Homemade : The Deva Bridge Soft Cheese Maker is designed for use with the Deva Bridge Yoghurt Maker

Times Staff Writer

One of the foods that has grown a hundredfold in popularity in recent years is yogurt. It was a trend that stayed. Was it the Lactobacillus bulgaricus, said to be the "bacillus of long life" in this dairy product that triggered people to follow the traditional yogurt diet of Middle Easterners? Ask any yogurt fan and you'll get more valid reasons for preferring yogurt: it has low-calorie appeal, it is a natural food and it has digestible properties.

You'll also get positive answers from another group, particularly the younger set, which accepts yogurt treats with all their sweet trimmings or fruit-laden bottoms. The extra calories, of course, are justified by the claim that you're starting out with a low-calorie yogurt base rather than fattening ice cream or whipped cream.

As more yogurt consumers become addicted to the cultured dairy food, commercial establishments benefit, too. For those, however, who can spare a little of their time and would like to save money and take control of what they eat using fresh ingredients and flavors, it may not be a bad idea to make yogurt at home.

With the Deva Bridge Yoghurt Maker from Chantry, you can manufacture a quart of yogurt in your own kitchen easily. The uncomplicated-looking kit consists of an insulated plastic container with a lid (much like a small ice bucket), an "agi-disk" (a milk-saving ceramic disk), a thermometer and a little instruction booklet.

The Deva Bridge process requires a starter or culture seed, which can be a tablespoon of active plain yogurt (commercial or homemade). When using commercial yogurt, make sure the carton states "active yogurt cultures" and that the yogurt is fresh. Any milk can be used: skim, whole, powdered or canned cow's milk, soy milk and goat milk. Powdered goat milk works the best for making goat yogurt and goat cheese; cow's milk yogurt may be used as a starter, and if you're allergic to it, use a tablespoon from the second batch of freshly made goat yogurt. Whipping cream makes a thicker, creamier yogurt. If you want to make creme fraiche, use two tablespoons of buttermilk and four cups of whipping cream with one tablespoon of yogurt as a starter.

To start, the yogurt starter is placed in the insulated tub. The agi-disk (which prevents boiling over by its rattling sound) and the quart of milk are placed in a saucepan over medium heat or on HIGH in the microwave and brought to a boil. (When using goat milk do not allow to boil.) The heat is turned down and the milk simmered for 10 to 45 minutes. The longer the milk is simmered, the thicker the yogurt will be. Then it is removed from the heat and allowed to cool to 120 degrees, marked by the higher band on the kit's thermometer. About one tablespoon of heated milk is blended with the starter or "seed" in the tub, after which the remaining is briskly stirred in. The mixture is covered and then allowed to sit, undisturbed, at room temperature for several hours or overnight.

The process sounds more simple than its technical background, which is explained in the instruction booklet by Peter Bradford. The two microorganisms that work together to turn milk and cream into yogurt, L . bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, are naturally found together, along with many other organisms, in fresh milk. If milk is kept warm it will sour because other lactic-acid-forming bacteria will be the first to grow. Therefore, it is necessary to start by heating the milk to stop or slow the growth of unwanted organisms. The lactobacillus organism grows best between 113 degrees and 116 degrees, whereas the streptococcus grows best between 98 and 108 degrees. What actually happens is that the streptococcus is the first to start growing, and then the late starter lactobacillus takes over. After the correct warmth is achieved, the specially designed Deva yogurt maker holds the warmed milk mixture at just the right temperature to completely activate the culture.

Soft cheese isn't hard to make in the Deva Bridge Soft Cheese Maker, designed for use with the yogurt maker. The light and creamy soft cheese it produces can be flavored to one's liking; make it sweet or savory by adding sugar, salt, grated carrots, fruits, herbs or spices. It's wonderful for using in cheesecakes, dips or just spreading on a bagel or roll. Although the cheese maker is designed for use with the yogurt made in the Deva Bridge Yoghurt Maker, plain, unstirred commercial yogurt may be used to make the cheese.

The cheese-making kit consists of a white plastic strainer with a very fine sieve and a white lid. The no-fuss technique involves putting unstirred yogurt into the strainer, which is allowed to stand on the top rim of the yogurt-maker canister (or any bowl). As whey drips out, the cheese becomes more solid. Most of the whey will be lost in the first eight hours; after an additional 12 hours, the cheese will slowly lose a little more. The whey can be used in bread making or for soups and casseroles.

The Deva Bridge Yoghurt Maker kit is available by sending $24.95, postpaid, to Chantry, 59 Baymont St., P.O. Box 3344, Clearwater, Fla . 33515. The Deva Bridge Soft Cheese Maker may be ordered for $11.95, postpaid. The yogurt maker and cheese maker m a y be purchased together for $28.95, postpaid. For more information, call (813) 446-1960.

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