Loving raw milk and loving frugality have inspired me to creative heights of dairy transformations. I’ve mentioned my yogurt-making in passing, waxed poetic about my kefir-love, but even more excitingly, 2013 has witnessed both my first batches of mozzarella and my first batch of homemade sour cream! Can you tell we like dairy in our house?
Of all of the dairy culturing, straining, and incubating, making sour cream has been the absolute easiest one I’ve tried, and the homemade variety tastes amazing. The short version of how it works: you put a buttermilk culture into cream and let it sit at around 77 degrees for 12-16 hours. Then you eat it. Simple, right? The only required piece of equipment is a thermometer. I used a cheese-making one that came with this mozzarella and ricotta making kit, but I think you could also get something like this if you don’t have one lying around already.
Here are the more involved steps I took:
First, I bought a buttermilk/sour cream culture from Cultures for Health, a company I had learned about from several of the “real food” websites I follow. There are two different types of buttermilk cultures. One is an heirloom culture which you can keep using over and over again to make buttermilk for the rest of your natural life. When you want to make sour cream, you would just take some of the buttermilk and put it into cream. Voila! Sour cream. But, this one wasn’t going to work for me because I use raw milk, and to keep the buttermilk culture “pure” and working properly I would need to home-pasteurize some milk every week to culture my buttermilk. Plus, I would need to be regularly consuming buttermilk to keep the culture going. I have my kefir going and I don’t want to replace any of our kefir with buttermilk, so the heirloom culture was a no go for us at this time.
Brilliantly, Cultures for Health also sells a “direct set” culture. This culture only works once, so you don’t have to worry about culturing it over and over, although it isn’t as economical. The buttermilk/sour cream culture comes in an 8-pack, so when I want to make sour cream, I take out one of the 8 packets and use it. When I want to make more buttermilk or sour cream, I take out another packet.
Second, I got my cream together. One of the reasons I bit the bullet and bought my sour cream culture is that I finally developed as easy technique to skim off the cream from my raw milk . . . .with my turkey baster! I HATED transferring my milk to a bowl, letting it sit, skimming, and still getting milk with the cream! With my turkey baster, I opened a couple of my half gallons of milk and basted out a cup of cream from each one until I mostly filled a quart mason jar. If you aren’t using raw milk, then you would only need to buy some cream at the grocery store or dairy.
Third, I heated my cream to 77 degrees. I did this by heating it on the stove in a saucepan. This is where the thermometer comes in. If you are using pasteurized cream, the directions are a bit different, but all of the instructions come with the culture.
Fourth, I stirred in the contents of one direct set culture packet and let the culture do its work. I put the milk back in the mason jar, which I covered with a piece of cloth fasted onto the jar with a rubber band. Because it is supposed to culture at around 77 degrees, I set the jar a few inches away from my crock pot which was making bone broth, thinking that this would keep it about the right temperature in my 62 degree house.
Fifth, I opened the jar the next morning after about 16 hours and tasted the goodness. It was thick and creamy and quite delicious. Best yet, I made an entire quart of sour cream for only $2.83, which included the cost of buying and shipping the culture and the cost of the cream. This is a very good price for 64 oz of sour cream. In fact, it is slightly less per oz than a 3lb tub of Daisy’s available at my local Sam’s club. And remember that my cream was skimmed from my raw milk. If you buy a less expensive cream, you could enjoy even more of a cost benefit.
A delicious experience was had by all each time this sour cream came out of the fridge! If anything has been holding you back from making your own dairy products at home, I definitely recommend giving sour cream a try.
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