May 10, 2012

Making Yogurt

I tend to over prepare when I'm learning how to do something new.  I'll read books on the subject, obtain all the necessary equipment, even write down how I intend to proceed and what control experiments I may want to do - before I even begin.  I've always been that way.  I wanted a horse so bad when I was little, I read every book on care and training I could find years before I was able to get a pony.  When I finally got that pony, I already knew how to feed and groom her, trim her hooves, administer shots, and get her to do just about anything you can train a pony to do.  I was eleven.  But enough about me!  I want to show YOU the method I'm currently using to make the  best tasting yogurt I've ever had.  I've probably made yogurt at least ten different ways over the past few weeks - varying the equipment, cultures, times and temperatures - all of which produced some kind of yogurt.  I've settled on my current method for a number of reasons:  no special equipment is needed, I can make large batches, it's economical, and I love the resulting yogurt.

I have to tell you that I don't see much point in making milk products at home if you can't get local, unprocessed (or minimally processed) milk to make them with.  You can certainly make yogurt from grocery store milk, but it isn't going to taste any better than grocery store yogurt.  The milk I'm using comes from cows that live on pasture.  It's sweet, creamy and has an earthy flavor you just can't get from milk that's been homogenized, ultra-pasteurized, then transported across the country.  I hadn't really tasted milk until I tasted fresh raw milk.  It has changed my life.  I could go on about the advantages of using raw milk that has all its native bacteria still living in it, but I'm not sure anyone would be interested.  So I'll stop here and tell you how you can make the best yogurt you've ever tasted.  

Basically, there are five steps:
1.  heat milk to 180-190 degrees
2.  cool milk to 115-120 degrees
3.  add culture to milk
4.  keep milk warm for 6-8 hours
5.  refrigerate

I'll explain in more detail along with the photos that follow.

I typically use half a gallon of fresh, full fat, raw milk.  The only piece of equipment you need is a thermometer.  

Before you begin, turn on the light in your oven to get it warming up - just the light should do.

Pour the milk into a pot.

I mount my thermometer on the rim of the pot with a paper clip.  I use a stainless steel whisk, just so I can leave it in the pot the whole time.  

Begin heating your milk.  I avoid setting the element to high, so I don't accidentally scorch the milk.

Heat the milk to 180 degrees over about 20 minutes or so.  I stir the milk a lot while I'm heating it, but you don't really have to.  Just enough to prevent it from sticking or scorching.  Once the milk reaches 180 - 190 degrees, remove it from the stovetop.  [You CAN make yogurt without heating the milk, but I find that when using raw milk, heating to this temperature leads to a thicker set yogurt.]

Now you want to start to cool the milk to about 120 degrees.  You can move the process along by stirring a lot.  

No worries if a skin forms on the cooling milk...

...just stir it in.  

When I was learning to make yogurt at home, I tried this internet puchased culture in a box.  I wanted to know if it would set better or taste better than if I used store bought yogurt as my starter.  There was no detectable difference, so now I save myself the money and use Dannon yogurt as my starter.  

For a half gallon of milk, 1/3 a cup of Dannon yogurt is plenty of starter.  

I stir the 1/3 cup of Dannon smooth before adding it to my milk.  

Once the milk cools to about 120 degrees, you can add your starter culture.  

Adding 1/3 cup of Dannon plain yogurt to the milk at 120 degrees.  

Stirring in the starter.  

Now pour the milk into a jar.

Put a lid on loosely.  I'm not sure if the lacto bacteria need air, but I'll give 'em some anyway.  

Place the yogurt jar into a large pot and fill with hot tap water.

My tap water comes out at 120 degrees - perfect for this project.  

Place the pot in the oven.  

The water will hold its temp longer if you cover the pot.  Close the oven door and leave it alone for at least 6 hours.  

After 6 hours of culturing in the oven, the water is still over 100 degrees, and the yogurt is done.  You'll have to experiment with culturing times yourself to see how long it takes to get a yogurt you like.  Since it becomes more tart the longer it cultures, I try to stop culturing as soon as the yogurt is fully set (I prefer a less tart yogurt).  

It'll get firmer as it cools.  I refrigerate a half gallon of yogurt overnight.  You don't have to refrigerate it if you can't wait.

Yogurt!  Most of the cream was homogenized into the milk while I stirred and heated to 180 degrees on the stovetop...

...but there is still a layer of cream on top.  This yogurt only looks a little grainy because I didn't get around to photographing it until it had been in the fridge for several days.  If you stir it, it'll be totally smooth.  

The yogurt is done and delicious - and this is usually how I eat it -  but I'm going to show you how to Greek it next.  

To make the most insanely thick, rich, creamy yogurt you can, pour it into a strainer lined with cheesecloth.  I've used a large coffee filter instead of cheesecloth, but I've got half a gallon to strain today and a coffee filter ain't gonna cut it.

Beads of whey coming out of the yogurt.  

You can speed up the draining process by hanging the yogurt sack.  

Draining half a gallon of yogurt to make it Greek style.  

I just wanted to show you how clear the whey is.  I extracted about one and a half cups of water from the half gallon of yogurt.  Drain it until you reach a thickness you like.  

That's some thick yogurt!

I spooned it back into a jar.

It comes out of the cheesecloth fairly cleanly when there's so little water in it.  I rinse and reuse my cheesecloth over and over.  

I can see lumps of cream on top.

I'm going to stir it in.  

I'm ruined for grocery store yogurt now.  


Yogurt parfait.

Yogurt with elk mincemeat.

Yogurt with mint and honey.


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