Counter Cultures – how cool is this yoghurt?

March 31, 2014 at 4:11 pm Leave a comment

I mean that literally. These are yoghurts you can culture at room temperature on the kitchen counter!

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A large kefir ‘grain’

Most yogurts are thermophilic, that is they need warmth, usually quite a specific temperature, to breed and culture milk into yoghurt. But there are quite a few strains that are mesophilic, that is they grow best in the middle range of temperatures, (18-26C ish.) Interestingly these yogurts originate from all over the world – viili, fil mjölk, and piima from Scandinavia, matsoni from Bulgaria, kefir from Turkey, and so on.

They are absurdly easy to make, generally you just reserve a tablespoon or so of the current batch and use it to inoculate the next batch of milk, and as they can live on for many generations in this way, they are sometimes called heirloom yoghurts.

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A dollop of stretchy viili

 

They vary in texture, density and sourness, and respond well to experimentation, and seem to be remarkably tolerant of inattentive hosts. So far we’ve tried kefir, matsoni and viili. Viili is also known as Scandinavian ropey milk, due to its remarkable self-clinging texture. Swirl it around the bowl and it behaves like a barrel-o-monkeys, grabbing onto itself and leaving the sides of the bowl all but clean! The kids affectionately call it slime yoghurt, and are endlessly fascinated by it. Possibly it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly an experience!

Matsoni seems remarkably similar. (So similar in fact, that I wonder if I accidentally cross-pollenated it with the viili and made a mutant crossbreed?) It, like the viili, is also of a great thick texture, very mild in flavour, and surprisingly not sour.

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Mysterious kefir

 

Kefir is the heavy artillery of the yoghurt world, and really warrants its own post. Briefly for now, kefir is a SCOBY, aka Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeasts, which means it forms elastic nodules of up to about walnut size, called kefir grains (though they are not actually a grain) and these culture the milk, creating a thinner, drinking style yoghurt with a slightly farmy flavour, and chock full of a complex balance of probiotics. Kefir devotees speak of all sorts of wonderful health benefits, and if the gut is the first line of defence for the immune system, then having a diverse and flourishing range of flora makes a great deal of sense.

This makes a refreshingly sour drink by itself, or can be used in smoothies, frozen treats, dressings, sauces, etc. anywhere you would use yoghurt really, though cooking it would kill of its probiotic qualities. Kid 2 loves it, Kid 1 doesn’t, but he does like to chew on the grains, which is also a very effective way of consuming the good bacteria!

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Fro-yo

When you’re yoghurted out, you can start a new batch, pop it in the back of the fridge and leave it to daydream for up to a month, though it may be a little thinner than usual for the first couple of batches after you start it up. If you’re mean like me (or you want to keep a back up in case your main batch has a disaster), you can even freeze it. I’m yet to test my frozen kefir back up, but the viili and matsoni frozen in mini silicon muffin cups started up straight away. I scraped off the freezer burn from the surface to avoid cross contamination, and they were good to go.

Cultures for Health have a wide variety of yogurts and other starters if you happen to be in the North Americas, and also sell to Australians through The Natural Therapy Shop. Kefir is also available through a variety of sources.

So whether you’re a yogophile, a health nut, a food historian, or simply curious, why not try going counter culture?

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