Wild Dairy Fermentation

Excerpt from my article for Fermentation Magazine, access the full article here.

One of the raw milk cheese I used to make for Pholia Farm. A Romano style goat, aged 1 year.

Long before packets of freeze-dried cultures for milk existed, there were dairy ferments. Cheese, yogurt, and kefir are probably second only to beer in the pantheon of fermented foods. However, in the modern world, 100 percent wild fermentation in dairy products is rare. There are many cheeses made from raw milk, though, and the fermentation of these is a joint effort between wild microbes and cultivated bacteria. Cheesemakers who use this approach rely heavily on wild microbes to produce a superior, nuanced cheese, but hedge their bets for optimal acidification and flavor by adding a pinch of commercial cultures. For those who want to play on the wild side, a deeper understanding of the concerns and the process is necessary.

Jon Steiger at By George Farm, Applegate, Oregon

I like to think of the teat surface as a garden from which wonderful microbes can be collected. This collection can’t happen without paradigm shifts away from the extensive udder sanitation that’s practiced on most modern dairies. But wait, didn’t I just warn you about all of the spores floating around? How can reducing sanitation help?

We’ve used lactofermentation regularly at Pholia Farm when making our commercial cheeses. I find it amazingly informative to the daily practices of the farm, as well as to my cheese-making. I also employ it during the classes I teach. It’s a method well worth using when making cheeses at home. The practice will help you more deeply understand and troubleshoot fermentation and issues with a mother culture. Making raw milk cheese gives you a chance to observe environmental microbes and natural milk systems at work in cheese-making, and the complex relationship these microbes share with those that exist in a raw milk source.


3 thoughts on “Wild Dairy Fermentation

  1. I’ve been waiting since I took your class in my 2011-2012 CS year at the age of 19, for you to post about wild fermentation. Love this.

      • Okey-dokey, I loved your class! Taking it with my mom is one of my favorite memories. The sample tastes of your cheeses was my favorite part, they blew our minds and even after tasting them our imaginations&sensations still couldn’t comprehend what we were eating.

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