Monday, May 23, 2011

Yogurt Cheese

I cannot BELIEVE I went the first 28 years of my life without experiencing this stuff!!! This has to be one of the easiest things I have ever made. Although I suppose I can't even really say I made it, because it virtually makes itself. And Oh My Sweet Lord is it ever DELICIOUS!!! (forgive the excitement, my inner foodie is showing:)

   In life and in the kitchen, I always want to be the sort of person who is willing to give something a try. Acquire a new skill set, try a new food, go to a new place, etc. For awhile now, I have been interested in making my own cheese. It's on my list of 30 Things to Accomplish by my 30th Birthday, which, if you care to look, is on my other blog, So I was Thinking.

  A little while back, I bought a really great cookbook called The Home Creamery, which covers the basics of making several different kinds of dairy products, ranging from yogurt and buttermilk to ricotta and mozzarella cheese, and many things in between. I read the book from cover to cover with the best of intentions, and promptly got too busy with other things to give cheese making a try right then and there. However, I just finished reading an absolutely amazing book entitled *Animal, Vegetable, Miracle* by Barbara Kingsolver, who is probably best known for her novel *The Poisonwood Bible*. *Animal, Vegetable, Miracle* is a work of non fiction wherein Barbara Kingsolver tells the tale of how her family committed to one year of local eating. In other words, her family only consumed foods that were raised and produced locally, or grown on their own farm in Virginia. I cannot tell you how much I loved this book, and how inspirational it was for me. But, more to the point, it put be back in mind of my wish to try my hand at cheese making. In the course of the story, Barbara talks about an incredibly easy form of cheese to make called yogurt cheese. Simply put, you let yogurt drain through cheesecloth into a bowl overnight and then salt it in the morning and you're done, no joke. According to Barbara, yogurt cheese is very similar in consistency and taste to cream cheese, and much healthier. This stirred a vague memory in my head. Wasn't there a yogurt cheese recipe/method in that Home Creamery book? I pulled the book off the shelf and, indeed, there it was. Could it really be that easy? I had an unopened tub of Greek Yogurt in the fridge and a free evening, so, I gave it a go :)

   My friends, I am here to tell you that, yes, it IS that easy, and yes, yogurt cheese is indeed very similar to cream cheese, much better for you, and positively scrumptious :) Before I start gushing again, let me get the recipe down here so you can actually see what it is I'm raving about.

Yogurt Cheese
-recipe and inspiration taken from The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell Kingsley and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Babara Kingsolver.

- 4 cups (1 quart) plain yogurt (I only had a 17oz or approximately two cups container on hand, so that's what I used) For the record, I used Fage 2% milk fat Greek Yogurt. UPDATE: 6/18/11: After several test batches and reading about the experiences of other foodie friends, it is my strong recommendation that you use Greek Yogurt as a base for this Yogurt Cheese. Regular plain yogurt is a little more gloppy, and the finished product doesn't have quite as nice of a flavor or texture. I think this is because Greek Yogurt has already had an initial straining, which means that there is less moisture that has to be strained out, making it easier to achieve that *cream cheese* texture, plus, Greek Yogurt is already tangy. So, by all means, if all you have on hand is regular plain yogurt, go ahead and use that and it'll be fine, but Greek-style plain yogurt is going to give you a much nicer finished product. ANOTHER UPDATE (1/29/13): While paper towels are certainly serviceable, Cheesecloth is MUCH easier to work with in this recipe. It will not hold the moisture the same way paper towels do, so you won't have to change out the cheesecloth the same way you would have to change out the saturated paper towels.
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste

- Line a strainer or colander with a double layer of butter muslin and set in a large bowl. Spoon the yogurt into the muslin and let drain for 30 minutes. See Notes.

        *  Note 1: Butter Muslin is a type of very finely woven cheesecloth available at most kitchen supply stores and on websites that provide cheese making supplies
        * Note 2: I did not have any cheesecloth on hand in my house. So, I substituted two layers of paper towels and lined the strainer with that. Paper towels are much more absorbent than cheesecloth, so the majority of the liquid was absorbed into the paper towels rather than dripping down in the bowl, but the moisture was still drawn away from the yogurt, which was what needed to happen. The only real difference was that I had to switch out the saturated paper towels a few times, but that was no big deal. So, in short, use what you have on hand and it should turn out just fine. In the third photo you can see how much whey has drained away from the yogurt after just 30 minutes.

- After 30 minutes, tie the ends of the butter muslin together (or fold the edges of the paper towel over the yogurt). In the refrigerator, let the yogurt continue to drain into the bowl for 8 to 24 hours, depending on the desired consistency. The longer the yogurt sits, the thicker the yogurt cheese will be. FYI, I let mine chill for about 12 hours. (In other words, you get to walk away and do nothing while the magic happens;)
 ( These next few photos are how the cheese looked after I took it out of the fridge the next morning)

 - Transfer the cheese from the cloth to a medium bowl and stir in the salt. The whey can be saved for other uses if desired. Cover the cheese tightly and refrigerate for up to one week.
As I said above, this cheese was indeed very similar in consistency and taste to cream cheese, and just a tad tangy because the base was Greek-style yogurt. I'm not ashamed to admit that I ate this at virtually every meal until it was gone, and it met universal approval from all the family members that sampled it :)  This would make a great base for tzatziki, or any dip or condiment that might normally call for cream cheese or sour cream or perhaps even mayonnaise. Also, because this cheese has a yogurt base, and people who are lactose intolerant can usually eat yogurt with no ill effect, those who normally abstain from dairy can eat it too! I'll be making this again soon and incorporating it into other recipes and I'll be sure to let you know the results :)

And also, just for the record, yogurt cheese IS good for you. You get all the creaminess of regular cream cheese, plus all the good bacteria from the yogurt, with a sizable reduction in fat,calories, and cholesterol. As you all may or may not know, I do not nickel and dime my food. I refuse to be one of those people who spends all their time counting calories and sees food solely as a numbers game. However, that being said, I do strive to eat healthfully. Whole, unprocessed foods, minimal junk, fruits and veggies, moderation, etc. But, just for curiosity's sake, and so I could actually back up my claims with facts, I compared the nutrition info for regular cream cheese, light cream cheese, and my yogurt cheese. Here's how they stacked up:

Cream Cheese: (serving size, 1oz or approx. 28 grams)
- Calories: 100
- Fat: 9g (Sat. Fat: 6g)
- Cholesterol: 30mg
- Protein: 2g

Light/Reduced Fat Cream Cheese:(serving size: 2tbsp. approx 1 oz or 30 grams)
- Calories: 60
- Fat: 4.5g (Sat. Fat.: 3g)
- Cholesterol: 15mg
- Protein: 2g

Homemade Yogurt Cheese: (serving size: 1/3 cup or approx. 45 grams)
Calories: 50
Fat: 1.5g (Sat. Fat. 1g)
Cholesterol: 5mg
Protein: 6.333
(Full Disclosure Note: I determined the serving size by scooping what I thought was a reasonably normal amount of yogurt cheese into a bowl, weighing it with a food scale, and then spreading it onto my bagel. Simply put, it was the amount I would use, you may use more or less, my desire here was to establish baseline serving as a reference point)

So, as you can see, even from a numbers perspective, Yogurt Cheese wins :) The serving size is bigger, and you have fewer calories, less fat, waaay less cholesterol, and more protein, with no compromise on taste :) I told you this stuff was awesome :)
Go Make It :)



Sarah said...

I do eat a lot of Greek Yogurt...

Amy said...

On another positive note, greek yogurt has a ton of protein, which is wonderful too! :)

Merlyn said...

Glad to see you tried this...I'm really surprised you never have before! I haven't made it in quite awhile, but you are making me think that it's time to do so again!

I think it would be great to add in some fresh herbs from the garden too! YUM! :)

LynnieBee said...

Absolutely! We just planted a bunch of herbs this weekend, I'll give that a try ASAP :)

Nubby Tongue said...

WANT! If I omit the salt would it be friendly to maple-pecan/cinnamon-raisin/honey-almond type additions? With the new diet I've had to cut a lot of dairy and this looks like a great way to bring it back! =D

LynnieBee said...

@Nubby: Absolutely! Let me know how your experiments go! Or, if you wanted to leave the salt in as a counterpoint to the maple/ cinnamon flavor, that might be fun too. Play around and see what you come up with :)

Allison said...

Just fyi, I am at this moment making this cheese. For the baby. And I have ever intention of adding veggies and putting it on whole grains for her. Of course, I'm taking pictures and giving you all the credit my love :) My daughter will be healthy! And love food! And you're helping!

LynnieBee said...

Yay!!! Thank you, Alley :) I can't tell you what that means to me <3 Let me know how it turns out :)