WHAT IS YOGHOURT? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a slightly sour, thick liquid made from milk with bacteria added to it, sometimes eaten plain and sometimes with sugar, fruit, etc. added.”
Yoghourt is made by fermenting milk with the help of particular lactose-loving bacteria. These bacteria consume lactose – the sugar in the milk – and excrete lactic acid as a waste product, which is responsible for both the tart flavour and the thickening by acting on the casein protein in the milk.
However, twenty-first century yoghourt (in the main) is not sold as a live product. Instead it is sterilised in order to preserve it, thereby killing the beneficial bacteria that been added to create it.
Yoghourt at Fordhall, like that of today, was produced using a culture of Lactobacillus bulgaricus bacteria (a Bulgarian strand of bacteria) and Streptococcus thermophilus; at the time it was imported from Europe.
Whilst yoghourt was something new to the palate of the British housewife, it came naturally to Arthur and May. The philosophy of encouraging ‘life and bacteria’ to continue in their natural cycles in a way that was also beneficial to the human gut complemented their holistic view of farming and living.
Arthur’s daughter Marianne briefly summarises the importance of bacteria:
“The point that Dad had was that it’s the bacteria in the soil that is the secret to fertility. If the soil’s not right, life isn’t right. I could listen to Dad talk about that for ages. That was the point. If you dig deep and turn the soil right over with the conventional plough, you expose the soil to the sun. The sun sterilises the soil killing all the bacteria, and you are left with the bare minerals. You’re not left with what the plant really needs for growth. So Dad’s whole belief was that you should have this system of decaying organic matter… let it all decay and then you’ve got the perfect base for bacteria to grow in the soil, and when bacteria thrive in the soil that helps the plants – that was the basis of Dad’s farming philosophy. The business about bacteria interestingly follows into yoghourt as well … Now of course this is well known, and when I listen to them talking about the different commercial yoghourt drinks that will help the bacteria in your intestines… we were saying that when we were selling our yoghourt a long time ago, talking about the fact that our yoghourt was live, that the culture used to make it was live. It was all based on the idea that bacteria matter so much.”
Yoghourt was not as naturally accepted by the general population in the 1950s and 1960s as it is today.
“You invariably got, ’Live? LIVE! Well I’m not having anything live inside me!’ And, ’Bacteria! I spend pounds washing away bacteria!’ …and all of that. Again, it was new, it was brand new” says staff member Terry Healey, who remembers selling the Fordhall yoghourts on market stalls in the 1960s.
Arthur recalls the commitment that May had to their own milk and its use for yoghourt in his book The Farmer, the Plough and the Devil.
“It reinforced [May’s] belief in the wisdom of always trying to work with nature… that’s why she preferred to work with milk that hadn’t been processed by heat or chemical sterilisation… Milk in which teeming millions of organisms have established a natural balance which only changes gradually in an orderly and predictable way…whereas milk that has been sterilised, while a fertile medium for bacterial, yeast and fungus growth, possesses no natural inhibitors. If it became contaminated with the wrong organisms, it wouldn’t ferment to produce wholesome products; it would merely putrefy rapidly…”
May introduced yoghourt into Arthur’s diet after he had problems digesting milk, cream and butter; he soon felt much fitter and slept better. With a sparkle in their eyes, a deep-rooted belief in the principles of yoghourt production and personal proof of its health benefits, their journey into commercial yoghourt production at Fordhall began. By the late 1960s, Arthur and May were even selling their own cultured bacteria for housewives to use at h
“The bacteria cultures came in little vials from Switzerland by post; we stored them straight away in what I think was liquid nitrogen until we needed them. We propagated enough each day to provide sufficient amounts to culture a whole vat of milk… This was then added to a vat of milk which had been separated [the cream taken off to leave semi skimmed milk]. The vats were surrounded with hot water to gently heat the milk to the required temperature; after the culture was added, the vat had to remain sterile and remain incubated at a constant warm temperature for a number of hours. When it had set you had to cool it very quickly because you didn’t want it to over grow, otherwise it would go too acid and this would not taste nice.”
Arthur turned Fordhall Farm into an ‘Organic’ farm.’ Mother Nature’ was the answer to a healthier farm. To find out more about Arthur, May and Mother Nature click here