Need a daily fix? Then learn how to get cheesy with it

For those of us who live on a cruising yacht you can be away from shore for extended periods.

You will probably have a small and restricted fridge and you may enjoy yogurt, but ensuring you can have a constant supply of yogurt is not always possible.

To solve that problem without relying on running to the shops each week to pick up a new tub is easy and there are a number of options.

While cruising with my partner Hugh on our Peterson 44 through Indonesia to Malaysia, it was an enlightening time for us to realise the scarcity of dairy products available at the ports we stopped at. Necessity is the mother of invention and creativity so why not try your hand at boat-made dairy products too!

A dairy deficiency

We came and went from ports in Wakatobi and South Sulawesi, where words like milk refer purely to premixed flavoured milks or baby formula.

Things were starting to look grim and my quartermastering skills were being challenged by Hugh’s insatiable desire for soft cheese. Our relationship was hanging by a thread.

But two months after leaving Darwin we landed in the Indonesian port of Labuan Bajo, a veritable ‘promise land’. A town that had some well-settled German and Australian ex-pats and options for cheese!

The choices were pale yellow Kraft, very processed cheddar or mozzarella. We were in no position to debate the merits of the Kraft cheese so into the basket it went, along with the only UHT milk in town. Yes, that is right, I bought the town out of milk by purchasing one pack of UHT.

The Kraft cheese was interesting. It had been entitled ‘nuclear cheese’ by some German expats in Banda Neira, because no matter how used, either grilled or in the oven, it did not change consistency and was impossible to burn. This cheese was a far cry from the variety and quality of those in Australia.

We arrived on the island of Bali and a detour to Denpasar paid off when we found Camembert and Brie shining on the fridge shelf of the French market chain Carrefour. Hugh got up close to the halo of the cheeses in the fridge and reached in with his arm and slid the whole lot into the basket.

At $10 a packet, this cheese was akin to gold and was the equivalent of the price for dinner for the two of us for three days, per packet!

Cost aside, this restored some harmony to the boat.

Onto Malaysia and, bless the British and its colonial legacy, cheese was available in various forms. Though our favourite was Australian or New Zealand cheddar imported by the pallet load. With gay abandon we topped up our dairy tanks and we could practically feel our bone density increasing.

The gift of yogurt

It was a chance encounter with our friends Glen and Julia aboard Honeymoon in Phuket that changed our boat life dramatically.

They generously donated part of their yogurt culture to us. There was a one hour crash course, some words of good luck and a teary wave as we sailed out of port with the ‘daughter’ of their yogurt culture aboard EJ.

They had had this yogurt plant for some years and kept it alive with lots of love and daily tending, yes daily!

They had named theirs Yasser (Arafat) after Glen had been reading a book about middle-eastern politics at the time the culture came into their lives. Glen laughed as he retold a story about one time when they were at home and they drove four hours to see his mother, for what they thought would be a lunch date. It turned into a longer affair and he had to call up his mate to go and tend to Yasser so it did not die while they were away for a few days.

The call was filled with “what? The yogurt culture?” and “you want me to do what?” from his mate.

From then on they took Yasser on holidays too, he was their new child and became very well travelled.

The closest biological information to this culture I could find was of a regenerating kefir plant that lives off the lactose in reconstituted full cream milk powder. So we called our culture Zahwa, after Mr Arafat’s daughter.

The daily tending requirement was quite a commitment, but this could be our lucky dairy break and a solution to our onboard dairy deficiency. We had a boat daughter, she was one of the family now.

As time wore on, I got to know Zahwa. We would exchange ideas and she would tell me the best way to get a good yogurty outcome. Then came the revelation that if I strained the whey from the curds for longer, I could try my hand at cheese making.

So I started to hang the cheese in a sealed jar in the fridge. Once a nice solid ball had developed, say five days of drying, it is ready to be put in brine like a soft Danish fetta, or into marinated oil like labneh for some seriously tasty soft cheese.

We finally had a solution to dairy on demand on the boat and I had an ingrediant for delicious snacks: tzatziki, yogurt plus cucumber dip; toppings for Mexican wraps, yogurt plus lime makes a great faux sour cream; cheesecake with our yogurty Philadelphia cream; and yogurt for Indian Korma dishes.

No yogurt-based dish was too strange for circulation on the boat menu. Next challenge is to make cheddar cheese, though I might need a bigger boat with a special cheese room for that!

Easy cheesy

For those of you reading from your boats, you can replicate the cheese production, even without a live culture. You will need a yogurt maker with Greek yogurt starter powder or fresh Greek yogurt from the shops.

Alternatively, you can start your own culture from your current Greek/natural yogurt, by adding two or three tablespoons of yogurt to reconstituted milk powder and leaving to develop at room temperature for a day or so. The more powder to water ratio will equate
to thicker yogurt. Keep playing with the time on the counter and water/ powder proportions to work out the best consistency and flavour for you.

Try making these delicious savoury Fetta and Labneh soft cheeses, both originating from the Middle East/Mediterranean.

  • Step 1: prepare a container that has some height, say a leftover peanut butter jar, lay
    a piece of muslin cloth over the top and fix
    it with an elastic band or string.

  • Step 2: place some, say three tablespoons,
    of the yogurt onto the muslin cloth. Your muslin will need to have a saggyness to it
    so that it can hold the yogurt. Place the lid to the jar back on. Place in the fridge in an upright position.
    Note: It is important to keep the lid on, otherwise the yogurt will absorb
    the smells and flavours of the fridge
    .

  • Step 3: after about two days open the jar and you should have a firmer product and some whey (yellowish coloured water) at the bottom of the jar. Place the yogurt in a bowl and tip the whey into the sink. Mix one teaspoon of salt into the yogurt mix and place back in the muslin cloth as in step 2.

  • Step 4 for Fetta: after another two days, open the jar and the yogurt mix should be firmer still and mimicking the shape of the cloth. It is now ready to go into a salt and water brine mix: 1 tablespoon salt to 1°C room temperature water. Ensure the cheese ball is completely submerged in the brine mix. The cheese product is ready to eat after about four days and will last up to two months in the fridge, if you can leave it there that long!

  • Step 4 for Labneh:after another two days, open the jar and the yogurt mix should be firmer still. It is now ready to go into a marinated oil mix: extra virgin olive oil,
    garlic, rosemary, capers, anything you want; putting the yogurt ball in a leftover sundried tomato marinade is a real winner on our boat. Ensure the oil covers the cheese ball to ensure its longevity.

The Labneh will absorb the flavours of the marinade over time and will last over two months in the fridge.

Tip

  • Try drying in the fridge for longer at step 3 or adding more salt to the yogurt mix if the cheese product is too crumbly.

Just because you are away from land for extended periods of time, does not mean that you cannot enjoy something that Australians hold near and dear to their hearts: a nice cheese platter.

With these easy tips you will start developing a reputation for delicious cocktail hour snacks on your boat.

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