Make your own yogurt

If you're like us, you love yogurt. Especially the thick, strained kind (commonly called Greek yogurt, though I think usually the real deal is made with goat's milk). Since we don't eat grains at home, yogurt with a handful of nuts and some fruit makes an excellent quick breakfast. We use it in place of sour cream, and add it to all sorts of dishes including scrambled eggs, creamy soup, and marinades. We go through 1-2 large tubs of yogurt per week.

Also if you're like us, you don't care to pay upwards of $8 for one of those tubs (about $.25/oz). Perhaps you too would like to cut your costs to something like $.08/oz? Since we go through so much, it's a worthwhile (and minimal) use of time.

I've had quite a few requests from friends for my yogurt making method since I started about a two years ago. I found the method myself on quite a few different websites; as is my tendency, I combined parts of all of them to come up with something I can call my own. 

Something I've discovered about the yogurt making methods I came across were that they were mostly too detailed or not quite detailed enough (or missing key information). The detailed posts are always interesting and provide all sorts of nifty facts about enzymes and heating points but it tends to make the home chef a bit cross eyed: "I just want to make some yogurt, not read through a scientific treatise!" The more concise posts tend to be from those who have made yogurt only once and don't necessarily have the knowledge of experience. Hopefully, this post will be somewhere in the middle. It's not exactly concise, but I feel it presents all the information you need, and the steps themselves are easily memorized. There are only 4 (with a 5th optional).

Transient

I have two methods to include here: crockpot and stove top (which you can, of course, combine at any step). I use the stove top method if it's night  and I don't have time to wait for the crockpot to heat and cool. Please keep in mind people have made yogurt for thousands of years, so if you vary from this a little, the world will not end. Worst case scenario, it doesn't work and you've lost a few bucks on some milk. It's happened to me twice. NBD!

Ingredients

1/2 gallon milk (organic, grass fed, and/or local is always best)
2-4 tablespoons plain, unsweetened yogurt with active culture

Notes: Choose only pasteurized or unpasteurized whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized). Most organic milk is ultra-pasteurized, so make sure to double check or your yogurt will not set up and you'll just end up with some sour milk. Local milk is the next best thing. Yes, 2% and skim will work, but seriously, ew. Just trust me on this one and get the whole, it tastes way better and is more filling. For your first time making yogurt, you can just buy a small container of plain yogurt at the store; for subsequent times, you can just set aside a small amount of each batch and store it in the freezer until you're ready.

Method

Step 1: Heat up the milk

This gets some kind of enzyme all ready to eat up some delicious active cultures and make babies.

Crockpot: Place all of the milk into the crock and cover. Turn it on low and set a timer for 2.5 hours.
Stove top: Place all of the milk into a large pot and gently heat until the milk reaches 185° F, or just short of boiling. I use a meat thermometer to check. I have also let it get to boiling and didn't have any adverse effects.

Step 2: Cool down the milk

You don't want to kill those delicious bacteria, so be sure to make things comfortable for them.

Crockpot: Unplug everything and let it sit there for 3 hours. You don't need to bother measuring the temp.
Stove top: Remove from heat and cover the pot. Cool to around 110° F. You can either let it sit out for a few hours, or cool it quickly in the sink:

  • Plug up the sink and fill part way with cold water.
  • Place the covered pot into the sink, and adjust the water level so the milk and the water are about even.
  • Check the temperature in 10 minutes. If it's not around 110° F, check every 5-10 minutes or so until ready. If you don't have a meat thermometer, take a spoon and drip a little onto your wrist. If it feels just a little warm, you're probably ok.

Step 3: Add yogurt

        Yep, just stir it in to whichever vessel you used to heat and cool the milk. A whisk is useful here. Also, you don't need to be too concerned with measuring exactly...just relax and blob some yogurt in. Measuring creates more dishes. Ew.

        Step 4: Wait

        You'll want to set your yogurt somewhere warmish where it won't be disturbed for 12-24 hours. I always wrap the pot with a blanket or towel. Here are some ideas (I've done all of these):

        • Set it next to your radiator or heating vent in the cool months.
        • Set it in a sun beam, in a window, or just turn down your A/C in the summer.
        • Place a heating pad set on low on top of the lid and then wrap your blanket around it all.
        • If you have a pilot light always running in your old-ass oven, put the whole thing in there (but let's skip the blanket this time, shall we?)

        One time I actually left the yogurt out for about 36 hours (we were moving and I forgot about it), and it was my best batch.

        Voilá! You now have yogurt. You can totally stop here if you like or need a thinner yogurt. Either way, put a few blobs of this into a small container and chuck it in the freezer (or fridge, if you're making more in the next week) for your next batch.

        Step 5 (optional): Strain

        There is such a thing as a yogurt strainer, and I have one which works well. However, only 3 cups of yogurt fit at a time, yielding about 1.5 cups of strained. I would have to do 3-4 batches of straining to get it all done, and I am not a very patient woman. If anyone has found a large yogurt strainer, I would buy one! In the meantime, I do this:

        • Take a tea towel or flour sack towel (which are just very plain, thin kitchen towels like this or this) and line a mesh strainer with it.
        • Place the mesh strainer over a bowl into which it sets.
        • Pour in the yogurt (you might need to wait a few minutes for it to strain a little to get all the yogurt to fit, or do two batches).
        • Place in the fridge and wait 4-8 hours. (If you can tie the ends of the towel up onto a shelf above, that helps quite a bit. Otherwise, just put some plastic wrap on top.)
        • Dump the strained yogurt into a large bowl and whisk to remove lumps. Add some of the whey (in your straining bowl) to thin to your desired consistency.

        I have tried to find uses for whey because it seems ridiculous to throw it away since it contains so much nutrition. I have used it to make bread and water plants, and tried it once for ricotta but only got a tablespoon from 2 quarts of whey I'd saved. Since I no longer make bread, I don't have a patio garden any more, and ricotta was a bust I'm at a loss. Maybe smoothies? Anyone have other uses for whey from yogurt?