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how to make amazing yogurt

January 25, 2012

this is for elyse, and all the other people to whom i have said, “making yogurt is easy. you just heat up some milk and put some yogurt in it.”

yes, it is easy, but there are a lot of ways to mess up if those are your only instructions. so, here’s the whole story of my yogurt-making method, honed through years of experimentation, failure and success. special thanks to the joy of cooking and sandor katz for getting me started with their excellent instructions.

Imagefirst, you need to use good milk. i use whole organic milk that comes in a glass bottle from a local creamery (castle rock in wisconsin/chicago and strauss in california) but that’s not essential. the important thing is that it is not ultra-pasteurized. most milk that comes in cartons (even organic) is ultra-pasteurized, meaning that it is heated to extremely high temperatures to kill almost everything living in it and give it a longer shelf life. the yogurt cultures tend not to like dead milk.

the yogurt you start with is important too. it must be unflavored, and have live and active cultures (most yogurts do, and say so on the label). it should also have a flavor and texture you enjoy. i like mine thick and creamy, so my favorite is seven stars biodynamic yogurt. it makes a great starter culture. st benoit is also a good choice in the sf bay. one time when i was living at blue house farm in pescadero, i discovered my previous batch of yogurt had molded after i had already heated my milk, so i ran to the local market and bought some fage greek yogurt — the only plain yogurt they had. i was surprised to find it actually made excellent, really thick yogurt.

the third key factor is temperature. use a thermometer to get your heating and cooling right, and make sure your incubation space is small enough to keep the yogurt warm. otherwise the cultures do not thrive and your milk mostly stays milk.

in a nutshell, those are my not so secret secrets. so, without further ado, here are the steps.

  1. assemble your tools: 2 quart-size mason jars with lids, a small cooler (soft or hard sided), 1/2 gallon milk, a pot, a big wooden spoon, a candy thermometer, a measuring spoon, 2 tablespoons yogurt, a ladle, and a funnel.
  2. fill the jars with hot tap water. if your tap water is not very hot (or takes a long time to get hot) boil some water and add it to the jars. they should be almost too hot to handle. put the lids on. Image
  3. put the jars in the cooler and close the lid. (if there is extra space in your cooler, you can fill more jars with hot water and leave them in there for the whole process)
  4. pour the milk into the pot. put the pot over a medium-low flame and stir occasionally. use the thermometer to monitor the temperature.thermometer
  5. when the milk reaches 180°F, turn the flame off. remove the pot from the stove.
  6. let the milk cool to 108°F. stir occasionally to distribute the heat. if you’re in a hurry, you can put the pot in a sinkful of cold water to speed the cooling.
  7. take one jar out of the cooler. close the cooler again to keep the heat in. pour the hot water out of the jar.
  8. put exactly 1 tablespoon of yogurt in the bottom of the jar. more is not better!
  9. add one ladle-full (about 1/2 cup) of the hot milk to the jar. stir. (this helps make sure the yogurt cultures get evenly distributed.)
  10. only one tablespoon. don't cheat!fill the jar to the top with more hot milk. this is where the funnel comes in handy. stir again. close the lid tightly.
  11. put the first jar back in the cooler. repeat steps 7-10 with the second jar.
  12. put the second jar back in the cooler. (note the extra jar of hot water in the middle.)
  13. full jarsclose the lid tightly, and do not disturb for 8-12 hours. cooler
  14. after at least 8 hours have passed, take out one jar and test to see if it has — to quote sandor — “yoged.” if it’s not thick and yogurt-like, it probably is too cold and/or needs more time. so just pour some hot water into the cooler around the jars, leave them alone for a few more hours, and check back. repeat if necessary. (you can also add 1 more tbsp of yogurt to each jar at this point to give it a boost.)
  15. when your yogurt is sufficiently yogurty, put the jars in the refrigerator (eat some warm first if that suits your fancy!). the yogurt should keep for a couple weeks, and if you don’t wait too long, you can use it to start your next batch.

that’s it folks. if you try it, let me know how it works for you. happy yogurting!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2012 12:05 am

    Another way to make yogurt is to use a mesophilic culture, which means you do not have to heat the milk as much, In fact you should not get it above 90 degrees F if you are starting with raw milk and want to have raw yogurt. You can get the culture from a cheese supply store or online. Look for “Mesophilic mother culture”. I put half gallon jars of milk (with some room in the top) in a pot with very hot water from the tap and as soon as the milk reaches 80 degrees or so (doesn’t need to be exact – maybe 15 min) I dump a few tablespoons of older yogurt into the new. I add more hot water every so often to keep the water in the pot warm, or in the summer you can just leave on the counter. For a half gallon of yogurt it can take most of a day for the yogurt to get to a thick consistency. The longer you leave it, the thicker the yogurt. If you want yogurt that is more sour, use raw milk that is a week old. This is a great way to use that old milk when you get a new batch.

  2. Cynthia Baxter permalink
    January 26, 2012 10:26 am

    Thank you Thea!! I am going to try this.

  3. elyse permalink
    January 26, 2012 12:09 pm

    I am honored. Thank you, Thea. I will try again (attempt #3) next week!

  4. Lisa Carlson permalink
    January 31, 2012 2:07 pm

    Hi, Thea. I followed your recipe except since it was getting late, I checked for “yoginess” after about 7 hours. For my next batch, I’ll wait 8 hours as you suggested. I like my yogurt extra thick, so strained it using unbleached coffee filters. The result is thick and creamy – not exactly like my favorite brands (Fage and Chobani), but close enough and much cheaper. I’m going to try non-fat milk next time.

    FYI, a new local organic market (Your Local Market) has opened in downtown Bellevue to compete with Whole Foods and traditional grocery superstores. They have been great about expanding products based on customer feedback, and offering a variety of gluten-free foods (Emily has converted and has been feeling much better). They sell milk from a Lynden creamery (non-fat, 2% and whole).

    Thanks for the recipe! Love, Aunt Lisa

    • thea maria permalink*
      January 31, 2012 5:29 pm

      I usually do it before bed and then check in the morning (preferably on a day I’ll be home so I can leave it longer if needed). In my experience it has never been bad to leave it up to 12 hours.

      I’m glad gluten free is working for Emily. If you ever want cookbook ideas let me know. I have a couple great ones.

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