Have you noticed the rising cost of dairy products?
With teenagers in the house who guzzle milk like water and the cost of a block of cheddar cheese almost doubling in 18 months, it impacts my budget’s bottom line.
And that’s just basic cheese products: imported buffalo mozzarella or nice smelly blue vein cheese are also rising – especially with the Australian dollar down. Adding to that is the recent dairy industry strike in Victoria, which will likely lead to shortages.
But you can still enjoy milk and dairy products while saving money and even impress your friends. I recently turned up with homemade caramelised onion dip made with homemade yoghurt and it was a huge hit.
Buy in bulk and grate or slice cheese yourself
Shredded pizza cheese costs $22 a kilo, whereas a block of cheddar cheese is $10.50. That’s more than double the price!
If you have a food processor or a thermocooker, it is easy to grate cheese in bulk. Shredded cheese often has anti-caking agents to prevent it from clumping. Avoid that by grating as you need it, or add a small amount of corn flour. Also, consider purchasing a cheese slicer to make it easier to create uniform slices of cheese.
Did you know that many cheeses freeze well? If you purchase in bulk or buy products just before the best-before date, you can freeze them until needed.
You can also buy specialist cheeses on special, then defrost them ahead of a social gathering. This reportedly works less well with soft cheeses, although I’ve tried it with brie with good results.
UHT for you
Save on milk costs by purchasing UHT. Traditionally, UHT was cheaper than fresh milk, although this is changing with major supermarkets still selling fresh milk at low prices.
For instance, 1 litre of UHT full cream milk costs $1.60 at Woolworths, and 1 litre of fresh cow’s milk costs the same, but it costs 5 cents per litre less if you buy 2 litres of fresh milk ($3.10 @$1.55 a litre). But UHT milk does not spoil as quickly and is easy to buy in bulk.
Soy milk used to be more expensive than milk and was a favourite for those needing a vegan or lactose-free alternative. But now, the higher cost of cow’s milk has made soy milk surprisingly more affordable.
A 1 litre UHT carton of soy milk at Woolworths costs $1.15 compared with $1.60 for cow’s milk, a saving of 45 cents a litre. If you drank two litres of milk a week and made the switch from cow’s milk to soy milk, you would save $46.80 over the course of a year. If you wanted to be super frugal, you could even make your own soy milk.
Many of us grew up with bad memories of watery and tasteless powdered milk, but times are changing. Powdered milk has improved in quality over the years, and I regularly use it in baking, pancakes and even smoothies. My kids actually prefer it.
A litre of reconstituted powdered milk costs $1.42 for full cream milk and $1 for skim milk. Like UHT milk, it’s handy to have in your cupboard as it reduces the need to travel to the shops if you run out of milk.
Make your own yoghurt
One kilogram of yoghurt costs upwards of $4.40. My method of making yoghurt costs only $1.40 for the same quantity.
Combine 2 tablespoons of leftover plain yoghurt (or two tablespoons of a plain-flavoured yoghurt sachet) with 1 1/3 cups of full cream milk powder, and gradually add 1 litre of water. Stir to combine.
Allow to set overnight in a warm place such as a yoghurt maker or a warm (not hot) oven, or wrap it and place it in an esky. Voila! Naturally set yoghurt. Flavour with homemade jam or honey, or use unflavoured in cooking.
Make your own cheese
Soft cheeses such as labna, ricotta, paneer and cottage cheese are easy to make with milk and something acidic such as yoghurt, vinegar or lemon to make them curdle.
Other cheeses are more complex, but staples such as mozzarella can be made at home with some junket tablets and a few YouTube videos for advice on the process. And you also get the glory of being able to share your homemade cheeses at social soirees.
Sadly, for the consumer – but perhaps not for the dairy industry – higher dairy prices are here to stay. But hopefully, these tips will help you save a bit more money when shopping for dairy products. And maybe you might even pick up a new cheesemaking hobby.