Saran wrap and plastic quart containers... Ready to ditch 'em?
Most yogurt we buy at a store is pasteurized or is made with pasteurized milk. The way yogurt is made is by adding a culture to milk and incubating it for 8-10 hours and then letting it cool down without disturbing it for a couple of hours before refrigerating it. The yogurt we buy at the store that comes in a plastic container usually incubates in that container, as you're not supposed to disturb the yogurt once you make it. Like canned beans that get cooked in the can, the warm milk and the bacteria cultures incubate for 8-10 hours in warm plastic (about 110 F).
So when it comes to yogurt it's not just about cutting down on our plastic waste but it's also (at least for me) about trying not to eat things that were cooked or incubated in plastic, as much as we can.
Yogurt - An option would be to make your own yogurt. It's really easy if it's warm out and you have a car, or a box that will get warm in the sun. I learned from my last landlord that you just fill each mason jar 3/4s with milk, add a spoon or two of yogurt (store bought with live cultures - if there are no live cultures it won't work), close the lids, shake, and put it in your car on a day when you'll be home (don't drive around with it), cover them with a cloth so they aren't in direct sunlight and at the end of the day gently pick them up, and bring them inside without shaking them. If you move the jars around the yogurt won't set.
Here's a yogurt recipe from Nourished Kitchen. There are many more online - don't let any recipes overwhelm or intimidate you. I honestly just look at the temperature when I forget and pretty much always add a table spoon of previous yogurt to a little less than a quart of whole milk. Also I don't heat my raw milk - I just put the cold milk with the cold yogurt, shake it up in the jar and either put it in the car, or I use a dehydrator with all the trays pulled out to incubate. It's not always so easy to keep the temperature steady on the stove in a water bath so if you love yogurt and want to make it often, I highly recommend getting a yogurt maker (incubator) or a dehydrator.
Raw milk isn't always available but there are some "underground" food clubs/farms that will have you sign a contract and then you can purchase raw milk from them or join their raw milk CSA. Some states allow raw milk sales, like PA, and some don't but they do allow raw cheese as long as it's been aged for 3 or 6 months, like NJ. Here is a site off of the Weston Price Foundation that is helpful in finding raw milk. Not every farm will give you your raw milk in a 1/2 gallon mason jar so be prepared to buy some plastic bottles, unfortunately. You can always talk to the farmer and see if there's another option.
Kefir - You can also make Kefir at home. It tastes similar to yogurt but a bit more sharp and sour. You can purchase kefir grains (they are called grains but they are actually colonies of beneficial bacteria and yeast - gluten free) on Amazon or see if anyone in your neighborhood has any. As you make more kefir, you’ll start having more kefir grains, which look like cauliflower. You can share them with neighbors and friends. Just as a side note you don't eat the kefir grains, you drink the kefir which is what the milk has become after having kefir grains sitting in them for a while (and digesting the sugars in milk)
Kefir is really easy to make and maintain. It will come with directions but I will quickly explain how to make and care for them.
Kefir directions; Put whole milk in a glass container with your kefir grains, cover the top with cheese cloth and leave it out on the kitchen counter for as little as 24 hours and up to a few days. The temperature of your kitchen, how much milk you put in and how thick you like your kefir will affect how long it sits out for. It's a little bit of an experiment at first. When your kefir is ready, strain it into a glass or plastic bowl using a plastic or ceramic mesh (kefir does not like metal). The strained liquid is ready for consumption. If you don't want to have it the moment you strain it, in my experience, it will keep in the fridge for at least a few days. You can also put the strained thick liquid in a couple of layers of cheese cloth and hang it for at least 24 hours and make kefir cheese with it. The yellowish clear liquid that drains from it is whey. You can use it for pickling or you can add it to your smoothies. The grains that end up in the plastic strainer can go back in a clean glass container with whole milk and the same process begins again. If you’re going on vacation for a few weeks, just put the kefir grains with whole milk in the fridge (open top - just a layer of cheese cloth) and that’s it. When you get back strain in plastic mesh and re-start the process. The low temperature of the fridge slows down the bacteria and the yeast growth. If you’re going away for a few months, I suggest dropping off your kefir grains with a neighbor.
Cheese lovers - You can either make their own cheese or buy cheese straight from the farmer if you don't want it with plastic, which is hard I know, not many of us live close to farms or have easy access to them. Most farmers use paper, waxed on one side, when they sell their cheese. If you need an alternative or need to re-wrap your cheese because the paper ripped, you can dip cotton cloth in vinegar, and then wrap your cheese in it or you can follow the instructions on MommyPotamus to make your beeswax cheese wrap. You can take your home-made reusable food wrap to the farmers market and ask for the farmer to put the cheese directly into your food wrap. For those of you who plan on making cheese or straining kefir cheese with a cheese cloth - the only place I was able to find reusable, organic cheese cloth with no plastic wrap is made by a company named EcoPeaceful (it's on amazon).
The farmer we buy cheese from used to use saran wrap. I spoke to her one afternoon and asked if I could come before she wrapped the cheese so I could have it without the saran wrap. She asked me what I would put it in and when I said butcher paper she told me she could do that herself. Since then all the different cheeses she makes and puts out for customers comes in butcher paper where the cheese can breathe... If you would like something different, at a store, at a farm, wherever, people are less likely to make a change if they don't know what it is you are looking for or are interested in. Don't shame anyone, but do let them know what you'd like, and why (if that seems important).
The idea of making cheese (not kefir cheese but harder cheeses) is a bit intimidating to me at the moment but at some point I'd like to get into it and at least see how labor intensive it is. If anyone would like to share their experience of cheese making, please leave us a comment below.