Simple Homemade Yogurt
I made homemade yogurt as my first local living experiment. I’d like to say I was motivated by lofty goals like cutting ties with corporations or eating food made by hand with high quality ingredients. It wasn’t. It was a last ditch effort to get the volume of yogurt I needed to get through a week without spending all of my paycheck on high priced yogurt.
How hard could it be? Yogurt is not a new food. While no one is exactly sure when humankind first noticed the milk in their bowls thickening into the delicious, creamy treat we know today, historians believe we figured it out around 5000 BC. Ancient Indian culture proclaimed it the “food of the gods,” while Pliny the Elder thought it tasty enough to record it in his writings. If the ancient Turks could make yogurt spontaneously in goatskin bags, I had to be able recreate their recipe in my kitchen.
Turns out it’s really not that hard, and it taste so good. My recipe has that classic creamy goodness and a mild, tangy flavor. I’ve found mine’s a little thinner than regular yogurt, but that just seems to make it pair better with granola and fruit. If you prefer a thicker texture, there are some tricks I discuss below that can help.
My other favorite thing about homemade yogurt is that you get yogurt in portion to how much milk you use. So if you use a gallon of milk, you get a gallon of yogurt. Which means you not only get a delicious product, you get it at a much better price than store bought!
You won’t need much more than you already have in your kitchen to make yogurt. The two crucial piece of gear are a thermometer and an incubator. You can choose a fancy thermometer that will beep to let you know when you’ve hit the right temperature, or keep it simple with a candy thermometer. You’ll also need a incubator. I used a crock pot basin for my first experiment, but eventually settled on a cooler because of its larger volume. Some people prefer to use commercial yogurt makers for convenience, so that’s something else to consider.
The other ingredient to delicious yogurt is the starter. You have a couple options when it comes to getting things going. You can purchase a dried powder, which consists of freeze dried yogurt cultures or seek out some starter yogurt from the store. If you choose to a store bought yogurt, make sure to use plain, unflavored yogurt. I’ve had success with regular and Greek as my starter.
You have lots of options when comes to choosing your milk. You can choose cow, goat, sheep, powdered, skim, semi skimmed or whole milk. While I haven’t tried it yet, you can also use non-dairy milk like soy, almond, or hemp milk. As a note, the higher milk fat percentage in your milk the thicker your yogurt will be. I like to use whole milk from a local dairy for a better texture, but you can experiment with different milks until you find the result you like. Whatever you do, make sure not to use ultra pasteurized milk, because it’s sterilization process actually cooks the milk which makes it a poor home for yogurt cultures.
Making the Yogurt
In a large pot, heat a quart of milk until it reaches 180 F degrees. Remove from the heat and wait for it to reach a lower temperature of 110 -115F. You can speed the process by placing the pot in an ice water bath. While you wait, be sure that your sterilize your containers. I usually throw my glass jars in the dishwasher, but you can also dip them in boiling water. If you’re using a water based incubator, you’ll also need to place warm water into the vessel to keep the yogurt cultures happy. I try to get mine around 110-115 degrees. Once your milk is ready, gentle fold in about three tablespoons of already made yogurt into the milk or follow the directions on your powered starter. Ladle into cleaned containers, place your contain into the incubator and allow it sit undisturbed for 8 -12 hours. The longer you wait, the tangier it tends to be. Once your yogurt culture is happily established through incubation, place it in the refrigerator for a few hours. Add honey or granola and eat!
As a note, if you want you yogurt to be thicker, spoon it into a cheesecloth or coffee filter and allow the whey to drain. You can also add in a little powdered milk.