are quite unique and have been utilized by civilizations around the world for thousands of years. In these early days, fermentation of milk was largely utilized as a means of preservation. Without refrigeration the fermentation of milk would have been a convenient way to store dairy for later use, as well as making it more transportable.
An interesting factor in fermenting dairy products is that the bacteria that is responsible for a majority of the fermenting is lactic acid bacteria, which thrive on the lactose -a unique sugar found in milk, that many people struggle to digest. As they ferment the milk they consume this sugar, which reduces the lactose content of the milk. This means that people who have difficulties digesting regular milk, can often times have dairy products such as yogurt that have nearly all of their lactose removed via fermentation.
The most common types of dairy ferments that we see today are….
- Sour Cream
Ever wonder what the story is with the “Live Culture” yogurt that claims to help with digestion?
These live cultures, are referring to the living bacteria that are used to ferment milk into yogurt. The bacteria used to make yogurt -mixed colonies of lactic acid bacteria- have been shown to aid in digestion, improve gut health, and help your auto immune system. The idea is that these bacteria remain living in the yogurt, so that when you eat your daily cup, you are essentially sending down a pile of living bacteria to give a boost to the preexisting bacteria already in your gut.
Unfortunately, much of the yogurt you find on the shelves at the local super market have been sitting around for to long and the population of bacteria have suffered…
Not saying that all store bought yogurt is bunk!
Just pointing out that if you really want to eat yogurt teeming with living bacteria, you should make your own! Plus… like most home fermentation projects, it is extremely easy, and cost effective.
If you want to try making your own all you need is a starter pack and some milk.
Check out this site for cheap and easy starter kits, as well as how-to guides and videos.
Sour Cream, the deliciously fluffy and elegantly tangy condiment found on the top of so many of the best dishes. Basically sour cream is just cream taken from whole milk that is then fermented by lactic acid cultures. During this fermentation process the lactic acid bacteria consume and convert sugars in the creme into lactic acid which results in a sour taste, while also thickening the mix.
In the old days, making sour cream was as simple as leaving out raw cream at room temperature and letting the natural bacteria in the milk go to work. However, due to commercial pasteurization, these natural bacteria are killed off which means you need to add a starter culture to the cream in order to initiate fermentation. Now personally I am lucky enough to have access to raw milk which means I can make sour cream the old fashion way, however if you only have pasteurized milk you can easily make your own once you buy a starter-try here!
Ahhhh cheese… another beautiful food creation that comes as a result of colonies of bacteria feasting on sugars and starches in the form of fermentation. The process of cheese making is an art, and many fancy cheeses rely on specific colonies of bacteria that have been passed down for generations to give the cheese unique flavor, texture, and appearance. For this reason, many types of cheese are out of the scope of this blog, but some cheese making is actually quite simple and easy to do at home.
Cheese making requirements vary with different types of cheese, but the basic requirements are: Milk and rennet -which is an enzyme used to curdle milk that is extracted from the stomach of baby cows- weird huh? With just these two things you can make simple cheeses, like mozzarella at home!
More complex cheeses can still be made at home but require unique bacterial cultures and some special equipment. Kits are available all over the internet for home cheese making.
Check out this site for all sorts of how-to guides, videos, and starter kits for purchase.
Update 7/21/16: While the rest of the health-food community has steadily increased their love for this drink, I’ve begun to shy away from it. Simply put, I have mixed feelings about ferments that contain high amounts of yeast (water kefir, kefir, kombucha). Unfortunately I don’t have hard evidence to back this accusation.
For the time being, I’m sticking with yogurt and pickled veggies. With that being said, a lot of people swear by the health benefits of kefir, so if you’re into it… continue to my guide below!
Kefir is a thin drinkable style yogurt that has been consumed for thousands of years in Eastern Europe and has some pretty mystic health claims in regards to longevity. Although I can’t vouch for the scientific authenticity of these claims, I can tell you that this dairy ferment creates an easily digested tasty drink that is teeming with pro-biotic bacteria.
In order to make kefir you need a palm full of kefir grains, which are essentially a colony of bacteria that look like cottage cheese, that can be bought here.
1. Put a spoonful of kefir grains into a jar of milk
2. Cover jar with breathable material
3. Let sit at room temp for 24 hours
4. Strain out kefir grains
Safe for step 6!
At this point your kefir is ready to go, you can drink it as is, store it in the fridge, or put on the cap and let it sit at room temp to build up carbonation and create a fizzy mouth feel.
My recommendation is to add some flavors to it (honey, fruit, raisins, spices), put on the lid, and let it sit for another day before drinking.
Take your strained kefir grains and restart at step 1. Kefir grains prefer this continuous ferment style, getting fed fresh milk every couple days. However, if you want to take a break you can store your grains in a jar of fresh milk in the fridge for a couple weeks.