by Branden Byers, guest contributor
This is part 2 of Good Food on Every Table’s First Person feature with fermentation expert Branden Byers, who publishes the FermUp website and authored The Everyday Fermentation Handbook. Byers — who gave how-to presentations on the Good Food Commons at FamilyFarmed.org’s Good Food Festival last March — here explains how easy it is to make viili, an “heirloom” yogurt. And please check out part 1 (which includes a recipe for fermented leek rings) by clicking here.
All yogurts were once heirloom yogurts and so this terminology is relatively new. The term “heirloom” refers to the fact that, if properly cared for, a yogurt culture can be used to inoculate future batches of yogurt, therefore perpetuating the flavor profile and texture of a specific dairy ferment indefinitely. These cultures have literally been handed down through the ages.
This differs from direct-set yogurt starter cultures, which are comprised of laboratory-derived strains of bacteria used to inoculate milk. Direct-set starter cultures are not meant to be reused, or backslopped, as dairy ferments have been throughout history.
Consistency is important in commercial production, but at home you can obtain and use heirloom yogurt cultures so you don’t have to repurchase starter cultures regularly in order to make yogurt. Imagine caring for a yogurt culture that you can one day hand down to your children or grandchildren.
All of the dairy cultures in this section can be purchased online (see Appendix) but also check locally to see if anyone in your area has cultures to share. Once you have obtained cultures, be sure to pass them along to your friends and family. Think of sharing as a backup plan; you can ask for some back if you ever accidentally lose your starter culture.
Of all the heirloom yogurts that I keep, viili is one of my favorites. Viili is thought to have originated in Finland (or that general region). Both ropy and non-ropy cultures (a.k.a. long and short) are available online. However, if you want true enjoyment, it is important to obtain a viili culture with a ropy, or stringy, consistency that stretches like honey. GEM Cultures maintains one of the oldest viili cultures in the U.S.
My first experience was with short viili. It was okay but not drastically different from other heirloom yogurts that I had tried. However, once I experienced long viili, I was hooked. It is mesmerizing the way it stretches and slides across a spoon with a similarly tantalizing movement across the tongue. For beginners, there may be a slight challenge to getting the thick goo from bowl to mouth, but it is a welcome change from the average yogurt that is so easy to shovel onto your tongue.
Yield: half pint
Prep: 5 minutes
Fermentation: 12–24 hours
250 grams (1 cup) whole milk
10 grams (2 teaspoons) viili culture
With the back of a spoon, rub and coat viili culture along the inside edges and bottom of a small bowl.
Pour milk into the bowl.
Cover the bowl with a small plate or towel.
Leave to ferment at room temperature for 12–24 hours, or until viili has set up like gelatin and stretches when lifted with a spoon.
Save enough fresh viili for future batches.
Repeat process at least once a week to maintain a viable viili culture.
Branden Byers is the creator of FermUp.com, a blog and weekly podcast about anything and everything fermented. He spends a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about fermented foods when not photographing or eating them. Branden spreads his fermented ideas around the globe from his home base in Madison, Wisconsin.
Purchase The Everyday Fermentation Handbook here: fermentationhandbook.com