Throughout history yogurt has been a superior way to store milk, especially in warm climates where some people still use dairy products without the convenience of refrigeration. Yogurt has always been considered a health food in the West. It was “discovered” by a French bacteriologist who believed that people who consumed yogurt on a regular basis enjoyed increased health and longevity. He isolated the beneficial bacteria that turn milk into yogurt, which allowed yogurt to become commercially produced. Today we know these beneficial bacteria also break down lactose, which makes yogurt easy to digest. Before the 1930’s yogurt making was a daily ritual of most women who owned a diary animal. Today, yogurtmaking is far from a lost art and is as simple as ever. By learning to make your own yogurt you can ensure that your own delicious yogurt is made without added preservatives, sweeteners, or thickeners.
I recently taught a class for the Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Association on how to make yogurt and thought I would share the information on my blog. Yogurt doesn’t have to be made with cow’s milk. Sheep, goat, water buffalo, camel, horse, and even soy milk are all used to make yogurt, but cow’s milk is a good place to start.
How to Make Yogurt
Milk (quart or 1/2 gallon)
Large pot, preferably with a thick bottom
Clean wooden spoon or whisk
Candy making thermometer
An insulated container that will keep a stable temperature over the course of several hours. (A thermos, cooler, yogurt maker, or the inside of an oven all work.)
Flavorings: Added after the yogurt is made
Jelly or Jam
Dried mint and minced garlic
Whatever else you think will be delicious
Heat milk in a large pot on medium heat. It is suggested that you heat the milk to 180 degrees Farenheit to eliminate bacteria that could interfere with the yogurt culture. (If you are confident your milk is “clean” you can heat it up to 112-120 degrees Fahrenheit with the same results.) Cool the milk to 112 degrees Fahrenheit.
Store bought yogurt is usually thicker than homemade yogurt because most store-bought yogurt contains added thickeners. If you want to bulk up your own yogurt, one easy solution is to buy milk powder and add 1/3 cup milk powder to 1 quart milk. Add powder while the milk is heating and mix thoroughly. Gelatin and pectin are also natural thickeners you can add to your own milk. Yogurt can also be thickened after it is made by straining some of the whey (liquid) from the yogurt using a cheese cloth.
While the milk is heating/cooling warm your jars and prepare your container where your yogurt can rest. I turn on my oven to the lowest setting and I boil water to warm my jar while the milk heats. You can alternately place a pan of hot water in the oven to keep the temperature stable, or place jars of hot water in a well insulated cooler. If you are using a yogurt maker, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Some people just wrap a thick wool blanket or down jacket around the jars to keep the temperature constant.
When the milk is cooled to 112 degrees Fahrenheit, add the culture and stir or whisk completely to distribute the culture evenly. If you are using a packaged culture, follow the manufacturer’s directions. If you are using yogurt with a “live” yogurt culture, I recommend using 1/4 cup pre-made yogurt to 1/2 gallon milk.
Pour into a very clean jar. I warm my jar with boiling water to help keep the internal temperature of the milk stable.
Pour yogurt in you desired container(s). (This is where a canning funnel comes in handy.) Let the yogurt rest undisturbed and at a constant temperature for at least 6 hours. If the yogurt is disturbed or gets too cold, the curd will not form. Once the curd has set, the yogurt is ready to use. If you refrigerate the yogurt after 6 hours it will taste more “mild” or sweet. If you leave the yogurt to culture for 8 or more hours, the flavor will be more “strong” or sour. Chilling the yogurt stops the culturing process.
Enjoy your yogurt and add sweet or savory flavors to it as desired. I’ve included some of my favorite ideas and recipes below.
In the unlikely event that your efforts to make yogurt prove unsuccessful, it may be due to one or more of the following reasons:
1). Your equipment was not absolutely clean
2). The bacteria in the starter had previously been killed by pasteurization (be sure to use a live yogurt.)
3). The milk contained residues of antibiotics that had been given to cows for disease (buy organic milk.)
4). The milk or starter was too old (begin again with fresh ingredients.)
5). The milk was not heated sufficiently to kill the bacteria in it.
6). The milk was too hot or too cold when the starter was added.
7). The starter was not mixed thoroughly into the milk.
8). The mixture was disturbed while incubating.
9). You did not allow for a long enough incubation period.
4 cups (1 quart) plain whole-milk yogurt (non-fat or low-fat yogurt may taste too sour or even bitter once turned into yogurt cheese)
1 teaspoon salt
1. Line a strainer or a colander with a double layer of butter muslin and set it in a large bowl. Spoon the yogurt in the muslin and let drain for 30 minutes.
2. Tie together the ends of the butter muslin. In the refrigerator, let the yogurt drain into the bowl for 8-24 hours, depending on the desired consistency. The longer the yogurt sits, the thicker the yogurt cheese.
3. Transfer the cheese from the cloth to a medium bowl and stir in the salt. You can save the whey for other uses if desired. Cover the cheese tightly and refrigerate up to one week.
Yogurt Cheese with Minced Herbs and Garlic
Mix yogurt cheese with 1 teaspoon (or to taste) minced fresh garlic and minced fresh herbs.
Yogurt Cheese with Fruit
Omit salt and add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and your choice of sweetener (honey, powdered sugar, etc.) to the yogurt cheese and mix thoroughly. Serve with fresh or stewed fruit.
Yogurt Apricot Banana Bread
(modified from a recipe on Ruth Reichl’s Blog)
In an attempt to use up some of my yogurt I started baking with it. This is honestly the best banana bread I have ever made. Very moist! As usual Ruth Reichl knows what she is doing. I love and miss you Gourmet Magazine!
3/4 cup dried California apricots, cut into small pieces
enough rum to cover them
2 cups flour 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter (World Cow Girl recommends Organic Valley’s Pasture Butter for both human health [naturally high in omega-3’s] and animal welfare [free range, grass fed cows, the way nature intended] – AND it supports family farmers)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup homemade whole-milk yogurt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a loaf pan. Put the apricots and rum into a sauce pan on medium heat. Remove from heat when mixture starts to boil. Set aside to cool while you mix the batter. Whisk dry ingredients together. Cream the butter with the sugars and add the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and then the bananas. Add the sour cream, mix in, and then the rest of the flour mixture. Pour into the loaf pan and bake 50 minutes to an hour. Let cool for 10 minutes before turning out on a rack to cool completely.
For further reading, these are the books I consulted:
The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley
The Book of Yogurt by Sonia Uvezian