A Growing Wise Kids Column
Followers of a traditional foods lifestyle well understand the benefits of cultured dairy products such as yogurt and kefir. However, there is a bit more mystery involved when these nourishing foods are separated into curds and whey. You may be surprised to learn just how many scrumptious dishes both these ingredients can make. So while Little Miss Muffet sits on her tuffet eating her plain curds and whey, get ready to indulge your palate with flavorful foods made with homemade, fresh curd cheese and healing liquid whey.
Separating Curds from Whey
The cultured dairy products buttermilk, kefir, yogurt and pima milk are wonderful foods in their own right; however, when separated they make beautiful curds and whey. Dry curds can also be referred to as farmer’s cheese, pot cheese or yogurt cheese. It is creamy or crumbly, depending on how long it has drained, spreadable and brimming with health-giving properties.
A home-made uncultured cream cheese can be made from milk, cream, yogurt and rennet. The details of this process are found in the fun resource, The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell- Kingsley.1 After the milk, cream and yogurt are warmed, rennet is added. The mixture sits a short while until firm curds form and then the whole mixture is strained.
While the above quick home technique may be an entertaining project on a drizzly day, I will stick with my easy-as-pie method discussed below. Not only is it easier, but I also end up with rennet-free, cultured whey, which is an indispensible ingredient in the kitchen of the traditional foodie (more on this later). So throughout this article, it is this latter homemade, cultured version to which I am referring when I speak of curd cheese or yogurt cheese.
The Healing Benefits of Curd Cheese
Homemade curd cheese is a well-spring of nourishment. It is packed with protein, rich in healing fats (the best coming from properly raised grass-fed animals) and, most important, is an excellent digestive aid. Fresh, unripened cheese made from raw cultured dairy products is bursting with probiotic (pro-life) activity.
Regarding these living friendly bacteria, Sally Fallon explains, “These friendly creatures and their by-products keep pathogens at bay, guard against infectious illness, and aid in the fullest possible digestion of all food we consume. Perhaps this is why so many traditional societies value fermented milk products for their health-promoting properties and insist on giving them to the sick, the aged and nursing mothers.”2
A hallmark practice among traditional cultures is to consume some sort of naturally preserved, lacto-fermented vegetable, fruit, beverage, meat and/or condiment at every meal. Tack homemade curd cheese onto your list of powerfully healing foods. And the best thing is, this cheese is so versatile, your family will be happy to include this food in any meal!
Traditional Uses of Yogurt Cheese
Fresh curd cheese is not a new idea. For traditional dishes found in the Middle East and South Asia, this ingredient is often referred to as strained yogurt, yogurt cheese or Greek yogurt. In Greece and Turkey, curd cheese (typically made from goat or sheep’s milk) is used for tzatziki dip, which also contains cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, pepper, dill and oftentimes lemon juice and parsley.
In India, the sweet dessert shrikhand is made with yogurt cheese, dried and fresh fruit, sugar, cardamom, and saffron. And yogurt cheese balls preserved in olive oil, called labneh anbaris, is a popular food in the Middle East (see recipe on page 86).
Ways to Use Whey
Whey is the tart, golden liquid known to the Greek doctors of antiquity as “healing water.” In fact, Hippocrates and Galen, two founding fathers of medicine, frequently recommended whey to their patients.3 Whey from fully fermented milk no longer contains lactose, and with its dose of probiotic organisms will help maintain a synergistic balance of the inner ecosystem and encourage repair of gut dysbiosis. Whey also contains a fair number of minerals, particularly potassium, and a notable amount of vitamins, especially B2.4 So what do you do with all your nourishing whey?
- Drink it! Drink it straight or mix it in with a fermented beverage or hot tea.
- Freeze whey into ice cubes and blend them into smoothies for a more slushy texture or cool-down a beverage on a hot day.
- Replace a portion of the water used to cook grains.
- Include in soaking water in legumes and grains to improve digestibility (see Nourishing Traditions for details).
- Lacto-ferment almost anything – apples, zucchini, cabbage, cherry chutney, ginger carrots—see Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.
- Feed to pets – chickens, dogs, cats, they all can benefit from this nourishing liquid.
Inspiring Ideas for Using Curd Cheese
Homemade, fresh curd cheese is the perfect complement or even replacement for sour cream in soups or dips and commercial cream cheese in spreads or desserts. It even does a fine job replacing mayonnaise on occasion. Best of all, curd cheese will take on any flavor, whether it be savory, salty, or sweet, so the sky is the limit when it comes to the possibilities with this ingredient. Heating homemade curd cheese will destroy the good bacteria, so I opt to keep mine raw as much as possible; however, there are times when it is the ideal choice for a certain soup or casserole—or you just have an excess supply. Below are some ideas to help inspire your creativity when it comes to using your delectable homemade cheese.
Herby dip: Blend salt, garlic (maybe roasted), diced onion (white, red or green), a little olive oil and your favorite herbs (dried or fresh) with your curd cheese. Maybe toss in a few pieces of nitrate-free bacon or a dash of Worcestershire sauce for an added kick. Complements vegetables and crackers nicely.
Sweet deliciousness: Blend maple syrup or stevia, vanilla and perhaps a little cinnamon, nutmeg or jam into your curd cheese. Use as a topping on pancakes or waffles, filling for crêpes, frosting or fruit dip.
Cashew honey dip: Grind crispy cashews (see Nourishing Traditions) in the food processor until a fine powder results, add a similar amount of cheese curd. Toss in a scoop of honey and a dash of vanilla to taste and blend again. Add cheese curd until your desired consistency is reached and honey to taste. This makes a yummy apple dip, but can also be used on top of pancakes or in crêpes.
Mexican dip: Mix cheese curd with salsa, chopped green onions, shredded Cheddar cheese, and some Mexican spice mix (chili powder, oregano, cumin, garlic and onion powder) and a sprinkle of salt. Enjoy with homemade corn chips.
Cream soup: Make a simple batch of tomato or broccoli soup and once cooled, stir in some velvety cheese curd to add another dimension.
Enhanced-mayo: Replace a scoop or two of mayo in a recipe, such as chicken or salmon salad or deviled eggs, with moist cheese curd to give your dish a probiotic-boost.
Cheese log/ball: Use well-drained cheese curd and mix in an equal amount of shredded cheese of choice. Shape into a log or ball. Roll the log over chopped crispy nuts. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate over night. Experiment with different herbs, cheeses and nuts. This is tasty with homemade crackers.
Fudgesicles: Mix a scoop of honey with a spoonful of cocoa or carob powder. Add an egg yolk or two and a good amount of moist cheese curd (or combine with raw cream) and stir. Taste as you go and make any needed adjustments. Pour into Popsicle molds or paper cups with a popsicle stick and freeze—yum!
The versatility of real, whole foods never ceases to amaze me. And homemade curd cheese is no exception. So go forth, Miss Muffet, and eat your curds and whey plain, while we sit on our tuffets eating our curd cheese-endowed fudgesicles, herby dip with crunchy veggies and yummy pancake spread! (Exactly what is a tuffet anyway?)
- Kathy Farrell-Kingsley. The Home Creamery. Story Publishing. 2008. pp 60-62.
- Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary, PhD. Nourishing Traditions. NewTrends. Washington DC. 2001. p 81.
- Vasey, Christopher, N.D. The Whey Prescription. The Healing Miracle in Milk. Healing Press Press. 2006. pp 1-2.
- Ibid, pp 11-12.
- Farnworth, Edward R. Kefir: a complex probiotic. Food Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-food. FST Bulletin 13 May 2005. St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. Found at http://www.ifis.org/fsc/bulletin-ff-free#fig:6.
- GI ProHealth website. GI ProHealths’ Yogurt recipes. Found at http://www.giprohealth.com/makingyogurt.aspx.
- Turkan Keceli. The role of olive oil in the preservation of yogurt cheese (labneh anbaris). International Journal of Dairy Technology. Volume 52 Issue 2, pp 68 – 72. Published Online: 9 Aug 2007. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119086686/abstract.
Three Easy Steps for Making Curd Cheese and Whey
1. Culture your desired dairy product.
First you need to decide which dairy product you will use to create your curd cheese and whey. Kefir and yogurt are ready to be used. However, buttermilk and pima milk need to curdle or coagulate a bit (approximately two days at room temperature) before they will effectively separate. Fresh milk may also be used but must also be left out to curdle (clabber), which takes approximately four days. See Nourishing Traditions for more details on how to create all of these cultured dairy products. Kefir is my preferred dairy product for this process. Not only is it exceedingly easy to make at home (especially with the self-perpetuating grains), but it has a superior probiotic- profile compared to other dairy products. As mentioned above, it is ready to use immediately, so no additional preparation is necessary for making curd cheese. Kefir is more tart than other cultured dairy products, so keep that in mind when you are cookin’ up recipes. Yogurt is my second favorite dairy product to use for curd cheese-making. It is slightly less tart than kefir, although it depends on the type of yogurt, and again is ready to use immediately. I will sometimes combine curd cheese made from kefir and yogurt to reduce the tartness in sweet recipes. One note on yogurt: commercial products can be used, but be sure to avoid those that contain stabilizers or thickeners such as gelatin or pectin, as they are there to help bind the solids and liquids and will prevent full separation of the curds from the whey. As always, choose a product that is made with the highest quality milk.
2. Choose your straining tool.
There are several choices when it comes to straining whey from the curds. One way is to fit a few folds of unbleached cheesecloth or an unbleached coffee filter inside a strainer or colander, which is then placed over a bowl. Cheesecloth from muslin is the best to use, since the stringiness of loose-weave cheesecloth makes it a hassle to wash and reuse. The strainer must sit high enough to allow for the whey to drain and collect. Another technique is to tie up a thin linen dish towel to a kitchen spoon or kitchen faucet and suspend it over a bowl. But be sure to use a thin towel (or even an old t-shirt), as thicker varieties will soak up the valuable whey. There are devices on the market specifically made for straining these foods (such as the Cuisipro Donvier Yogurt Cheese Maker by Donvier or the Kefir Cheese Making Strainer by Alpha Health). I have had great success with a muslin (thin cotton) bag, often sold as a nut-milk or sprouting bag (someone handy with a sewing machine could even whip some of these up). I drape the bags over the edge of a tall glass container and the lid holds the bag firmly in place (see pictures of my set-up to the right). I prefer these bags because they clean up easily, have other kitchen uses and reduce the number of dirty dishes. About mid-way through, I pull the bag down over the rim of the glass a bit further to prevent it from touching the whey. Be creative, find what you have in your kitchen and start experimenting. It won’t take long before you find the straining method that works best for you.
3. Strain the whey from the curds.
It is time to pour your dairy product into your straining tool. Allow your draining curd to sit either on the counter or in the fridge. The dairy product will continue to ferment if left out, creating a tarter product than if the fermentation is slowed in the fridge. The longer the curd strains, the thicker and drier it becomes. A minimum of four hours will produce a thick cream-like texture, six hours will result in a product closer to commercial sour cream, up to 12 hours produces an even firmer product and after 24 hours you can be sure almost all the whey has drained out. Choose your draining time, then, to produce softer, moister or drier, firmer curd for the particular use you have in mind. I usually drain mine overnight and in the morning have a collection of beautiful golden whey left at the bottom (see pictures).
Different dairy products will give different yields; even various yogurt brands may produce different results. Generally, a cup of yogurt will yield approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup yogurt cheese and produce about 1/2 cup whey. Whey keeps for up to six months and the curd cheese keeps for up to a month in the fridge. However, it also freezes well in a glass container (e.g. preferably a thick glass, such as Pyrex).
Delightful Recipes Using Curd Cheese
No-Bake Cheesecake with Nut Crust
Here is an inspired, easy and very flexible recipe from Debra Lynn Dadd’s website (www.dld123.com), author of Home Safe Home. Remember, it needs to chill in the fridge, so leave enough time before you want to serve your creamy cake.
Approximately 2 cups homemade curd cheese
1 cup raw cream
2 tablespoons raw honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
In a medium-size mixing bowl, whip the cream, honey and vanilla until stiff. Fold the whipped cream into the curd cheese with a spatula. Pour this mixture on top of the crust (see recipe below) or leave as is without a crust. Refrigerate for at least four hours. Top with fruit, bee pollen, chopped nuts, jam, chocolate sauce or fermented cherry chutney (recipe found in Nourishing Traditions). Let your imagination soar; try almond extract instead of vanilla in the mixture, or add lemon or orange zest or maybe even cocoa nibs or carob power.
2 cups crispy nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans or filberts)
1 cup pitted dates
In a food processor, process dates and crispy nuts until they form a sticky mass. Press into the bottom of a buttered 9 by 13 Pyrex pan, bottom and sides of a pie plate, or individual ramekin cups.
Yam-Carrot Side Dish Pudding
2 medium-sized yams or sweet potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into small pieces, skins on
4 medium- to large-sized carrots, scrubbed and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 – 1 cup homemade curd cheese
1 – 3 teaspoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss the yams and carrot chunks onto your baking pan, drizzle them with olive oil and toss with a spatula to evenly coat. Roast the veggie chunks for 20 to 25 minutes (be sure not to burn them). Allow to cool, scoop into a food processor, add the remaining ingredients and purée. Add more curd cheese until desired consistency is achieved. Note: this makes a terrific baby food!
Yogurt Cheese Balls (Labneh Anbaris)
6 cups yogurt
2 teaspoons Celtic sea salt
Herbs of choice, fresh or dried
Olive oil, enough to fill jar
When making curds and whey, combine the salt and yogurt (the salt makes the balls easier to form) and strain as described on pages 84-85. Allow the yogurt to drip for at least 24 hours. Either roll on the outside or mix in fresh or dried herbs, mashed garlic, chopped chives, minced sun-dried tomatoes, pepper flakes or whatever sounds good. Take about 1 tablespoon of the yogurt cheese and roll it into a smooth, round ball and place it on a tray or plate lined with a paper towel. Cover the balls with another paper towel and chill in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours, until firm and slightly dried out. Once dried out, place the balls in an air-tight glass jar and cover with olive oil. Seal the jar and store at room temperature. The labneh will keep for several months this way. When serving, be sure to include a drizzle of the olive oil and use as a side dish with any meal, eat with whole grain pita bread and olives or pop a few in a sandwich.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2009.