People often ask me how we can use 2 gallons of yogurt before it goes bad, since there are only four of us in our family. I think we probably do eat a lot of yogurt compared to other people, but we also use yogurt in several different ways. One way to diversify yogurt's place in your diet is to strain it, changing its texture, flavor and function.
Straining yogurt, or separating yogurt solids from the liquid whey, is simple and requires no special equipment. You need a deep bowl, a colander or a sieve, fabric like a clean handkerchief or other clean rags, a twist tie or twine, a saucer and a weight like a big can of tomatoes, a jar filled with water, a clean rock, etc, etc.
Place the colander or sieve over a bowl, and make sure there are several inches between the bottom of the colander and the bottom of the bowl. Line the colander with a piece of fabric that is large enough to allow several inches of cloth to drape over the edges of the colander. Please note here that I have not recommended cheese cloth. The weave on cheese cloth is too open and you will lose too many yogurt solids along with the whey if you use it. Pour the yogurt into the fabric lined colander. Gather the fabric around the yogurt and give it a good twist. Secure the twisted fabric with a twist tie or twine.
If you would like to make sour cream-like strained yogurt, you can stop here and place the yogurt straining contraption in your refrigerator for several hours. Periodically check on it to pour off and save the whey. You want the colander to be above the level of the whey as the yogurt will stop straining if it ends up sitting on whey. Remove the yogurt from the strainer once it has reached your desired consistency.
If you would like to make cream cheese-like strained yogurt, place a saucer and then a weight on top of the twisted, secured fabric. Let this weighted strainer sit in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight, again checking it periodically and pouring of the whey. It will become quite dry over time, and you will notice that the whey expulsion slows down and eventually stops. Then the sky is the limit. You can use the yogurt cheese in recipes that call for cream cheese and make your own flavored yogurt cheese to spread on bagels.
The amount of strained yogurt you are left with depends on two factors: the thickness of the yogurt with which you began and the amount of time and pressure you use when straining. The yogurt I make-- bloopers aside-- is usually quite thick before straining. When I strain and press one quart of yogurt, I usually end up with about 10 ounces of yogurt cheese and 1 to 2 cups of whey. One of these days, I really am going to make ricotta cheese with my whey, and I'm sure I'll write about that fermentation adventure here too.
In the end, straining yogurt is a great way to save yourself trips to the grocery store for last minute ingredients like sour cream and cream cheese. Here are some of the recipes I have made using strained yogurt, and they have all been wonderful: beef stroganoff, raita, dip for fruit platter, veggie cream cheese, curried sauce for fish, sour cream salsa dip, tiramisu, and cream cheese frosting. Please contact me if you would like more information about any of these recipes.
When we are flexible in our thinking about the possibilities for our ferments, we increase our food independence, create delicious recipes and support our personal growth. Good luck with yogurt straining and all your fermentation adventures.