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Ask the Monger: Why is Yogurt Not Considered Cheese?

Sheep Milk Yogurt - Old Chatham

Qgreen_40px Why is yogurt not considered cheese?

Agreen Great question! First, let’s define “cheese.” Definitions vary, but the most common (and my personal choice) stipulates that it’s a dairy product created by consolidating milk solids—fat, protein, and minerals—and separating them from the watery portion of milk (the “whey”). This gathering of dense nutrients occurs via several traditional steps involving coagulation and then draining. (According to some definitions, a culturing or ripening stage must also occur, during which microbes create acid and flavor—but quite a few cheeses, such as paneer and whole-milk ricotta, skip that stage.)

Most yogurt and kefir (yogurt’s bubbly sister) aren’t drained. Instead, the milk is cultured and ripened to the point where the microbes produce enough acid to curdle the milk into a custard-like curd. When made in this way, there is a 100 percent yield—in other words, if you start with a gallon of milk, you end up with a gallon of yogurt.

But hold on—what about Greek yogurt, or the plethora of others trained cultured dairy products, like labneh? Aren’t those drained? Yes, and some producers, both home and commercial, drain the fresh yogurt base to a spreadable, cream-cheese consistency and then call it “yogurt cheese.” The lines blur further when you consider the Icelandic yogurt skyr, which isn’t usually drained, but utilizes a bit of rennet (an ingredient usually only employed during cheesemaking) to thicken the curd. If you drain skyr, you basically have fromage blanc or chèvre made using yogurt cultures instead of the usual microbes. Suffice it to say that “what’s in a name?” is a phrase well applied to many delicious dairy products and their monikers

Gianaclis Caldwell

Gianaclis Caldwell is the author of Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking, among other books. She manages the goat herd and cheesemaking operations at Pholia Farm Creamery in Oregon.

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