Remember all that money we are saving on veggies by growing our own? Well, it is time to spend a little, because one of the things that most sustainable-living sources don't point out is that finding high-quality, sustainably-produced dairy products is sometimes difficult, and when you find them, you will be paying up for them.
Why am I not just grabbing a gallon of whatever milk is on sale?
- Hormones: I want a milk that is from cows not treated with hormones to make them produce more milk. Although the government notes that the hormone is not detectable in the final milk or cheese, I don't believe our bodies can't detect it. And frankly, I feel "puffier" when I eat dairy that contains the hormones. That's subjective, of course, but I still would prefer to avoid the hormone.
- Grass-fed: Here's the thing -- cows are ruminants, which means that they have stomachs (two each, actually) that are designed to digest grasses. However, corn and grain cause them no end of problems. The final milk product from a grass-fed cow has a higher level of CLA, which is thought to ward off cancer and other problems. And, allowing cows to live like cows is inherently kinder to them.
- Cream line: I just uncovered evidence that homogenized milk, in which the fat globules are broken up to mix in the cream and save you the terrible task of actually shaking the milk before you pour it, might contribute to higher levels of cholesterol in the body. It seems the larger fat globules in non-homogenized milk actually are handled by your body better.
To make sour cream, then, I poured a half gallon of milk into a bowl and let it sit overnight, then skimmed the cream. I got nearly a quart of cream, to which I added just a bit of half and half to make a whole quart. I then heated the cream to 86 degrees and stirred in the sour cream starter culture and let the whole thing sit with a towel wrapped around it for 12 hours.
Bingo! Sour cream. I think the non-homogenized cream really made it a lot thicker, and homemade sour cream is generally milder in flavor than store-bought. I feel really good about this easy project, and I can't wait to make some chicken paprikash this weekend using the sour cream as a basis for the sauce.
Fast: Actual hands-on time was fairly minimal, although this is a two-day project once you count letting the cream rise and then letting the sour cream sit and thicken.
Cheap: Oh, heck no. My oh-so-healthy milk is $3.50 a half gallon, plus $1.50 bottle deposit. The sour cream culture will set you back another $1.20 a packet plus shipping. With dairy, you either go healthy or cheap, but there is very little middle ground. If this simply puts this project out of reach for you financially, consider upgrading to organic sour cream, which by definition will not have hormones or exposure to certain pesticides and herbicides.
Good: It is very hard to find sour cream that meets all the conditions set out above for milk, so making it is my only option. The end product is really much better-tasting, I think, and it is worth the extra money.