We've been making our own yogurt for about a month now and we don't think we'll ever go back. Not only does it actually save us money, but the yogurt is seriously good. The method we've adopted is very basic - no special ingredients or fancy incubating equipment required. We had no idea homemade yogurt could be this easy! Once you have the basic method down, there are all sorts of tweaks and changes you can make. Some people like to add dry milk powder or gelatin for extra thickness, others like to strain off the liquid whey for a dense Greek-style yogurt. Using different brands of commercial yogurt to culture the milk can also give you subtly different flavors and nutritional benefits.
We'll be talking about all this and more in the coming days. What's your favorite method for making yogurt?
What You Need
• 1/2 gallon milk - whole or 2% are best, but skim can also be used
• 1/2 cup commercial yogurt - be sure that the yogurt contains active cultures
• a sauce pan or dutch oven with a lid - large enough to hold 1/2 gallon of milk with a few inches of head room
• thermometer - a candy thermometer that clips on the side of the pan is best, but an instant read thermometer is also fine
• small bowl
• an incubator - this can be anything from the dutch oven used to heat the milk to a commercial yogurt machine (more on this in Step 4 below)
1. Heat the Milk - In your saucepan or dutch oven, heat the milk to right below boiling, 200°F. Stir the milk gently as it heats to make sure the bottom doesn't scorch and the milk doesn't boil over. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, this heating step is necessary to change the protein structure in the milk so it sets as a solid instead of separating.
2. Cool the Milk - Let the milk cool until it is just hot to the touch, 112°F - 115°F. This goes faster if you set the pan over an ice water bath and gently stir the milk.
3. Inoculate the Milk - Pour about a cup of the warm milk into a small bowl and whisk it with the yogurt. Once it's smooth, whisk this back into the pan of milk.
4. Incubate the Yogurt - Now comes the long wait period where the milk actually transforms into yogurt. The trick is keeping the milk around 110°F until it has set, usually 4-6 hours. Commercial incubating equipment is handy for maintaining a consistent temperature, but not necessary.
We've been incubating our yogurt in the oven with excellent results. First, warm the oven to about 115° (an oven thermometer helps to know when the oven is heated). Put the lid on the dutch oven or saucepan with your inoculated milk and wrap the whole pot in a few layers of towels. These will insulate the pot and keep it warm. Set this bundle in the warmed (but turned off!) oven and set the timer. It's important not to jostle the milk too much as it's incubating so that it sets properly - the temptation to peek is so hard to resist!
The longer the yogurt sits, the thicker and more tangy it will become. Check it around the 4-hour mark and give it a taste. The texture should be creamy, like a barely-set custard, and the flavor will be tart yet milky. If you like it, pull it out. If you'd like it tangier, leave it for another hour or two. We sometimes even make yogurt overnight, putting it in the oven around midnight and taking it out when we get up in the morning.
5. Cool the Yogurt - We have found that if we cool the yogurt in the same container we incubated it in, we end up with a smoother end result. Once it's completely chilled, we transfer it to air tight containers for easier storage. Sometimes there will be a film of watery whey on top of the yogurt. You can strain this off or just stir it back into the yogurt. Yogurt lasts about two weeks in the refrigerator.
• Cost Breakdown - We eat about a quart of yogurt a week in our house, which was costing us roughly $2.60 a week. A half gallon of milk makes a little less than two quarts of yogurt, which has been just enough to last us two weeks. We buy a local brand of milk that costs $3.70 per half gallon ($1.85 per quart), so we end up saving about 75-cents per week on yogurt. Nice.
• If your milk drops below 110° while it's incubating, that's fine. It will take a little longer to set and might end up a little looser, but the bacteria in the yogurt culture will keep the milk from spoiling. By the way, even after 8 hours in the oven (overnight), our yogurt was still 100° when we took it out of the oven!
• Once you've made one batch of homemade yogurt, you no longer need to buy commercial yogurt to culture the next batch. Just make sure to save 1/2 cup of your homemade yogurt and use that instead.
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(Images: Emma Christensen)