Huh? You can make yogurt? That’s the typical response I get when I mention I make my own yogurt, coupled with a confused look. But do not fear, making yogurt at home is feasible. I’ll walk you through the steps and offer some tricks below.
I started making yogurt when I lived in Texas, and I haven’t stopped. For me, homemade yogurt has a much better flavor and texture. I like that there are no fillers or additives to thicken it, just good old bacteria doing their fermenting job. I strain my yogurt to get thicker, Greek-style yogurt.
Homemade yogurt is one of my favorite summer breakfast dishes because it’s cold, and I can mix in all the fruit I want. Top it with a drizzle of honey, a splash of vanilla extract, and maybe some homemade granola. Mmm, I’m getting hungry just writing about it.
You will need a large pot with a lid, a thermometer, and a spoon. Having a good thermometer is an important part of the process (something like this would be great!), because the temperature of the milk matters. If you take nothing else away from this post, remember that. The right temperature means the between delicious yogurt and funny-smelling milk.
For ingredients, you need milk and a yogurt starter. I use whole milk, because I like the extra milk fat gives the yogurt a great texture and balances the tart flavor.
Yogurt starters come in a few different forms. The easiest one, and the one I buy, is a cup of plain yogurt from the grocery store. Fage Total is my personal favorite, because it’s full-fat yogurt. There are lots of freeze-dried yogurt starters on the market, too. They come in packets or bottles, and you can get various strains or cultures for your yogurt. As I was researching this article, I even found vegan starter culture for non-dairy milk. I’ve never made non-dairy yogurt, and I don’t know if the same rules apply, but I’m sure you can find more info on the internet. Because I have experience using store-bought yogurt as my starter, that’s what I’ll be referring to here. If you purchase a freeze-dried culture, follow the directions for best results.
So, get out your pot and lid, and get out your milk and yogurt. I usually make yogurt with a gallon of milk, but you can make more of less, depending on your needs. The minimum ratio is 2 T. of yogurt to 1 quart of milk. When I make a gallon, I use the entire 6 oz. cup of Fage yogurt in a gallon of milk (about 9 T.). I’ve also used a 6 oz. cup in a half gallon of milk, too. You can add extra yogurt, but 2 T. per quart is the smallest amount you should use.
Got all that? Pot with lid, thermometer, spoon. Milk of your choice and a cup of plain yogurt from the store.
Now comes the fun part, putting it all together. Get out all your supplies and ingredients, including the cup of yogurt. It can sit on the counter and come to room temperature while you do this next step.
Pour your milk into your pot, and set it over medium heat. Stick the thermometer in the milk. Now, there are two routes you can go from here. The first is to heat the milk to 180F and then letting it cool back down to 110F-115F, which is the temperature where you’ll add the starter. This can take a bit of time, especially for the milk to cool down. This does produce thicker yogurt (you can read more about the process here). Personally, I get frustrated with how long this takes and usually forget to check on the milk until it’s back down to room temperature, so I only heat the milk to 110F-115F.
Whether you take your milk up to 180F or only to 115F, the next step is to add the yogurt starter. The temperature range is narrow – the milk needs to be between 110F and 115F (I aim for 115F). Hotter, and it’s going to kill the bacteria. Cooler, and the bacteria won’t ferment properly and eat up the lactose.
I normally temper the yogurt by taking a spoonful of milk and stirring it into the yogurt, then pouring the mixture back into the pot. Mix the yogurt in, put the lid on the pot, and set the pot somewhere warm to rest for a minimum of four hours. The yogurt shouldn’t be moved or stirred for those first four hours. Set it somewhere and forget about it.
There are lots of ideas on where to set your yogurt. In the ideal place, the yogurt will not be disturbed, and the temperature will remain between 100F-115F without going over. I usually prep the milk and yogurt before bed and then leave it to ferment in my oven with the oven light left on overnight. Other times, I’ve set the covered pot out in direct sunlight on a 100-degree day. I’ve also had success wrapping the pot in some towels warm from the dryer and setting it in an insulated cooler to keep warm. The garage on a hot day is another great place for a pot of yogurt to sit. Warm and undisturbed, those are your goals.
After the fermentation, remove the lid and check on the yogurt. If it’s set up properly, it will look different – the liquid will be thicker, and the whey may begin to separate out. It will smell a little tangier, like yogurt. I find that the longer I let it sit (over 12 hours) the thicker it gets and the more the whey naturally separates from the yogurt. I find it easier to strain this way, so I like to let my yogurt sit for about 12 hours. This is where the cooked method has an advantage – the yogurt will set up more firmly in four hours than it will if the milk is only heated to 115F.
You have a just made your own yogurt. Congratulations!
You can eat it just like this, or you can strain some of the whey out to create thicker yogurt. If you strain it for too long, you’ve got yogurt cheese (which I’ve accidentally made on several occasions). The easiest way I’ve found to strain yogurt is a fine mesh grain bag for home brewing. I tried cheesecloth, but trying to pick the cheesecloth up and pour the yogurt into a storage container made a giant mess. The finer mesh of the grain bag holds the yogurt better. I place my chinois in the sink, line it with the grain bag, and pour the yogurt in. The whey runs down the drain, and I can let it drain for as long as I want. If you have a strainer that fits over your sink, that’s another great option. Otherwise, set a colander over a large bowl to catch the whey.
If the yogurt’s texture is uneven (sometimes it can look a bit grainy), run a whisk through it or stick it in a mixer and whisk with the whisk attachment. This really evens out the look. I’ve never noticed a difference in the taste or mouthfeel, so I usually skip this step because I don’t want to wash another dish. Then, pour your yogurt into a container and store it in the refrigerator.
You can flavor the entire batch of yogurt, but I prefer to add things as I eat it. Honey is a great addition, and I like to play around with various flavored extracts. Lemon curd is another delicious treat to stir into yogurt.
Do you make yogurt? What are your favorite yogurt flavors? Tell us in the comments.