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How To Make Yogurt

Posted by on Apr 25, 2015 in Food & Recipes | 6 comments

For years I’ve thought about making yogurt but never tried because I was intimidated. I had read so many blogs where people experienced failure after failure for months before being successful. Then, when other bloggers found success, the techniques did not seem like something I could duplicate. I’ll write more about that in a bit.

When I finally decided to give it a go, my first attempt was a massive failure. Luckily, when you really screw up making yogurt you end up with ricotta, so it wasn’t a waste. I made manicotti.

Manicotti with homemade ricotta

My next attempt was successful, and I’ve been refining my process ever since because I wanted to develop a technique anyone could duplicate.

Why Should You Make Yogurt?

In recent posts, Kim and I have talked about how we’ve been trying to reduce the amount of packaging we buy. Ultimately, that’s why I finally decided to make yogurt. I had stopped buying single serve plastic yogurt cups a long time ago because those are incredibly wasteful, but even the large plastic tubs were getting on my nerves. With the added benefit of experience, here are my top 6 reasons you should make your own yogurt too.

  1. Almost zero waste. The plastic ring that seals the top on the milk jug is the only waste.
  2. Cost. I make greek yogurt from local, organic milk for 50¢ a cup. Compare that to $2.69 for 3/4 cup at the store.
  3. Quality. It’s the most delicious yogurt you’ve ever had.
  4. Health. No preservatives, no added sugar, no contact with plastics.
  5. Customization. Get the exact taste and thickness you want.
  6. Status. By making your own yogurt you solidify your homesteading rockstar status. Bask in glory of this accomplishment and awe your family, friends, and colleagues.

Homemade greek yogurt

What You Need To Know

Making yogurt is all about temperature control.

First, the milk is slowly heated to 185°. This kills bacteria and mold spores that may be in in the milk and helps guarantee a yogurt similar to your starter. Heating also denatures the whey proteins, resulting in a firmer, thicker yogurt. Be careful though, go too high and you end up with ricotta cheese.

Next, let the yogurt cool to 112° and try to keep it at that temperature. 112° is the ideal temperature for live yogurt cultures. Yogurt cultures are dormant below 90°, active from 90-120°, and start to die at higher temperatures.

Heating the milk and maintaining the incubation temperature are crucial. Before perfecting my process I ended up with equal amounts of yogurt and whey. Now I get about 6 six cups of yogurt and only 1/4 cup of whey. Better temperature control results in more productive cultures.

Buying Milk

Regular, pasteurized milk is fine but don’t buy ultra-pasteurized milk. Ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to 275° during processing so it won’t make good yogurt. I also recommend buying whole milk because it’s going to taste the best.

Choosing A Yogurt Starter

This is easy. Pick out you favorite plain yogurt and read the label. If the label says it has live cultures, and most good yogurts do, buy it. You’ll only need to buy a starter once. Next time, you’ll use some of your own yogurt.

Process, Process, Process

I first tried making yogurt when it was -5° outside, so when I read a blog telling me to fill a few jugs with boiling water, put them and my yogurt in a cooler and leave it outside overnight, I knew that wasn’t going to work. Neither was another popular method, turning on the oven or microwave light, since both appliances sit on an outside wall and were quite cold. And my crockpot’s warm setting must be higher than another blogger’s because that’s how I ended up with ricotta cheese.

My process is simple and reliable, no matter how cold it is outside. And the only thing you might need to buy is a digital thermometer. I bought one for my second attempt at yogurt making and it made a world of difference. I don’t think I could have been so successful this quickly without it.

Milk, yogurt starter, pot

Here’s what you need.

  • 1/2 gallon of whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized).
  • 1/2 cup of yogurt with live cultures.
  • A pot with a lid.
  • A small bowl, ladle, and whisk.
  • A digital thermometer, the type with a cord.
  • A towel or blanket.
  • 2 clean or sterilized quart jars and 1/4 pint jar.

Step 1: Heat the milk. (20-30 minutes)

Slowly heat the milk to 185°. Stir regularly to avoid cold spots and to prevent a skin from forming on the top of the milk.

Heat the milk in pot with a lid, you don’t need the lid until later. Avoid aluminum pots which cool quickly. Opt for a thick stainless steel or cast iron pot.

Also, put the yogurt starter on the counter to let it warm up to room temperature.

Heating milk to make yogurt

Step 2: Let the milk cool. (approx. 30 minutes)

Let the milk cool to 112°. Stir occasionally to avoid hot spots and to prevent a skin from forming on the top of the milk.

Toward the end of the cooling period, put the towel or blanket in the dryer for 10 minutes to warm it up.

Step 3: Mix in the yogurt starter.

Pour or ladle 1 cup of warm milk into a small bowl. Add the yogurt and whisk until there are no lumps.

Pour the mixture back into the pot and stir until it is well mixed.

Making yogurt, mixing in cultures

Step 4: Incubate the yogurt.

Keep the thermometer in the pot, put the lid on, and wrap the pot in the warm blanket. I use a pot that has a fitted insulator, so I put that on too.

Let the yogurt incubate from 4-12 hours. I’ve found 4.5 hours is ideal for my tastes, the yogurt is thick but not tart. Feel free to taste the yogurt throughout the incubation period to see how it changes.

I tend to make yogurt when I plan to be in and around the kitchen so I can casually check out the thermometer on a regular basis. When the temperature drops below 102° I put the pot back on the stove for a few seconds to heat it up. I usually only have to do this 2 or 3 times.

Cozy yogurt

Step 5: Strain the yogurt (optional)

The first time I made yogurt I didn’t keep the temperature consistent enough so I strained the whey using a thin dishtowel and a fine strainer. I preferred to us a dishtowel over cheesecloth so I could wash and reuse it.

Since improving my process I just pour the little bit of whey out of the pot, no need for straining.

Strain Yogurt

Step 6: Pack it up

First, fill a 1/4 pint jar with yogurt. This is your starter for next time! Then pack the rest of the yogurt in clean glass jars and refrigerate. The yogurt will last about 3 weeks.


Step 7: Enjoy

I like to eat my yogurt with fruit. Honey spiced peaches, which I can every summer, are my favorite.

Homemade greek yogurt with honey spiced peaches

Nicole knows making small changes for the greener add up over time and hopes you’re inspired to make some changes of your own after reading her articles. She focuses on easy, green, homemade personal products and green living tips for city dwellers. Nicole lives in Pittsburgh, PA and you can find her on twitter at @_nlg_.

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Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Helene Colaizzi

    Hey Nicole and Kim! LOVE this blog! So much way cool info. What about a dairy free option? How would it change the recipe or technique? Thanks in advance! Helene

    • Nicole

      I haven’t done it yet but from talking to a friend with experience and from my reading it seems like the process is the same. Just choose your non-dairy food source and starter. The cultures incubate at the same temperature, though non-dairy yogurt take longer, 8-12 hours is the internet consensus. Some non-dairy products end up being thinner, it’s just the nature of the product. Natural thickeners are frequently used in commercial non-dairy yogurts, like soy yogurt. Check the yogurt you buy as a starter, if it has a thickener in it you can bet your yogurt will be thinner.

  2. Ellen

    We love making our own yogurt because it tastes so much better and we eat a lot of yogurt. We use skim milk. For a thicker consistency, we add dry milk (either when you add the starter or as you heat the milk). With four cups of skim milk, we put in 1/3 cup dry milk.

  3. femmefrugality

    This is pretty darn awesome! I seriously never would have thought to try this. And I love the silver lining that you just end up with ricotta if you mess up. Do you have a favorite place locally for organics or do you just buy at the regular local chains?

    • Nicole

      I go to Marty’s Market in the Strip. It’s $4 for a half gallon of local, organic milk, plus the $2 bottle return. The dairy has a booth in the Pittsburgh Public Market, but if you go too late in the day they are often sold out.

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