Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Dairy Aisle

I've finally been able to restart a little every-eight-to-ten-day ritual that I haven't been able to do for the past year: making my own yogurt. The process is pretty simple: heat milk to almost-boiling, let it cool to slightly-hot, add some pre-made culture (i.e., yogurt at the bottom of the tub you've just finished eating), and let it sit under a blanket for 4-8 hours. You can strain it afterwards if a thicker yogurt is your cup of tea. The directions given here are pretty good and specify exact amounts and temperatures, if you want to try it. The key is to start with a yogurt you already like--I'm partial to the Albert Heijn's plain organic yogurt, but the Greek and/or Turkish yogurts are also pretty good.

The best part about making your own yogurt is that all you need is a liter of milk every now and then. This makes going to the supermarket much less confusing, given how many different kinds of dairy products inhabit the average Dutch supermarket. You have milk, butter, cream, creme fraiche, sour cream, yogurt, vla, karnemelk, and kwark--and the magere versions of the last two.

There are several different kinds of yogurt to be had in the Netherlands, and none of them are the same as kwark, which is actually a kind of cheese, although it doesn't always contain rennet. You have your Yakult, which is supposedly good for the digestive system, although exactly how it's supposed to be better for you than normal yogurt is beyond me. Then there are the yogurts that are sold in milk cartons as yogurt drinks. These are slightly more watery than the yogurt you'd eat for breakfast, which is sold in tubs. Everything is made from whole milk (4% fat) unless otherwise specified--Greek yogurt, in addition to being made from whole milk, is also strained so that it's thicker. Turkish yogurt is not only made with whole milk and strained, it also has added cream.

Then you have karnemelk, which is actually buttermilk. Traditionally, buttermilk is the fermented leftovers from making butter, but most of the buttermilk you'll find in stores are made with an innoculation of bacteria, same as with yogurt. I use this to make muffins, buttermilk biscuits, and pancakes--you don't really taste the sourness, but the acid reacts with baking powder to make an incredibly fluffy and light baked good.

Vla is a thin custard/thick pudding, served as a dessert. In the words of our friend Allard, who first explained vla to me, "It gets into all of the little empty nooks and crannies in your stomach and fills it up." It is the perpetual butt of all the flessenlikker jokes, as it was once sold in bottles and had to be scraped out. It's not bad...which is the best thing I can say for it. One of these days I'll put up a recipe for pudding, which is infinitely better...

Creme fraiche is interchangeable with sour cream in most recipes, but it's pretty special in its own right, as it has much more fat, doesn't curdle when heated, and can be whipped. I don't have a lot of experience with it, but it does give a nice finish to creamy soups.

All of which adds to the confusion for expats who are used to yogurt being yogurt, and milk being milk. You have to be somewhat adventurous to be an expat, and that goes for your tastebuds as well as the rest of you. I always like trying new things.


  1. The only yogurt I like is Total Greek Yogurt by Fage. I've tried almost every other Yogurt under the sun but I just can't warm up to any of them :/ My father in law's wife has a yogurt maker that she uses ALL the time. Apparently it makes making your own yogurt a lot easier. The pots you make it in are quite small though.

  2. I LOVE Total Greek Yogurt! But it's just so expensive...

    A yogurt maker just seems like a lot more trouble, actually--most of the time is spent waiting, so you can clean the kitchen/scoop the cat poop/check your email, and the latter part (wrapping it up in a blanket) is so forgiving that if you're off by an hour or two it's not a big deal. The yogurt that comes out after 4-6 hours under the blanket is mild and creamy--for more tartness you'd want to let it sit for 8 hours or thereabouts.

  3. Waouh, this is the most useful thing I've read this week. Even dutch people have sometimes the most difficult time explaining me the differences between all those products ! Thanks !