Lately I’ve been trying to manage three obsessions: The Olympics, The Hunger Games and Pinterest. All week I’ve been trying to find a way to weave these topics into my blog posts. Aside from delving into the obvious food-related questions—Do Olympians really eat MacDonald’s? (I hope not.) Do grooslings really exist? (Probably not.)—yesterday I suddenly realized that one thing my three obsessions have in common is that they inspire me to action.
When I watch Allyson Felix run—we’re the same age, height and weight (on a good days)—it inspires me to break out of my running rut and run harder than I thought I could. When I read about Katniss foraging for food, climbing trees and outwitting her opponents, it inspires me to be brave. When I pin DIY and craft projects on Pinterest, it inspires me to think outside the box and create something with what I already have.
Then I made another connection: even if I’ve been a little slow to jump on the DIY home décor movement, I’ve always had a strong DIY spirit in the kitchen. From pie crusts to soup stock, making food from scratch has always been immensely satisfying for me. In the past few years I’ve delved into making my own dairy products. Some of my ventures have been smashing successes while others have been, well, floundering failures. Today I’d like to share with you what I learned from my dairy experiences. I’ve analyzed six dairy products (whipped cream, crème fraîche, yogurt, ricotta, mozzarella and jack cheese) time involved, price, ease of making and taste. I hope my experiences with DIY Dairy will give you the confidence to try something new in the kitchen.
A few notes:
- I based all of the prices off of Trader Joe’s products because it’s a national chain and where I buy most of my dairy products.
- I try to buy organic dairy products whenever I can, so the price for homemade dairy products reflects the price of organic milk or cream.
Homemade whipped cream may seem so obviously a product that should be made from scratch that I almost didn’t include it. But through reading blogs and chatting with friends I realized that some people have never whipped their own cream.
Ingredients: heavy cream
Price: Cheaper to whip your own. Organic homemade: $0.21/oz. Store-bought: $0.26/oz.
Time: Less than five minutes with an electric mixer.
Taste: Home-whipped cream tastes better than store-bought because it doesn’t include stabilizers. Plus with homemade you can control the amount of sugar or add-ins, like vanilla, maple syrup or liqueur.
Verdict: Make it yourself! And if you miss the fun spray nozzle on the store bought canisters, invest in the iSi Mini Whipped Cream Dispenser, which dispenses whipped cream in less than a minute.
How-To: Whipped Cream Directions Scroll to the bottom of my cream puff recipe for instructions on whipping heavy cream.
Making yogurt at home has been a daily ritual for families throughout the world for hundreds of years. Sure, Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table sell electric yogurt makers for the home kitchen, it is possible to make cheaper, tastier yogurt at home without a fancy yogurt maker.
Ingredients: milk, existing yogurt or freeze-dried starter
Price: Cheaper to make your own yogurt. Homemade organic: $1.78/qt. Store-bought organic: $2.99/qt.
Time: 5-7 hours total, 30 minutes active.
Taste: In my opinion, homemade yogurt tastes very similar to store-bought yogurt. Homemade yogurt is runny (European style, according to Trader Joe’s), so if you want a thick, Greek style yogurt you’ll need to let your yogurt incubate longer and then strain it.
Verdict: While homemade yogurt is something I used to make regularly, I’ve started buying it at Costco because it tastes great, is a fair price and is organic. With the time I save from not making yogurt, I can explore making other things.
Whenever I see a recipe that calls for crème fraîche, I cringe a little because this cultured cream can be expensive and hard to track down. I was intrigued by recipes for homemade crème fraîche, but also skeptical that such a simple process could yield this pricey, hard to find thickened cream.
Ingredients: heavy cream, buttermilk
Price: Cheaper to make your own. Homemade organic: $1.57/7.5 oz. tub. Trader Joe’s sells a 7.5 oz. tub for $3.79, but I’ve seen tubs at Whole Foods for $5.99. Note that that $3.79 Trader Joe’s crème fraîche is not organic, so by making it at home you can have an organic product.
Time: 12 hours total, 2 minutes active. You read that right—2 minutes active time! Crème fraîche is by far the easiest dairy product I’ve ever made.
Taste: I think homemade crème fraîche tastes great, but it won’t taste exactly like store-bought. I think the reason for this is the homemade recipe I make uses buttermilk as the cultures, while commercial crème fraîche uses special cultures (which you can buy online here). Perhaps if you have a palate attuned to the minutiae of crème fraîche you’d be better off buying it or the cultures to properly make your own, but I know plenty of bloggers who are just as happy to make their own using buttermilk as the culture.
Verdict: Make it! With a lower price and so little effort to make it, there’s no reason not to try it at least once.
How-To: Combine whipping cream and buttermilk in a jar and set it on the counter overnight. The next day it will have thickened into tangy crème fraîche. No cooking involved! Check out this post for the directions.
Ricotta is a staple of Italian cuisine, making appearances in everything from lasagna to bruschetta to cannoli. Rumor has it that ricotta is easy to make at home, but is it worth the time and effort?
Ingredients: milk, heavy cream, buttermilk
Price: Homemade organic: $3.27/15 oz. Trader Joe’s non-organic: $3.29/15 oz.
Time: 60-90 minutes total, 15 minutes active.
Taste: Homemade ricotta is hands-down much more delicious than store-bought ricotta, and I’m not alone in thinking so: I’ve read and heard this many, many times from food bloggers and friends. Store-bought ricotta is often gummy and heavy, while homemade is creamy and light.
Verdict: Make it! Though the price is virtually the same, homemade tastes much better. Also, the price quoted for homemade is organic, so in essence you’re actually getting more bang for your buck to make it at home.
How-To: Jennifer Perillo’s recipe on Food 52 has been my go-to recipe.
Let me preface this section by saying that I have not successfully made mozzarella cheese. I’ve tried three different batches, but to no avail. Mozzarella is supposed to be relatively easy to make, but I haven’t had any luck.
Ingredients: milk, rennet, citric acid
Price: This one is tricky. Trader Joe’s fresh mozzarella packed in brine costs $7.00/lb. Homemade organic costs $5.99-7.49/lb. for the milk, plus the price of citric acid and rennet.
Time: The recipe claims to take 30 minutes, but I’d budget 60 minutes just to be safe.
Taste: Can’t say! The curds I’ve made taste like mozzarella, but the texture is all wrong.
Verdict: Try it a few times if you’re up for a challenge, but if you’re like me, you’ll probably stick with buying it.
How-To: Ricki the Cheese Queen has very detailed instructions on her website if you’re game for making your own mozzarella.
I’m throwing this one in for kicks because I think you have to be pretty serious about making things from scratch to try making your own Jack cheese. My mom and I tried making Jack Cheese with the Cheesemaking kit from Ricki the Cheese Queen a few years ago and here’s our consensus.
Ingredients: milk, rennet, culture, calcium chloride
Price: Cheaper to buy. Trader Joe’s Jack Cheese: $3.99/lb. Homemade organic: $5.99 for milk, plus the price of rennet, culture and calcium chloride.
Time: 3-8 Months. Okay, it takes 3-8 months if you cure it properly. The initial cheese making process takes at least 4 hours, but then you have to drain it, brine it and cure it. We only made it through the draining step.
Taste: Good, but we didn’t go to the effort to let it fully cure for several months so I don’t think we can accurately comment on its taste.
Verdict: Buy it, unless you’re willing to invest a lot of time and money (for the cheese wax and other special supplies) for a pound of cheese that may or may not turn out.
How-To: Here’s a link to the recipe on Ricki the Cheese Queen’s website.
Whew! That’s a whole lot of dairy. Even so, I’m ready to expand this list and try my hand at making fromage blanc, haloumi and mascarpone. Are you going to try to make any dairy products?