It’s not hard to make your own yogurt at home. Whether it’s cheaper or better than good commercially produced yogurt is debatable if you start with store-bought milk, but anyone with a dairy animal or access to good-quality fresh milk, should get used to making and eating lots of yogurt. It’s fun, and it’s good for you.
What is yogurt?
In this day and age, that might be a dumb question. Everyone knows what it looks like and tastes like, but what IS it? Well, yogurt is simply incubated milk with active live cultures. Unlike cheese, nothing is taken out of the milk to produce yogurt. The milk is just fermented by the culture.
What is different about homemade yogurt?
Almost all commercially produced yogurt has added powdered milk to boost thickness and protein content. Personally, I don’t add any powdered milk to my yogurt because I don’t see the point of buying powdered milk when I have a dairy goat. It’s also a known thing that cow yogurt will get thicker than goat yogurt, so the result is that my yogurt comes out thicker than milk, but still fairly runny. When you scoop it with a spoon, you will see the impression for only a few seconds before the mass slumps down to fill it in.
I only ever make plain yogurt and add flavors or sweetener after the fact.
You can make your own yogurt from skim or whole milk (or whatever you prefer). I pasteurize my milk for yogurt, but I know folks who don’t, and they haven’t died yet (more on pasteurized vs. raw another day).
There are three possible sources for starter culture: freeze-dried packaged culture, commercially produced plain yogurt WITH ACTIVE LIVE BACTERIA, or your last batch of yogurt. I have started yogurt by each of these methods with good results.
Heat milk to about 115° (over 120° will kill your culture). Add culture (1 packet of freeze dried stuff per gallon of milk or a couple Tbs. of yogurt per gallon of milk), and mix it thoroughly.
For the next 4-12 hours, you want to keep the temperature of your milk + culture mixture between 100° and 117° in order to let it thicken up. There are many many suggested ways to incubate your milk. You can buy a fancy electric yogurt maker, wrap a jar of milk in a heating pad and blanket, or put it in a yogotherm. I’ve even heard of burying a jar of milk in a hot compost pile or other seemignly unsanitary practices. What I’ve found to be the best non-electric method that works for me is to put a half-gallon jar of milk mixture in a hot-water bath inside a big lunch cooler. This particular Coleman cooler fits up to three half gallon jars.
I place my jar in the cooler and fill it up to the lid with the hottest tap water I can get (about 110°). Be aware that those plastic lids are not water tight, so don’t submerge your jar unless you use a regular canning lid and ring. Then shut the cooler lid. I usually mix my milk and culture in the morning, let it incubate all day, and then put it in the fridge before I go to bed. It will set up a little further once it chills in the fridge.
Yogurt is a delicious substance on it’s own or with flavorings or sweetener, but I also end up using it often as an ingredient in pancakes or biscuits (where buttermilk is called for) or in Indian dishes like naan or tandoori marinade. I’ll have to post some recipes one of these days. Delicious!