Yogurt Cream Cheese

A few weeks ago I dumpstered a gallon of skim milk. Milk is rare, especially in such large quantities. The most common dairy product, besides yogurt and cheese, are pints of half-and-half and strange flavored milk substitutes (right now I have some matcha almond milk that I like the idea of, but it’s too sweet for me). I also don’t use very much of it. I usually just put a little milk in my coffee or tea. So I tried to come up with ways to use all that milk before it went bad. I froze about a quart of it, and then decided to try my hand at making yogurt. Despite the complexity of yogurt-making devices, the process is very simple if you have a thermometer that can measure fairly low temperatures. I had one that came with a beer brewing kit, which I’ve used a few times to brew mead.

I mixed a cup of half and half with about three cups of the milk, and heated it to 200-210°F, then put the pot in a sink filled with ice water to rapidly (you can just wait for it to cool, if you’re patient) cool it to 100-110°. Then you have to mix in a few tablespoons of plain yogurt. Put the yogurt in a little bowl by itself, whisk in some of the milk, then return it to the main pot. Then it needs to be kept warm overnight or about twelve hours, then chilled for about four hours. I planned to set it on top of the radiator, but when I checked the radiator, it was cold. It had gotten below freezing the night before, but that night it had gone back up to fifty, so the heat was off. I took the electric foot warmer off the end of my bed and wrapped it around the pot. I was relieved, the next morning, to find that the milk had thickened.

Of course, I already had plenty of yogurt. A night of dumpster diving almost always results in a couple of big tubs of Greek yogurt, a few little snack cups, maybe even some goat kefir, which is why I was able to take some plain yogurt from another container to add to the yogurt I was making. What I didn’t have was cream cheese for the bagels I took home Monday night. And there’s a method of approximating cream cheese by straining yogurt: just make it into Greek yogurt, then keep going.

I lined a sieve with a piece of an old white t-shirt (I have a lot of these because I used to work in retail, and had to wear something under the disgusting unwashed uniform polo, and now use them for painting rags) and left the yogurt to strain overnight.

The result certainly spreads like cream cheese, but it tastes like yogurt. I know I need to enhance the flavor somehow. I add chives* and capers**, and a little cultured butter to the bagel, but then I realize what I’m really missing is salt. I grind in some salt**. 

It still does not have the richness of real cream cheese, but it’s a lot closer. What I’ve made, I realize later, is more accurately described as labneh. Now that I’ve eaten it I remember I could have added a little prosciutto, too. Maybe tomorrow. 

This resulted in about a cup of whey. Whey is useful, but only if you either have a lot of whey, or a little whey and a lot of something else. Not enough whey to make ricotta or dulce de leche or gjetost. More than enough to make kvass, but I have only one small beet. If I can think if nothing else, I guess, I’ll drink it.

* Grown

** Bought

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