Friday, 25 April 2014

Did Someone Say Cheese?

After we had spent some time in Indonesia, I realised that we quite enjoyed yogurt as a snack, cheese on almost everything and milk. All. The. Time. It was a very inopportune time to realise this as we had entered South East Asia and the land that is bereft of dairy products. I recall with much humour the time I was speaking with our friend Jackie from Hokulea, about my longing for tasty thick yogurt. Also admitting that in the previous 6 months I had thrown out not one, but two ‘easy-yo’ yogurt makers (a thermos style gadget that you input a yogurt-powder satchel and add water to make a multitude of yogurt products). These easy-yo makers are very popular with sailors and I repeatedly kicked myself due to my foolhardy cupboard cleaning that I entered into with such vigour prior to leaving port in Sydney. Lesson for anyone planning a trip on a pre-loved boat, leave stuff where it is on the boat for a while, as the previous owner found it useful and you might too! Of course, these easy-yo makers were not sold outside of Australia or NZ, we were fresh out of luck!

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, into the basket it went, along with the only UHT milk in town. Yes, thats right, I bought the town out of milk by purchasing 1 x UHT pack!

The Kraft cheese was ‘interesting’, it had been entitled ‘nuclear cheese’ by some German expats in Banda Neira, because no matter how you used it either grilled or in the oven, it didn’t change consistency and was impossible to burn. 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 3 days (per packet!). But cost aside, this would restore some harmony to the boat.

Daily yogurt, the curds are starting to separate
 from the whey at the base of the container
Onto Malaysia and, bless the British and their colonial legacy, cheese was available in various forms, though our favourite was Australian or New Zealand cheddar imported by the pallet load. In gay-abandon we topped up our dairy tanks and we could practically feel our bone density increasing.

Yogurt after one day of separating the curds from the
whey (through muslin cloth) and kept in the fridge
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 1 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 drive 4 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 didn’t 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.

Container for 'drying' the yogurt ball. Sealed from
absorbing odours in the fridge.
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 5 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 a delicious snack in tzatziki (yogurt + cucumber dip), toppings for Mexican wraps (yogurt + lime makes a great faux sour 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!

For those of you watching at home, you can replicate these creations with store bought greek yogurt, by hanging it in muslin cloth in the fridge and then putting it in salt water brine or marinated oil.

Fruits of labour - tzatziki dip, marinated labneh
and fetta cheese for a mezze plate style dinner
(tough boat life!) The many different faces of
the yogurt culture.
The yogurt and cheese at the various stages of production
The far right shows the labneh balls in marinated oil


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

2013 In Review

We thought that we would bring our 2013 stories to life for our diligent readership. So here is a short movie showing our trip north from Sydney to Darwin admiring the fabulous wildlife and rugged landscapes, through Indonesia where we were treated to an insight into the rituals and religious routines - not to mention the spectacular natural wonders of the country and jungles, busy urban Malaysia and the breathtaking Thai west coast. Just two Aussies having a go! We hope you like it.