© 2010 Joshua Stark
Smarter people than I know why buttermilk (and yogurt!) make better biscuits, cornbread, and cakes. Smarter people have shown me how to easily make them.
My Dad would occasionally set out some buttermilk with regular milk out to "clabber" (sometimes he wouldn't even put the buttermilk in it for a real taste treat!), but I didn't know it was just making more buttermilk. Now, I do.
For a great website on making everything from buttermilk to good, hard cheeses, check out Dr. Fankhauser's cheese page. It is as informative as you can get, yet it is still very accessible. He starts with buttermilk, goes to yogurt, and then on to cheeses.
I don't use the good Dr's. yogurt recipe, though. My sister pointed me to Crockpot365's yogurt recipe in a crock pot. It is very easy, if a little finicky. The yogurt is a bit runny, but that's how yogurt is supposed to be; if you want it firmer, squeeze out the liquid. If you are as cheap as I am, you can use that liquid for making pasta or rice.
Right now, I've got a half-gallon of milk sitting next to the wall heater, hopefully clabbering, and I'll be whipping up a batch of yogurt in a couple of days.
Making these things takes a little leap. Of course we have a good reason to be nervous keeping milk out of the refrigerator, or heating it just a little and letting it sit. But it is only by taking these little leaps, putting ourselves into slightly uncomfortable places with the hope of accomplishing something, that we learn. We might fail, but we learn. (see my myriad pages on trying to grow a garden with three ducks).
Cheese (and dairy products) is one of these places where we can feel a little uncomfortable, learn some hands-on chemistry and biology, and feel like we've accomplished something special when we are done. It can be a very rewarding process, even when the end result is less than desirable.
I made queso blanco a couple of years ago, and though I didn't fail at the recipe, I learned that I do not like queso blanco, not one bit. I also learned that many, many people on the internet think that queso blanco and queso fresco are the same thing, and I'm here to tell you that they are absolutely not the same thing. Queso fresco is fresh tasting, wonderfully fresh tasting, creamy with little ridges where you cut it, while queso blanco is the dairy version of rubber.
I will definitely try for queso fresco soon, as well as mozzarella (also not queso blanco!) and ricotta. Perhaps next year sometime, I might even make a cheese press and see if I can get a nice feta or cheddar.
Have any of you had fun with dairy lately?