Seriously — have you ever done a google search for homemade yogurt? There are so many contraptions, home-rigged options, and preferences, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere, fills a hot water bottle with milk and sits on it for 8 hours, multi-tasking by making yogurt and cushioning a weary backside at the same time. It can seem daunting and complicated, but it is a simple process: introduce live cultures to a quantity of milk (i.e., add ready-made yogurt to milk), and let those cultures eat sugar and multiply by keeping them at a temperature they love: around 90º. That’s it.
The first yogurt I ever made was soy yogurt. I personally hate the stuff — even when I was dairy-free I couldn’t stomach the off-putting flavor — but when my allergic guy was younger, I was desperate to get any sort of corn- and dairy-free probiotic into his system. Since all store-bought soy yogurts contain corn-based stabilizers, I was forced to go rogue. The process of making soy yogurt was much more complicated than making it from plain cow’s milk; soy requires some sort of thickener, plus an additional sweetener, and it was even more important to make sure everything was sterile — so I was boiling objects in my kitchen for an eternity before I could even get started. Long story short, my son never really took to it anyway, and then we ended up getting rid of soy. But the biggest casualty was my desire to make yogurt; it was such a pain, I didn’t see myself ever doing it.
But I gave it another try at the end of last year. We had starting getting our milk, local and raw, from a cow share program at a nearby farm. I had been spending $3.50 on a quart of plain organic whole milk yogurt at the store, and we were eating a lot of it. My mental cash register (does anyone else’s head ding when making calculations?) figured out that two quarts of yogurt made from our raw milk would cost $2.75. That’s 39% of the cost of my favorite store-bought brand. I did a little more digging, and came up with a plan that now works quite well.
The first couple of times I made yogurt, it felt like an event. I think it was even part of the string of unfortunate events on that one infamous day when I was ready to send undeserved hate mail to a lady named Sally Fallon. But the third or fourth time I did it, it became easy; something I could do and not really have to think. In other words, it didn’t complicate my day; and that quality is requisite for a thing to be part of my regular kitchen repertoire.
The way I do it is cheap and easy. You will need:
- a small cooler (I use an Igloo Playmate, but blanket-wrapped styrofoam works too)
- 4 quart-sized canning jars (wide-mouth preferred) with lids
- an instant-read thermometer
- a large stock pot or dutch oven (to boil water)
- a 2-quart saucepan (to heat 2 quarts of milk)
- a ladle and funnel (not absolutely necessary, but will make life cleaner)
- 2 quarts (a half-gallon) of whole milk (unhomogenized and either raw or light-pasteurized preferred)
- 4 Tbsp good-quality plain storebought yogurt (organic preferred, live cultures required), or yogurt from a previous homemade batch
*note: yogurt needs 5-8 hours to incubate in the cooler; if you let it go much longer than that, it will get really tart. So don’t start this at 7pm, or you’ll either be eating tart yogurt, or you’ll be setting your alarm for 3am to get up and pull jars out of the cooler. I usually make it in the morning, and set an alarm to remind me to pull it out in the late afternoon or evening.
Pour the half-gallon of milk into the 2-quart saucepan, and set over medium heat. Heat it gently until it reaches 180º on the instant-read thermometer.* Remove from heat, and let it sit until it cools back down to 110º (this will take about half an hour or so — stirring it occasionally will help it cool; feel free to toss any “skin” that clings to your spoon).
While your milk is cooling, bring the stock pot of water to a rolling boil. Temper your glass jars by swirling hot tap water in them (there is a risk of cracking jars if you put cold glass into boiling water, so warming up the jars helps avoid that). Using tongs, place your two yogurt-intended jars and lids into the boiling water. Let boil for a minute, then turn off the heat.** Using tongs, remove the jars (leave a little water in the bottom to keep jars warm) and set them on the counter.
Using a ladle and funnel, fill the other two empty jars with the just-boiled water. Put the lids on, and stick them into your cooler (I line mine with a kitchen towel to protect the cooler’s plastic from the intense heat) on either end (see pic below). Close the cooler, and let the water jars pre-heat the interior.
Once your milk has cooled to 110º, ladle about a half-cup of milk into a small glass bowl or measuring cup. Add the 4 Tbsp of yogurt to the milk, and stir until it thickens and is well-combined. Then pour this liquid back into the pot of milk, stirring well to let all those cultures find their way around evenly.
Lastly, take your previously-boiled yogurt jars, and pour out the tap water. Using a ladle and funnel, fill each jar with the milk/yogurt mixture (you will probably have about 4 Tbsp too much, depending on your jars and how accurately you measured). Place the lids on the jars, and put them in the middle of the cooler, making sure they aren’t touching the hot water jars (see photo). Close the cooler, and let sit undisturbed for about 5 hours. At this point, you can check the yogurt for thickness and tartness. If it needs longer, let it go another few hours. When it’s done incubating, remove the yogurt from the cooler and place immediately into the refrigerator. Let refrigerate at least 4-6 hours before consuming (this will help it set, and cool).
Do you make your own yogurt? How do you do it?
* For those who follow the Nourishing Traditions diet, heating raw milk to 180º is frowned upon, since it kills off some beneficial enzymes in unpasteurized milk. I originally only heated my raw milk to 110º, but found the texture to be too runny — and if no one eats the yogurt, it doesn’t matter that the enzymes are intact. So I still used unpasteurized milk, but heat it up to 180º to create a much thicker yogurt. Gotta pick your battles, right?
** Boiling jars is not absolutely necessary. Many recipes call for this step — not because it makes yogurt “safe,” but because contaminating bacteria can fight with the good cultures, sabotaging the process. If you use really clean jars that don’t have soap residue, you should be fine. I boil them because I am boiling water anyway to fill my heating jars, and figure, why not?