You love yogurt you say? Why, yes! Indeed you do. You love eating it with granola and wild blackberries you found en-brambled down the street. You put yogurt in your smoothies. You have made lassis. Certainly you have been known at times to make a refreshing tzatziki or raita to complement falafel or a little curry you whipped up. And if you haven’t, no doubt you could, or would, or might.
Buying your own yogurt is easy enough, sure, but making it yourself is a delightful experiment in fermentation and self-empowerment. And so simple! Only five steps: boil milk, let cool, add yogurt culture, let ferment, refrigerate.
Fancy equipment – you need none, no yogurt maker or special yogurt starter powder packet from Whole Foods. You need not even import cultures from Bulgaria, though you could if you wanted to get fancy. There is nothing wrong with fancy.
You do need some yogurt, though. You may purchase said yogurt from Whole Foods, or you may purchase it from Aldi’s. You may forage it from your neighbor’s fridge. You could even use the aforementioned powder or cultures – more expensive, but possible. You have choices! Just make sure whatever yogurt you do use contains “live active cultures” such as L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. Casei. These magical, microscopic beings colonize your milk and turn it into an altogether different substance and experience. I’m inconsistent in the exact quantity of yogurt I use to culture my milk. I’ve seen recipes recommend between 2 teaspoons and 2 cups. I use whatever is left from my previous batch of yogurt, which usually ranges from ¼ to 1 full cup. It always works. Sometimes the result is a little more watery with whey, sometimes firmer. The point is, use what you have, and enjoy the result, as it will never be quite the same as it was previously. Do feel free to get scientific and track your variables, if you’d like. Make yourself into a yogurt-making guru.
You also need milk. A half-gallon will do. I like to support my local farmers and buy from Formaggio's at the Wednesday Decatur Farmer’s Market. This reduces the frugality of my yogurt-making, but I look at this little splurge as an investment in the local food economy, which I hope will someday fully colonize our current food system like acidophilus does a warm jar of milk. Oh, enough dogma.
Finally, you need implements: a 3-quart or larger (preferably heavy-bottomed) pot or dutch oven, a wooden spoon or spatula to stir, a candy thermometer (though the absence of this should not prevent you from making yogurt), and a couple of quart-sized mason jars or other container(s) for final storage. And a stove – you’ll need this to heat the milk, which denatures its proteins, making for thicker yogurt, and kills any foreign bacteria. And you need about an hour or two to spend in and around the kitchen. You’ll be active at first while you wait for the milk to boil, then you can wander around your home as you wait for the milk to cool. Do you have these things? Right there on the counter in front of you? Are the conditions perfect? Ok. You’re all set. Here goes!
Recipe for Making Your Own Yogurt on the Urban Homestead
Total time: 7-48 hours
Active time: 1-2 hours
Stove-front time: 15-30 minutes
½ gallon milk (any fat percentage is fine, I prefer whole)
½ cup yogurt containing live active cultures
3-quart or larger heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven
Wooden spoon or spatula
Candy thermometer (optional)
Two quart-sized mason jars or other containers, boiled to sterilize if you’d like (I usually don’t)
1. Heat the milk. Pour the milk into your pot and set over medium heat until just at boiling, about 200˚F, stirring regularly to keep milk from burning on the bottom and congealing on the surface (though either of these things happening will not ruin your batch). If you’re not using a candy thermometer, watch closely until milk just begins to boil to prevent scalding or boil-over.
2. Remove pot from heat. Cool milk to about 110˚ – in my somewhat unreliable memory, this usually takes about an hour, but the wait time can be reduced by sitting the pot in an ice bath. If you have no thermometer, do the pinkie test – if you can comfortably hold the end of your pinkie finger in the milk for 30 seconds, it’s ready to culture.
3. Culture your milk with your yogurt. Some people like to thin the yogurt with about a cup of warm milk in a separate container before pouring the mixture back into the rest of the milk. I usually just gently plop the yogurt into the milk and whisk it thoroughly before transferring to storage containers.
4. Transfer your yogurt to storage containers! Cover. You may wait to do this until the yogurt has already set in the original pot, or you may do it now.
5. Let your yogurt set. Leave your yogurt in a warm spot to ferment – it should remain at about 110˚ during this process for anywhere between 7 hours and 2-3 days for a much tarter result. Keeping your yogurt at a nice, warm incubating temperature is more of a challenge in the winter: I store mine on top of the furnace; an oven with a pilot light is a good option; or wrap in a towel and put in the microwave (left off). In the summer I sit the jars right there on the kitchen counter next to a window. I’ve learned not to worry about fluctuations in temperature. You will know your yogurt is done when you can see that it’s firm when you shake it slightly. Sometimes this is hard to determine because there is so much whey (the watery part), so you may choose to do a taste test. When you are satisfied, refrigerate.
6. Go ahead and set some aside for your next batch. A couple tablespoons to a cup will do. If after making a few batches with your starter, you notice some odd flavors in your yogurt or that it's not culturing as quickly, you may choose to go back to using some store-bought commercial yogurt in your next batch.
7. Greek out: Would you like to thicken that up? Greek yogurt, some of you may know, is just regular yogurt drained of the whey. To drain, line a fine mesh sieve with cheesecloth, a clean dish cloth, or coffee filters. Set over a large bowl. Pour yogurt into the cloth-lined sieve and allow to strain for about an hour or until the consistency you like. If you’re running out, put in the fridge, though it will take longer to drain. And don’t throw out that whey – use it!
Let us know how it goes!