Many years ago, when we were more idealistic than realistic, we tried to keep a cow, for milk.
(Pause for incredulous laughter)
Even for me, that was a lot of cow time. The milking, coordinating with the cow’s reproductive and milk producing cycle, and then dealing with all the milk…It was a real eye-opener as to how tough it was here on the ranch, back in the olden days. The daily schedule of a dairy cow is vastly different than a beef cow’s schedule, much more intense. We eventually sold the milk cow, and went back to purchasing milk.
My husband is still interested in producing cheeses and other dairy products as crafted on the old ranchitos, so we buy the milk when we have the urge. Recently, he has become infatuated with producing jocoque (pronounced ho-KO-keh), or buttermilk.
There are two types of buttermilk:
The word jocoque (from the Nahuatl word for “sour”) can refer to both traditional and cultured buttermilk. The link between both types of jocoque is the clay fermenting pot.
Traditional buttermilk would be collected after each butter churning session in a clay container, where it would ferment. The residue of the fermented buttermilk is then absorbed into the pores of the clay container. This residue contains the fermenting bacteria needed to culture and thicken jocoque. If regular refrigerated milk is heated and added to the clay container, then it becomes inoculated with fermenting bacteria, and then becomes cultured buttermilk.
Bear in mind that refrigeration wasn’t part of ranch life until there was electricity. Somewhere between 1950-1980, South Texas and Northern Mexico saw their first in-home electric lights. Before that, fresh milk that was still at the cow’s body temperature would have been added to the fermenting pot, which was the perfect temperature for encouraging the multiplication of fermenting bacteria. In other words, there was no need to heat fresh raw milk when making jocoque on the arid ranches in South Texas and Northern Mexico.
My husband remembers the way his family made jocoque on their ranch. They simply left the fermenting crock next to their stove’s pilot light, to keep the jocoque at the proper temperature for fermentation.
He has re-established a clay fermenting crock in our home kitchen, and makes jocoque whenever we run out, about once a week. My son is a huge fan of yogurt, but has switched to his dad’s home-made jocoque, unsweetened, and outrageously tangy. I like it toned down with a bit of pureed strawberries and honey.
Sourcing a clay pot for jocoque may be challenging as you need clay that breathes and weeps, like a flower pot. Here is one pot that will work.Print
These are basic instructions for making jocoque at sea level, in our hot climate. If you are interested in making your own jocoque, make sure you read more about home dairy processing in your area. The techniques for fermenting milk vary in colder climates, and different altitudes.
1 gallon of milk
1 cup store bought buttermilk (preferably with Bulgarian culture)
Heat the milk to approximately 86°F (30°C). Pour the heated milk into a clay pot, and add the store-bought buttermilk. Allow the jocoque to stand at an ambient temperature of 70°-85°F (21°-30°) for approximately 48 hours, until the milk has thickened. Once the jocoque is thick and cultured, store the entire clay jar in the refrigerator.
When making more jocoque, simply add the heated milk to the jocoque clay pot, and allow to thicken at ambient temperature for 48 hours. Do not wash the jar between batches of jocoque, as you will be washing away the valuable culture needed to thicken the milk. If the jar does get washed, simply start your jocoque following the same method noted above.
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