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.
My next attempt was successful, and I’ve been refining my process ever since because I wanted to develop a technique anyone could duplicate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s what you need.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I like to eat my yogurt with fruit. Honey spiced peaches, which I can every summer, are my favorite.