Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey
Along came a spider and sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away
So goes the nursery rhyme I learned as a child. I had no clue what curds and whey were back then, although it’s fairly obvious now – the curds are the curdled part of the milk, and the whey is the liquid part.
You can make your own curds by boiling milk and adding something to curdle it – either by using yoghurt, vinegar or lemon juice. The resulting curds give you the Indian cheese paneer (lovely) although if you use skimmed milk and mash up the curds, you end up with cottage cheese. I make this quite regularly.
You make yoghurt in a similar way. I used to have a yoghurt maker years ago (until I put it in boiling water and warped it out of shape), so when I saw a non-electric one the other day, I bought it.
I adore cheese, almost all kinds. (I think I’ve only found one that I really didn’t like. I’m happy to keep searching though.). And yoghurt, very fond of that too.
Cheese and yoghurt go back before recorded history, and both seem to be ways of preserving milk, particularly in hot countries, which makes sense, in the days before refrigerators. If you think about it, mankind has always looked for ways to get food as easily as possible, and once they decided that goats and cattle could be used to obtain a nutritious liquid (let’s not go into the issues about it being meant for baby goats and cattle and not for other mammals. Not right now.) it made sense to find other ways to make use of it.
Although the origin of cheese is not known for certain, there is a legend that an Arabian merchant put his day’s milk supply in a pouch that he had made from a sheep’s stomach (so not Versace then?) whilst he went off on his travels across the dessert. The heat of the son and the rennet in the lining of the (clearly not very well cleaned out pouch) caused the milk to separate into curds and whey. The merchant drank the whey and ate the curds and jolly pleased with himself he was too.
The rest, as they say, is history. The Arabs brought the art of cheese making around the world and to Europe. In St Alban’s market, there is a cheese stall where they sell all weird and wonderful kinds of cheese, including some of the ancient Roman recipes (I think it was one of these that I didn’t like. I do know that my brother and his wife keep them outside when they buy them because some of them stink like sweaty socks, although they taste delicious.)
I think what makes the difference between the resulting product being yoghurt or cheese is the rennet. You don’t use rennet in yoghurt making, although the rest of the process is pretty much the same. Yoghurt requires bacteria to ferment it. It dates back to at least 6000 years BC – Genghis Khan is reputed to have been a devotee of it.
Cheese and yoghurt making are big businesses now, apparently a third of all milk produced in the US is used in cheese-making. Me, I’m going back to my new yoghurt maker to try to get the perfect product. Wish me luck!
© Susan Shirley 2016