Yogurt is the simplest and easiest dairy food you can make, and it’s efficient, too: Every drop of the milk you start with turns into yogurt, with no waste. Also, you can make it with no special equipment and just ingredients from your local grocer or health food store, or a local farm if you are really lucky. Making your own yogurt at home will save you money, since milk costs less than yogurt, and you can avoid the waste associated with all those plastic containers (the Ocean Conservancy says that 8 percent of the trash that winds up on beaches is plastic food containers and lids). Ecological, economical, and easy—my kind of project!
Supplies You'll Need
I make my yogurt in canning jars and incubate it in a soup pot wrapped in a quilt to keep it warm overnight. You can buy electric yogurt makers, but the yogurt they make is no better than mine. Plus, they cost money, take up space in your kitchen, and use electricity instead of insulation to maintain their temperature.
The only other piece of equipment you'll need is a thermometer. A candy or dairy thermometer is ideal, but I do just fine with a metal probe thermometer with a clean clothespin clipped to the top so I can balance it on the jar rim with the probe in the milk.
This recipe makes 2 pints, but feel free to double or quadruple it if you'll eat more than that within a week or two.
1 quart whole, organic milk (avoid ultra-pasteurized if you can; see note on raw milk, below)
2 Tablespoons plain, live-culture yogurt whose taste and consistency you like (use a store-bought brand first, then just save some from each batch to use in the next)
Scrub two 1-pint canning jars and their lids in hot, soapy water and put them upside down to dry. Pour just under a pint of milk into each; don’t fill them all the way to the top.
Put a large soup or pasta pot on the stove and place either a wire rack or a folded towel in the bottom to protect the jars from the direct heat. If the jars rest directly on the bottom of the pot, they may break. Also, the pot needs to be deep enough so you can put its lid on while the jars are inside.
Set the milk-filled jars in the pot so they're not touching each other or the sides of the pot. Carefully pour enough cold water into the pot to bring the level around the jars up to about the same level as the milk inside them. Suspend your thermometer into the milk in one of the jars and turn the burner on medium. Heat until the thermometer reads 110 degrees F and turn off the heat. Remove the thermometer. With a clean spoon, mix a tablespoon of yogurt into each jar of milk, screw on the jar lids, and pop the lid on the pot. Spread a folded quilt or a couple of heavy bath towels on a counter or table, place the pot in the center, and fold up the corners to wrap the entire pot snugly, lid and all. Leave your swaddled pot undisturbed overnight or for about 12 hours—the timing is not critical. Then, unwrap the pot, lift the jars out, dry off the outsides, and enjoy! The yogurt will keep for 3 or 4 weeks in the fridge…if you can resist it for that long!
Ultra-Pasteurized or Raw Milk?
To me, ultra-pasteurized milk (sometimes labeled "UHT pasteurized") tastes a bit off and not great for making yogurt at home. If you can find just plain pasteurized milk, which is heated to lower temperatures for a shorter length of time than ultra-pasteurized milk, you'll probably enjoy your yogurt (and your milk) more. I’m fortunate enough to be able to get whole, raw milk from grass-fed cows from a neighborhood farmer we know and trust. But much as I like the idea of raw yogurt, I really disliked the texture of the homemade yogurt I made from it. If you buy raw milk, you can pasteurize it yourself right in the jars: Just follow the instructions above but keep heating the pot on medium until the milk gets to 160 degrees F and then turn off the heat. Let the milk cool back down to 110 degrees F before you add the starter spoons of yogurt, or you will kill off all the live culture. Once your milk has cooled back down to 110 degrees F, proceed as above.
Making Future Batches
If you like the texture and taste of your homemade yogurt, use it as the starter for your next batch. However, the taste and texture of the final product will eventually start to change, often not for the better. I’ve kept batches going for months before my yogurt changed significantly, but I’ve also had to start over after just a few cycles. When the taste starts to change, just buy a new container of a brand you like, and use that as your next starter.
Scrupulous cleaning of the jars, lids, thermometer, and spoon will decrease the risk of introducing new tastes or textures. I aim to make a new batch just as I open the last jar of my previous batch and use the first spoonfuls as the starter. Also, I like to keep my fresh-made yogurt in the fridge for a few days before I eat it, as I think it tastes even better then, so making a new batch when I start on my last jar works out just right.
We love fresh yogurt as is, mixed with chopped fresh fruit or preserves, on top of oatmeal or granola, mixed with thinly sliced cucumbers as a salad (or a side dish with Indian foods), or blended half-and-half with avocado for a tasty salad dressing flavored with “Mexican” spices such as cumin, chili powder, and oregano.
Once in a while I make a batch of yogurt "cheese," which is really a thick strained yogurt you get from removing the liquid, or whey, from regular yogurt. It makes a perfect tangy spread for bread or crackers, either plain or with chopped herbs or preserves mixed in.
To make yogurt cheese, put a fine sieve (or a colander lined with cheesecloth) over a small bowl. The bottom of the sieve needs to be an inch or two above the bottom of the bowl so the whey will drain. Put a pint of yogurt in the sieve. Set it, bowl and all, in the fridge for as little as 8 hours, or wait up to a few days. The milky whey will collect in the bowl, and what remains in the sieve will be thick and creamy. The longer it drains, the thicker your cheese will be. And if you strain your yogurt for just a few hours, you'll get creamy Greek-style yogurt.
As soon as it is as thick as you want it, serve your cheese (or your Greek yogurt) or put it in a clean jar and use it within a week. Save the whey, and use it to make ricotta cheese (you can find tons of recipes online) or add it to your cabbage next time you make your own sauerkraut, for an extra dose of probiotics.
Published on: January 26, 2011