Basically, I'm a blogging genius. 'Cause I figured out how to click "Updated editor" under Global Settings. At the moment I don't have a header photograph that matches the new width, but I'll figure it out.
The other reason I'm excited about this post is because it's all about this milk....
...which came from this cow...
(Her name is Banjo. I badly wanted to see her give birth but she snuck off and did it in the middle of the night. And since I'm a country person now I get to use words like "snuck.")
...and then that milk became this yogurt.
And we were involved in every step of the process.
One of our duties soon, in exchange for rent, will be milking the cows, including Banjo. A few days ago, Jeremy did some practice milking and brought home this incredibly rich, dandelion-yellow milk, which I used for my first homemade batch of raw milk yogurt.
Milk isn't usually considered a seasonal food, but it absolutely should be. Cows don't produce milk, or even the same quality of milk, all the year round. Spring is calving season, and spring milk is intensely rich with a deep yellow cream -- if the cow is raised on pasture. Traditionally this milk was the most prized for its richness (fat-soluble vitamins!) and incredible flavor which pairs so perfectly with the other flavors of spring: peas, young onions, delicate greens, and of course strawberries.
Just as a truly free-ranging hen's egg has a deep yellow, almost orange yolk compared to pallid supermarket eggs, a pastured cow's milk may be colored by the accumulated carotenoids from the grasses, clovers, and other green things she eats. Industrially-produced eggs and milk come from animals fed silage and grain, with few if any of the wild things they might eat if raised outdoors. As a result the nutritional profile of these foods is quite different from that of pastured animals, being much higher in omega-6 fatty acids and all but devoid of omega-3s or the anti-carcinogen CLA.
As springs warms into summer, a patch of land cycles through different plants, and the bright green of spring may pass into sturdier grasses along with supplements of hay or grain. A cow's milk at this time is less rich and yellow, leading up to her pregnancy when she won't produce milk at all. At this time we should turn to milk preserved as butter, yogurt, kefir. sour cream, or cheese. (Or... ice cream!)
I know many people who are almost rabid in support of raw milk. I do appreciate raw milk, right off the cow if possible, but I'm not very strict about it (although I do avoid ultra-high temperature pasteurization, which is the rule for most organic milk sold in the U.S.). I don't drink milk straight, but I do use it processed in various ways, as butter, yogurt, cheese, or in cooking, and in these forms I think it's less important that the various enzymes and cofactors are intact.
As for safety, I can't say I'm too concerned about this milk. The history of pasteurization is rife with evidence of the faults of industrial production, not home-scale milking. (Lesson learned: distillery slop is not a suitable food source for cows.)
Cow's milk has been associated with various ethical tragedies, such as crated veal, growth hormones, rapid separation of mother and calf, warehousing, and conglomerated hamburger. All the more reason to source your milk locally, if you use it at all (it certainly is not essential). If you're concerned about humane conditions, I'd recommend against buying organic milk from the store. Instead, look around and find a small farmer in your area. One safe bet is goat's milk, which is not associated with veal or feedlot conditions. Many people who are intolerant to cow's milk find they can better digest goat's milk anyway.
I can't speak for all small-scale dairies, but our milk is sourced from cows who stay with their calves until voluntary weaning. Veal isn't an issue. Growth hormones are never used (and are increasingly banned from large-scale production as well, thankfully). And these ladies live long lives outside on the grass or with pleasant shelter from inclement weather.
I've made yogurt a handful of times, always in a commercial yogurt maker. In light of our future tiny housing, I can't justify keeping an appliance that does just one thing, occasionally, so I donated my yogurt maker and set out to find a different way to culture milk. I've seen people make yogurt in all sorts of ways -- inside an insulated cooler, on a heating pad, or outside in the summer. This time, I used the Crock-Pot.
Until a few weeks ago, I had never owned a Crock-Pot in my life. I always thought its intended purpose was to cook down a bunch of perfectly good vegetables into an inedible glop. No thanks. But Jeremy wants to start cooking more, so he found a Crock-Pot on Freecycle and I checked out a bunch of cookbooks from the library. So it's possible you'll see some slow-cooker recipes here soon.
In the meantime, I read that the insulated ceramic pot can be used as a stable warming spot for yogurt, so I decided to give it a try. And it turned out very well! I'll definitely be doing this again.
Oh, and this jelly? Out of this world. I don't know why it's so good, but it's all I've been eating on my yogurt since I made it.
For some time, I've been looking for ways to flavor yogurt without overloading on sugar. I'm not sure if you've ever read the nutritional information on a container of flavored yogurt, but the sugar content is outrageous. In a 6-oz container of the most popular yogurt brand is 26 grams of sugar. That's more than two tablespoons. Oh, but there's no fat in it so I'm sure it's healthy.
Luckily this jelly is fairly low in sugar. A tablespoon will flavor a cup of yogurt with 4 grams of sugar.
Back in the day I loved Whole Soy & Co.'s lemon yogurt. It was my special treat on breaks when I worked at Whole Foods. I've been trying to recreate that flavor ever since, minus the plastic and sugar and soy. Usually I just squeeze in half a lemon with a dollop of honey. That's nice, but it's not quite the same. This jelly nails it, that honest flavor of lemon that is not too tart, not too sweet, bright and warming.
This jelly utilizes cornstarch instead of pectin for thickening. I made that choice because I didn't want the jelly to be very solid. If you'd rather have a solid gel you can use your favorite pectin according to package instructions.
As for the yogurt, the recipe is easily divided, or multiplied -- for each pint of milk (2 cups), add 1 tablespoon of prepared yogurt.
Raw Milk Yogurt, in the Crock-Pot
1/2 gallon raw milk
1/4 c. prepared yogurt with active cultures
Pour the milk into a large pot and heat over medium, testing the temperature with a candy thermometer until it reaches 110 degrees. At that point, remove the pot from heat and whisk in the prepared yogurt.
Pour the milk into 4 pint-size Mason jars (preferably sterilized). Place the jars in a Crock-Pot in the OFF position. Pour warm water (the same temperature as the milk) over the jars, up to the lid line. Put on the lid, and drape a towel over the top. Let the yogurt stand for 8-12 hours, until it's tart to your preference. Refrigerate.
10 lemons (preferably Meyer), sliced thinly
8 c. water
2 c. unrefined sugar
1 c. local honey
1 c. fresh lemon juice (from about 4 lemons)
1/4 c. organic cornstarch, with 1 c. fresh lemon juice
Combine the lemons and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the lemons with a fine-mesh strainer, pressing hard to get all of the juice and a bit of the pulp.
Return the cooked lemon juice to the pot. Add the sugar, honey, and 1 cup of the fresh lemon juice. Bring to a boil, and cook rapidly for 15 minutes, until the juice begins to sheet off the back of a spoon.
Dissolve the cornstarch into the other cup of fresh lemon juice. Stir this mixture into the juice and cook rapidly for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the jelly stand for 10 minutes.
Pour the jelly into 3 pint-size Mason jars. Seal and refrigerate for about 6 weeks. (The jelly will continue to firm up as it chills.)