Monday, August 19, 2013

Cooking Poor:
Making yoghurt at home

If your reaction to the subject of this article is Ew, I don’t like yoghurt, then go away. I’ll be preaching to the choir.

Yoghurt is miracle. Milk plus some bacteria equals one of the oldest treats known to mankind. While I’m sure it’s terribly good for you, as so many claim, what matters most is that it’s delicious and keeps for weeks. I may use coffee to kickstart my brain, but it’s that morning bowl of yoghurt that makes my days worth facing.

If you embrace the principles of “living poor,” making yoghurt at home fits right in.

First off, you’re manufacturing something yourself rather than paying someone to do it for you—in this case, the dairy industry. The people who profit when you buy processed milk products at the supermarket aren’t dairy farmers, but stockholders invested in supermarket chains and the food conglomerates supplying them. While we can’t avoid the dairy industry when it comes to basics like milk, butter, and cheese, we can give it the finger by making yoghurt at home.

Secondly, the environmental damage caused by unnecessary processing of foods is reduced every time you make a product marketers would have you thinking it’s easier, or better, or faster, or simpler to buy—yoghurt, especially flavoured yoghurts, being a classic example.

Making yoghurt is no trouble at all, and litre for litre costs the same as milk. Where I live, a container of supermarket yoghurt comparable in flavour to what I make at home costs four times what I pay for the equivalent amount of milk.

Yoghurt enthusiasts on the Web have their hearts in the right place, but may be doing a disservice because of their excessive emphasis on getting temperatures perfect. There are thousands of articles out there telling you to heat the milk to such-and-such a precise temperature, then let it cool to such-and-such another precise temperature, then let it incubate at yet another precise temperature.

Bollocks! In thirty years of making yoghurt, I have never touched a thermometer. Here’s the skinny on how to make real, no-fuss, no-worry yoghurt.

Pour any quanitity of milk you like into a thick-bottomed pot. Heat, stirring contantly, until it begins to foam. Reduce the heat and simmer for two minutes, still stirring constantly. Milk has an awful tendency to boil over.

Remove the pot from the element and let the milk cool until it passes the baby-bottle wrist test, typically half an hour.

Pour the milk into a clean bowl and stir in a tablespoon or so of your last batch of yoghurt. If you’re making yoghurt for the very first time, buy a small container of good, unflavoured commercial yoghurt and use a tablespoon of that instead.

Cover the bowl with a lid or plate, and set it in the oven with the oven light turned on. Leave for 12 hours.

Voilà! A bowl of yoghurt, ready to be cooled. I usually pass a whisk through it a couple of times to incorporate any whey (the clear liquid that rises to the top) before transfering it to a smaller pot for storage in the fridge.

The consistency of homemade yoghurt is a little runnier than commercial offerings, which often use lecithin, egg-white powder, and other thickeners. Why, I do not know. Extending the product, maybe, so manufacturers can squeeze another dollar out of a litre of milk? At any rate, the 2-minute simmering evaporates excess water from the milk and ensures a thick, unctuous, honest yoghurt.

The flavour is generally better than bought yoghurt, and you can increase the tanginess by letting the yoghurt incubate longer. I like a good, “bright” yoghurt, and have found 12 hours to be just about right.

The essence of living poor, cooking poor, is summed up by making yoghurt at home. It costs less than buying, it robs food conglomerates of inauthentically-generated profit, it contributes to the well-being of the Earth by reducing wasteful and destructive over-processing, it diminishes the carbon footprint of shipping, and it tastes fantastic. How perfect is that?

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