Why You Should Try Making Yogurt with Heirloom Starter Cultures

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At some point last winter, I began making my own yogurt. And I haven't turned back since — although I can't seem to help buying all of the new, interesting commercial yogurts on the market. While I'm not one to encourage diving into each and every DIY-type kitchen task (I'm a lackluster jammer and a crummy preserver), making your own yogurt simply makes sense if you eat it a few times each week. The main thing you must consider to get the first batch under your belt: your starter. More and more yogurt aficionados these days are turning to heirloom starters. Have you tried any of them? 

Since yogurt is a cultured food, to make a successful batch you need a nice warm spot in the house (or the ability to create a nice, warm spot for the yogurt) and an active culture. These two things, together, will help turn a jar of milk into a jar of creamy homemade yogurt. You can go one of two ways with your starter: You can use a few spoonfuls of a store-bought yogurt that you like, or you can buy a powdered starter from the store (or online). I prefer using a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt, but the strain tends to weaken as you use it over subsequent batches. After five or six rounds, your yogurt isn't going to set up as well as you'd like. So what's the solution?

Last week, I listened to an episode of The Splendid Table (see link below) in which Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, discussed yogurt cultures. In the interview, he mentioned how commercially-manufactured yogurt cultures do weaken, but that heirloom cultures do not. They are "literally these evolved communities of bacteria that have a structure to them. Part of that structure is really a defense strategy to protect themselves as a community from other random bacteria in the environment," Katz notes. So they're heartier, and Katz can attest, will remain active after some sixty-odd rounds of yogurt making. Talk about cost efficient! 

So while I've long been a believer in making homemade yogurt, after learning about heirloom cultures, I'm even more excited. I was always wondering about the strength of my culture after making a batch of yogurt, but now I'll banish that thought for good. You can find heirloom cultures online easily, and some of the links below give tips for how to find them as well. Happy culturing!

More on Yogurt and Heirloom Cultures: 

(Images: Megan Gordon)

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