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Get Real: Cultured Dairy Basics

**This post is part of the Get Real series. Please remember that this is meant as a learning community. We know that many of you are passionate about what you do and we want you to express that, just please do so in a way that will be an encouragement and aid to others making a transition. We want this to be a “safe space” for participants to learn. For that reason, we reserve the right to delete any comments that are not handled in this manner.

Hi, I’m Wardeh from GNOWFGLINS. GNOWFGLINS is a mouthful, I know. It means Enjoying “God’s Natural, Organic, Whole Foods, Grown Locally, In Season.” (Because you were dying to know, right?) I’m here today sharing today about cultured dairy and especially homemade cultured dairy. This is a topic dear to my heart. At various times, my family and I have raised dairy goats and a milk cow. Culturing is something you’ve got to do to keep up with milk! Plus it tastes so good you just can’t get over it. Let’s get into this!

What is Cultured Dairy?

The world round, cultured dairy makes a dish! Can you imagine tacos or burritos without sour cream? Fruit without yogurt? A sandwich without good cheese?

All those dairy foods I mentioned are cultured. A culture (beneficial organisms) are introduced into milk or cream, then over time they consume the milk sugars (lactose). The acids they produce curdle or thicken the dairy and add wonderful flavor. That’s cultured dairy at its most basic level, though it can be more complicated with the addition of rennet to make curds and cheese presses and so on. But basically, that is cultured dairy in a nutshell.

What’s So Great About Cultured Dairy?

Most everybody loves cultured dairy. But beyond taste, what’s so great about cultured dairy? Let’s talk about that, but please keep in mind that not all the “cultured” dairy at the store is truly cultured nor good for you. Lots of products contain fillers, or have been heated, or were created some other way than through culturing. We’re talking here about cultured dairy that is made by the process I described above, and in addition, the final product is not heated.
First, cultured dairy is healthy. It contains probiotics, or healthy organisms for your gut. The culturing produces enzymes to help you digest the dairy, especially lactase to help you digest whatever lactose the organisms haven’t eaten. And culturing makes calcium more assimilable.
Second, culturing dairy is a way to preserve it, or make it last longer. Though it will still need cold storage, cultured dairy is protected by the presence of beneficial organisms. They sort of set up camp and repel spoiling organisms. Also, the acids they produce create an environment that spoiling organisms don’t really like.
So, culturing dairy tastes great, is good for you, and is a method to preserve milk. Are you sold on it yet? Want to try some easy recipes? You’ll save money and get healthier and tastier results if you do it yourself. Plus, the following recipes require hardly any effort.

Sour Cream

Also known as creme fraiche when it is has a thinner consistency, homemade sour cream tastes unbelievably good and couldn’t be easier.

  • 2 tablespoons store-bought sour cream with active cultures
  • 2 cups heavy cream

Yields about 2 cups. Combine the cream with the sour cream in a pint-size glass jar. Mix well. Cover the jar with a paper towel or cloth napkin and secure with a rubber band. Culture at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. The sour cream is done when it is set to a consistency you like. Then cover with a regular lid and transfer to the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Store in the refrigerator. Keeps a few weeks.


If you culture your yogurt for 24 hours, you’ll get maximum reduction of lactose. Usually people culture for 6 to 8 hours. Delicious in dressings, smoothies, or served with fruit and raw honey.

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons high-quality plain yogurt with active cultures (such as Nancy’s, Mountain High, etc.)

Yields 2 quarts. In a saucepan over low heat, heat milk to almost boiling, about 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat. Cover pan with a cloth and let milk cool to around 90 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, 
or comfortable to the touch. Pour into quart jars. Add 1 tablespoon of store-bought yogurt to each jar and stir well. Cover. Put in a dehydrator* set at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 to 8 hours, or up to 24 hours for maximum lactose reduction. Transfer to refrigerator to chill thoroughly before eating. Reserve some of your homemade yogurt to make the next batch.
*Or put a pot of just boiled water in a towel-lined cooler, along with the jars. If culturing longer than 6 to 8 hours, replace the water with more boiled water at about 12 hours. Don’t disturb or open the cooler unless absolutely necessary.

Strawberry Cream Cheese

  • 1 quart cream (not heavy)
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream or buttermilk with active cultures
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup strawberry jam or mashed, sweetened strawberries

Yields about 2 cups. Add the starter culture to the cream. Stir the culture in well. Cover the jar with a cloth napkin or paper towel and secure with a rubber band. Let the cream ripen at room temperature for 8 to 15 hours, or until set up like firm yogurt.
Line a colander with 90 count cheesecloth. Put the colander in a bigger bowl or pot. Pour the cultured cream into the cheesecloth. Find a way to hang the bag of cultured cream so that gravity will help the whey drip out. In the picture, I have used a stick over a bowl to suspend the bag up in the bowl.
Let drip for 12 to 18 hours, or until as dry as you’d like it. Remove cream cheese from cheesecloth into air-tight storage bowl.
If desired, separate into two portions and only make strawberry cream cheese with half the amount. Mix jam or mashed strawberries into the cream cheese, to taste. Try not to overmix so you have nice ribbons of strawberry coloring throughout the cream cheese. Refrigerate. Keeps for 2 weeks.
See this video for more flavor ideas, including Cinnamon-Walnut and Onion-Chives.

Want to Learn More?

Visit my blog for more recipes, like cultured butter, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, and this video with more flavors of cream cheese. Also, I teach an online class on cultured dairy and basic cheese, with lots recipes, techniques, and background information (for as little as $8 per month). You can also check out my offline resources: the Cultured Dairy and Basic Cheese eBook or my print book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods (which contains two chapters on dairy culturing).
Please share in the comments: What are your favorite cultured dairy recipes? Do you have any questions for me?

June Week Three Action Item:

Each week we will try to give you some simple action steps to put this journey into practice. It is important that you start this journey by understanding yourself, your goals and perhaps your obstacles.
  1. Use one of Wardeh’s recipes above and culture your own dairy!

June Get Real:

Please take a moment to thank our guest authors by clicking over to their sites and/or liking them on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Sponsor:  Once A Month Mom

Guest Author: Wardeh from GNOWFGLINS.


14 Responses to “Get Real: Cultured Dairy Basics”

  1. Karry says:

    Thanks for the post. Will have to try making cream cheese.

  2. Gina says:

    Hi! I have been reading all these posts and find it all very interesting. I was all set to make yogurt but when I asked my daughters transplant center about it, they cautioned me not to do it because of the risk of food born contamination. Is there any physical way to tell when something has cultured completely and all the bad bacteria has turned good. I feel the probiotics would be beneficial for her but the fear of her being affected by food poisoning has caused me to not make the next step forward with culturing and fermenting. Thanks.

    • Kelly says:

      From Wardeh – Yogurt doesn’t have “bad” bacteria when starting out. You heat the milk sufficiently to kill all the organisms, then you add the culture with the beneficial organisms. They start to grow immediately, and their presence prevents spoiling organisms from growing. How long something cultures depends on your preferences. There really is not a “cultured completely” stage because culturing is a continuum. The milk starts to thicken and if enough time passes, turns into curds and whey. Anything along this path is considered cultured. You need not fear food poisoning if the yogurt smells fresh and a little sour and is set up. Your nose will tell you if anything bad got in there, and also another cue is if there is anything fuzzy (grey or pink) growing at the top. This usually doesn’t happen if you follow the temperature and culturing guidelines.

  3. Heather Nowak says:

    Don’t laugh :-)…what is the difference between cream and heavy cream? I thought it was the same thing. I’m still learning!! :-) Ha!

    • Kelly says:

      From Wardeh – I won’t laugh! It is a really good question. When cream rises to the top of unhomogenized milk, it actually separates into layers of its own, from a thick-paste like cream at the top to a lighter coffee-cream weight at the bottom. Heavy cream in the stores is usually whipping cream, because that works best for whipped cream. Don’t use that one to make your cream cheese or it will be waaayyyyyy too thick to spread

  4. Heather says:

    Thanks for this post! I never realized how easy it is to do on your own. I’m going to start off trying the sour cream and move forward from there. Thank you!!

  5. SarahM says:

    Awesome! I LOVE making yogurt, now I’m going to try making Strawberry Cream Cheese! Sounds yummy and looks so easy! Thank you for sharing!

  6. Laura says:

    I made sour cream with my raw cream. I used a culture from cheesemaking.com for it. The kids love it (they eat sour cream with a spoon normally). I will never buy sour cream from the store again!

  7. Ashlee says:

    This might be a stupid question, but when making yogurt: after you add in the culture and you “cover” and let it ferment for 24 hours….do you tightly cover with an air-proof lid, or because they are live cultures, do you use the cloth napkin over it again so any gasses can escape? Sorry, I’m really new to anything in the kitchen. Thanks!

  8. Naomi says:

    Just wondering if you can reserve some of the home made sour cream, to start a new batch (like when making repeat batches of yoghurt), or do you have to begin with fresh starter every time? Thanks :)

  9. Naomi says:

    Thanks Tricia,

    Appreciate it! This dairy page has been very helpful :)

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