Way more interesting than seeing yogurt being made is listening to Annie-Rose London talk about her history with the fermented dairy product.
“My all-encompassing outlook on fermentation was first started by making my own yogurt in high school,” London said at a DIY workshop co-sponsored by Hazon in Oakland earlier this month.
London, 25, one of three residents at Moishe House East Bay — part of an international network of homes where Jewish young adults live and create programming for their peers — is also a certified life coach and a mentor for Wilderness Torah.
As a burgeoning foodie in high school, she learned she could easily make yogurt following instructions in an Indian cookbook.
Then, as a first-year student at Brown University, she attended a class taught by fermentation guru Sandor Katz, “and I became completely radicalized by fermentation,” she said. “I was a fermented vegetable for Halloween that year, and started doing all these fermentation projects in my dorm.”
Not only did she find it empowering to make her own ferments, London said, but discovered “these things are associated with luxury and they also have an extraordinary healing capacity. Making them myself felt very much hand in hand with the empowerment work I was doing in my life.”
She took time off from college to live at a commune of anarchists, where she learned homesteading skills to live sustainably; making yogurt fit in nicely with that theme.
“You get into a daily rhythm with it,” she said. “I’m very invested in taking out the preciousness of it and making it really accessible to people.”
When she returned to Brown, she started her own yogurt business, delivering the product by bike. Her customers would give her empty containers, which she would fill with yogurt, putting her own sticker on the containers and producing no waste.
“But it was pretty short-lived,” she said. Money wasn’t really the problem; it was more about not having enough time for the venture.
London has made yogurt by cooking it over an open fire using “dumpstered” milk — collected by dumpster diving — at an earth-skills gathering, and she’s also made it for her friends’ wealthy moms, in this case using store-bought milk. “I have a molecular biologist background,” she says, “so I’ve studied yeast and I love playing with bacteria.”
With those credentials, no doubt she was the perfect person to lead the Oakland workshop, attended by about 10 people who came to see how it’s done.
Basically, a small amount of store-bought yogurt is added to heated milk, and then it’s incubated in a warm environment overnight. There’s not much more to it than that.
Surprisingly, London recommends using Dannon plain yogurt as a starter, a tip she learned from a mentor who “looked at other brands through microscopes, and found that Dannon has a lot of live, active bacteria in it.” That’s what’s needed to transform milk into yogurt, she said.
As she waited for the milk to heat, she explained why she prefers not to use a thermometer, relying on her sense of touch.
“You want the milk to be a hospitable environment,” she instructed, but not too hospitable. “If you think about temperatures that are comfortable for you, it’s similar for bacteria. It’s not very mysterious; if it’s too hot for your finger, it’s too hot for bacteria, too.”
London used organic whole milk at the workshop, but she said she’s also used soymilk and low-fat milk in her yogurt and they all work equally well.
However, London, who prefers organic products, doesn’t actually eat the Dannon yogurt. After she finishes making her own yogurt, she freezes the unused Dannon in ice-cube trays for future use as starters.
London also demonstrated how to make fresh cheese, by adding a bit of apple-cider vinegar and lemon juice to heated milk, allowing it to curdle, and then squeezing out the whey. Participants ventured into the backyard and the Moishe House garden to pick some fresh herbs (basil and parsley), which were added to the mix along with salt.
The cheese could be snacked on right away, but the yogurt she made had to be incubated overnight, so people returned the next day to pick up the samples.
As London passed around a glass jar of warm whey for participants to taste, she shared some of the ways it can be used, as a liquid for baking or soaking grains
The workshop clearly impressed at least one participant. Gene Goldstein-Plesser, 25, a San Franciscan, could be heard saying: “I’m trying to figure out how to integrate whey into my life.”