I love yogurt all ways – made up sweet in a smoothie with fruit, savory with seeds and herbs, as a topping on meals or a spread on sandwiches; as a supplement to swig down doses of flax oil and molasses… the list goes on. It has always been an important staple in our home, and the benefits of eating cultured dairy are many. My only qualm, in past years, was with the countless plastic quart containers that accumulated with our yogurt consumption.
I don’t know how it took me as long as it did to discover how easy it was to make yogurt myself. It’s really, really easy!
There are many yogurt tutorials out there, I am sure, but we all do things a little differently so I thought I would share my method. Now that I’ve developed a rhythm, I find the process to be so easy I can do it almost without thinking. While it takes many hours from start to completion, the actual time required of you to be in the kitchen is maybe 10 minutes.
I make one gallon of yogurt at a time, but you can make any amount that works for your household. I like to make the most of my yogurt-making sessions, and typically we (mostly I) consume about a gallon of yogurt every 2 weeks.
Ingredients and Materials:
Plain yogurt (for your starter)
Jars or other lidded glass containers
A milk thermometer
A pot or pots large enough to hold your milk
Stainless measuring spoons
Stainless or glass stirrer
A few notes: You will need as much milk as the amount of yogurt you want to produce. For example, to make a gallon of yogurt you need a gallon of milk. I use Organic Valley Whole Milk. I wouldn’t recommend using skim, but a lower fat milk should work fine. You will need about 2 Tbs of yogurt per quart of milk. I use Nancy’s organic whole milk yogurt. You will need enough storage jars to accommodate the full quantity of milk, plus a small additional amount (equal to the quantity of yogurt starter you use).
The short… heat milk, cool milk, mix in yogurt starter, pour into containers, incubate, refrigerate.
1. Clean all of your materials thoroughly (pots, jars, stirrers, etc). Since we are dealing with fermentation, and are attempting to cultivate healthy bacteria, rather than unhealthy bacteria, cleanliness is very important, and is the easiest way to insure success. You can use the sanitization method of your choice. I often just scrub everything thoroughly, rinse with very hot water, and then do a final rinse with purified water and drip dry (this isn’t “sanitization” per se, but it works well for me). Or, if you have a dishwasher, the sanitize cycle will do the work for you.
2. Pour your milk into your cook pot/s and heat to 175-180 degrees. I set my stove to a medium low temperature and let it heat slowly, so that if I get distracted it’s unlikely I will burn the milk. You do not want to burn your milk!
3. Once your milk has reached temperature, take it off the heat, stirring for a minute. Now let it cool, down to about 100-110 degrees. This will take some time, so you can go on to do other things for a while.
(Heating the milk is a precautionary measure, to kill any unwanted bacteria that may compete with the bacteria you are trying to grow to make your yogurt. Cooling the milk is important so you do not kill your starter). Update: after some testing, it does seem true that heating creates a firmer yogurt. Thanks for the helpful comment Camille!
4. When the milk has cooled to 100-110, pour a small amount into one of your jars, and mix with the appropriate amount of yogurt starter (approximately 2 tablespoons per quart). Stir the mixture until the yogurt is dissolved, and then pour it back into your pot of milk. Now mix it in so that it’s well dispersed throughout the pot of milk.
5. Pour your yogurt milk into jars, lid them loosely, and now it’s time to ferment.
For the incubation period, I set all of my jars on a heavy glass bake pan and place it in the oven.* I heat the oven to 100 degrees and then promptly turn it off. Every few hours, I turn the oven heat back on (less than a minute, set at the lowest temperature possible) and then turn it back off. I usually leave my yogurt to ferment for 12-24 hours (this is relatively long, so you may like to experiment with different fermentation times).
*Note about using an oven: My oven doesn’t maintain a temperature lower than 170 degrees. It has a digital readout though, that tells me what temperature it is inside so I can monitor the rise and turn it off at the appropriate time. I have a rule for myself that I CAN NOT multi task while waiting for it to heat. It is too easy to get distracted. I have nearly cooked/killed my yogurt before. Take care not to overheat and kill your yogurt. If your oven can maintain a heat of 100 degrees on it’s own, you have the perfect yogurt maker. If you do not have a digital readout, a minute or less of heat is plenty. You are simply providing assistance in the fermentation process by creating a warm environment. I aim for around 100 degrees for yogurt fermentation, though lower temperatures will work as well. It will just take a little longer.
When your yogurt is finished, seal your containers and store them in the fridge.
I find it really satisfying to put away a gallon of fresh yogurt. Your yogurt will have firmed up quite a lot – something like creamy pudding – and will firm up a little more once it refrigerates. It should have that pleasant, slightly sour/sweet smell. Home made yogurt is not as thick as store bought (in my experience), but the thickness will depend quite a bit on how long you ferment for – firming up more (as well as becoming more tart), with longer fermentation time.
Now that you have your own yogurt made, you can use it as your starter for the next batch. I have read that if you are using your own starter, it should be no more than 2 weeks old, and if it is older than that to start with a new starter again, though I haven’t verified how important this actually is. I usually use my own starter 2 or 3 times, and then start with a new one again.
If you have never made yogurt before, I hope you try it! Feel free to ask any questions you might have.