Soft cheese and tasty foods to make out of fermented milk

You don't have to be a Master Chef to toss out good food


3 kinds of cheese from amasi

Your own creamy cottage cheese, Labneh in olive oil and Feta cheese in brine

Appreciate the old-fashioned goodness of simple things - like milk that has curdled. Way back then, this was used to make cheese by dripping out the watery liquid and harvesting the solid residue. The clear liquid (called whey) can be added to soups and stews because it has the most calcium! In Africa, we call the fermented (curdled) milk “amasi” or “maas.” Ideally this still happens to pure, organic unpasteurized milk when it is left to stand at room temperature for a day or two. The natural bacteria – the ones we call probiotics (lactobacillus) multiply. So instead of chucking the milk away, take it to the kitchen. Yoghurt is also produced by the fermentation process, but some yoghurt or a yoghurt culture is introduced from the beginning.

Learn to make your own fermented dairy delights – loaded with probiotics

Amasi is fermented milkCredit: Sue VisserYou can add probioticsCredit: Sue Visser

 Unfortunately our modern pasteurized milk is now so adulterated that it only goes bad after a suspiciously long time and does not smell or taste like amasi. It does not even produce the curds and whey – so loved by Little Miss Muffit in the nursery rhyme. In South Africa the closest we get to curds and whey is a bottle of amasi from the supermarket. After experimenting with this amazing product for a few years I am now going to share the know-how of making old-fashioned favourites such as smoothies, cream cheese and an interesting Lebanese cheese called labneh.

We are also going to explore the many uses of the clear liquid and of course, the full cream amasi. In India, lassi is a popular drink made from 3 parts yoghurt to 1 part water. You can use amasi instead, with the liquid whey mixed in again, should you like a salty lassi. Using your own fermented milk or amasi blended up with spices, mango pulp or other fruit it will taste just as good. Try using papaya with honey for a really deleicious lassi. Bananas with molasses is also a great combo for making lassi drinks or what we call smoothies.

But first, we boost the probiotic potential with supplements

At any stage one can mix in some extra probiotics from supplements. The more strains the better it is for restoring gut bacteria and boosting your immune system. Another advantage is that they grow in the amasi, especially when you add a spoon or two of molasses to the culture.

Tasty fermented food instead of expensive supplements and drugs


CheesecakeCredit: Sue Visser

The added benefit of using full cream milk comes at no extra cost so we get the extra conjugated linoleic acids for free. Known as CLA, this is a slimming supplement in its own right, so don’t worry about a few extra fat-laden calories! Skinny fat-free foods are going out of fashion because there is too much evidence that we can’t really thrive without certain natural fats. Butter and cream are here to stay! The full cream amasi adds a luxurious richness to the dishes it is used in. For many of us this is a welcome change to going fat-free and thinking it is doing us a load of good.

Make your first full cream cottage cheese overnight

Some brands of amasi are better at making cheese than others. It is a good sign when the amasi pours out of the bottle in clots or lumps. This is a true characteristic of the fermented milk, as opposed to a creamy homogenized consistency.

  • Place a sieve or colander over a bowl.
  • Cover the sieve with a finely woven cloth – similar to petticoat material or a dress lining.
  • Pour in 1 or 2 cups of amasi. (You can also use a natural yoghurt - free of additives.)
  • Add half a teaspoon of salt and stir it around.
  • Cover the sieve with a plate and leave it overnight.
Add salt to yoghurt or amasiCredit: Sue VisserMarmite and amasi with flaxseeds

The next morning you will notice a lot of shrinkage has taken place. The liquid has dripped out into the bowl below. Now you need to jiggle the corners of the cloth to let the residue collect into the middle of the sieve. Shake and bang the sieve. There may be more dripping liquid as a result. Then transfer the cream cheese to a suitable sealable container or an old cottage cheese tub. (People will think it is the real thing!) It will be super nutritious if you enriched the mixture with probiotics. However, if you add too much salt, this may have killed off some strains of probiotics.

Some people like to hang up the cloth bundle by the corners. I find it messy and difficult to get an even texture inside the mystery bundle. It also attracts too many flies in summer. Choose what suits you best. We all need to shuffle things around a bit.

When you are happy with the consistency of the residue transfer it to a plastic container with a well-fitting lid. You can keep it in the brine that dripped out into the basin below for a cheese similar to a soft feta. To make labne, the rich creamy Middle Eastern soft cheese, try rolling it into balls and plop them into a container of olive oil. Keep your swanky new cheeses in the fridge and they will firm up after a few days.


How to cheat with risottoCredit: Sue Visser

Don’t throw away the clear liquid – add it to soups, salty lassi and stews

Don’t chuck out that salty liquid. It is very rich in calcium, phosphorous and digestive enzymes - especially lactase. Lactase is the enzyme we need for digesting milk. This is why fermented dairy products are better tolerated by most people. The delicious salty brine can be used as a stock for making sauces, soups and stews. This is a lovely option for vegetarians who battle to find suitable stock cubes.

  • I like to whizz it up with avocado pears and lemon juice for tasty cocktail.
  • When you add the liquid to soups, curries and stews remember it is salty, so use it instead of salt.
  • Use the brine for baking. It contributes to the texture of savoury muffins and scones. (We use whey powder as a dough enhancer when eliminating eggs from the recipe.)
  • When making a creamy white sauce, it will give a sharper flavour that goes well with white pepper and mustard. It is delicious with broccoli or spinach.

Lovely ways to enjoy cottage cheese – and cure cancer?

We all love our creamy cottage cheese with fig jam on toast or muffins as a treat.

We use cottage cheese to make dips, salad dressings and dessert toppings.

We make divine cheese cakes out of cottage cheese.

We use cottage cheese mixed with mayonnaise to eat with just about everything.

But did you know that cottage cheese mixed with flaxseed oil is a serious cancer treatment? That is great news and worth investigating because it really is effective - the Budwig diet. It is important to share this type of food with children. Tell them stories and let them play around with you in the kitchen. You will be surprised at the things they select for lunch, as you can see!

Salad dressing and soft cheese for kidsCredit: Sue Visser

 At home, we can also mix cottage cheese with ground-up flax seeds for a savoury snack. It is lovely with Marmite. I mix the three together and keep it in the fridge for a few days. It hardens into a block of soft cheese that can be fashioned into a roll, like goat’s cheese. Yes, roll it in ground-up pepper, herbs and spices for an extra kick! A slice of this is a far cry from the humble amasi we bought at the supermarket!

Make cheese balls – they call them labneh

We ate a lot of labneh in Oman and that is where I first discovered it. I know you are supposed to make labne from yoghurt. But try using amasi, it is much easier. One celeb recipe said to mix salt and Greek yoghurt and hang it up in a cloth. No, it did not work, so I presume not all Greek yoghurt is created equal - especially not when chemicals and emulsifiers are used. That is why one needs to find the “lumpiest” type of amasi. My niece Andrea refuses to buy amasi because she says it reminds her of vom. Well, she enjoyed my labneh!

Put a weight on topCredit: Sue Vissermake your own cheeseCredit: Sue Visser

The amasi cottage cheese we made is folded into a rectangular shape, using the sides of the cloth to tap and push it into shape. Fold the sides of the cloth over to make a parcel. Wrap it in paper towel and then in a wad of newspaper to draw out the liquid so the cheese can harden. I fold a few layers of newspaper into a long strip to match the size of the cloth parcel. Then it is easy to fold it over and over around the cheese. Put a heavy bread board or pot on top of this and leave it for a few hours. It is ready when the newspaper is wet. Inside you will find a block of soft cheese!

Use the cheese as a firm cottage cheese or try rolling pieces of it into little balls. Add some olive oil to the small plastic container you are going to keep them in and oil up your hands so the labne does not stick to your fingers. Place the balls in the container of olive oil and keep in the fridge for a day or so till they firm up. (They do.) Serve them with olives and home-made lemon pickle. Labneh is great to add to salads and snacks.

This article on fermented foods provides more information about fermented foods and why they are so healthy. 

Now have fun, make a big mess in the kitchen - people appreciate the food more!

All you need to know about making dairy products

The best way forward - no more nasty additives!

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