When I recently put in an order at the awesome GEM Cultures, I thought, hey, this ordering process is extremely onerous for the modern age.* I should probably load up on anything I might ever want from them. And so I scoured their site, in search of weird cultures I don’t already have but which I will be able to actually keep alive. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I keep a lot of ferments kicking in my small, south Philly rowhouse, so deciding to start a new culture takes a bit of deliberation. I need to be sure it doesn’t require any special equipment, it won’t take up too much space and it doesn’t require more loving care than I have to give. You people who have many children are insane/impressive! Keeping twelve cultures and a pit bull alive is more than enough responsibility for me! (I also have actual work, sometimes.)
Anyway, I found a culture that completely fit my specifications in the form of viili, a Finnish, way-easier-than-yogurt (if you can believe it!), jelly-textured, barely acidic treat. I love viili because while less creamy and more gelatinous than “Greek” yogurt, it cultures at room temperature in 24-hours or less. As I’ve stressed many times before, I really don’t love any degree of difficulty in my ferments, and even though yogurt is a super simple ferment, keeping the yogurt in the right temperature range can be irritating,** especially those delicious, thick, creamy strains that I tend to favor. Unlike yogurt, viili is not very acidic which is great for those of you who like the sweet, mild taste of big commercial yogurt brands.
A few notes: viili completely loses its texture, becoming whipped and liquid when you use an immersion blender to add fruit. This makes it great for smoothies, but if you want something spoonable, it’s best to gently mix in chopped fruit, jam or nuts, or stir in a touch of honey.
You can indeed use viili to culture soy or nut milks! Doesn’t work for vegans, but it’s wonderful for people cutting down on dairy. If you go this route, you will need to reserve some non-soy/nut viili and continue to culture it in dairy milk. The culture will not survive long as a non-dairy ferment, and you’ll need the dairy version for future batches.
GEM recommends avoiding raw milk, since the bacteria can wage a civil war, resulting in the loss of your culture. I have experienced this loss with kefir grains and it’s not pretty. Just use quality, pasteurized (not super- or ultra- or mega- pasteurized) milk and you’ll be fine.
- Spread a couple spoonfuls of your viili all over the bottom and most of the way up the sides of single-person, kind of deep bowl. You want it to stay where you put it, so a spoon or a small spatula work well
- Pour a cup or so of milk into your bowl, filling just about to the line of where you spread your finished villi
- Cover the bowl with a fine weave cloth and secure it with a rubber band
- Stick it in a room temperature spot away from direct sunlight and let it sit for up to 24 hours
- When it’s done, it will shake almost like a bowl full of jelly
- If you made a small batch and know you’ll want more tomorrow, remove a couple spoonfuls immediately and start a new batch
- If not, it can sit in the fridge for a week or more before you do a new culture. Just don’t eat it all! You need the finished product to culture the next batch. For this reason, I generally pull a quarter cup or so out of a finished batch and leave it in a separate container in the fridge. It helps me remember not to eat it and that I need to re-culture!
You can get your own viili from GEM or from me (free, even!), if you live in Philly. Like sourdough, this readily propagates, so I will always have enough to share!
*I actually just paid them for another order by Paypal for the first time and it was WAY quicker but a buck more expensive. Recommended!
**It’s really not irritating. It’s actually easy. In fact, I’ll be putting up a how-to for my particular favorite of the thick ‘n’ creamies very soon. But the fact is, viili is easier!