Monday, September 13, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

Ok, I've had this post saved in my drafts for much too long now.  So even though I'm still updating it and adding pictures along the way, I figured I'd just go ahead and post it.  Be sure to check back for updates as I post them every now and then.

I've been making my own homemade yogurt for a few months now.  I've tried quite a few different ways of making yogurt and mostly follow the method described on Kitchen Stewardship.  I've posted about my flop using the crockpot.  I'm not going to go into detailed posts about other ways I've tried, rather I'll tell you the way that works best for me and maybe mention a few things I've tried along the way.  I'm sure I'll also try some different things along the way, so I'll come back to this post and update if/when I do.

Making homemade yogurt may seem daunting, but it is actually so very easy to do.  Everyone should try it.  It may sound like it takes a long time to make it, but very little of that time is active time and you don't have to be home for most of it. You can expect about 15 minutes of active time and you'll need to plan a time when you're home for about an hour and a half to two hours.  We eat a lot of yogurt in our house.  We all love it.  Carson and I love it plain or with a slight honey or vanilla flavor.  Kevin likes to stir homemade jam into his.  And we all love it with fresh fruit and granola.  And I love knowing that its so good for us, feeding our guts with healthy probiotics!

I usually make 3 or 4 quarts when I make it, which has been about once a month lately.  But now that we're getting raw milk, I've been trying to make it more often to use up some milk more regularly.  So I've been making 1 or 2 quarts.  I'll probably get into a rhythm where I do 2 quarts every other week. 

What do you need?

You will need the following to make homemade yogurt: 

- milk
- yogurt starter
- quart sized jars with lids
- large stockpot with lid
- water for boiling
- a dish rag
- a thermometer, either candy or meat will work
- a large cooler or incubator
- a large towel

Type of Milk

A note about the milk you use. Do not use ultra-pasteurized/ultra high temperature pasteurized milk. You will have a difficult time getting it to culture, as the composition of the milk was changed when it was UHT pasteurized. I have used pasteurized, non-homogenized milk and raw cow's milk with great results. 

Selecting a Yogurt Starter

You can always just order a yogurt starter from the internet, but I have just used commercial yogurt as my starter.  Now I just save a bit of my homemade yogurt each time for my starter, but I've read that at some point it may be necessary to buy another commercial yogurt starter if mine loses strength in its cultures.

When selecting commercial yogurt for your starter culture, you want to pick a plain one... one with no flavors, sugars, or colors. You also want to avoid any with pectin or other thickeners listed as an ingredient... this is not pure and could mean the cultures are not strong enough to do their job. Most importantly, you want to make sure you use yogurt with live and active cultures. You may also look for any indication that cultures were added after pasteurization... if they weren't then the yogurt is useless as a starter. And lastly, you want to pick a yogurt with as much bacterial diversity as you can. Generally yogurts range from three to six different bacterial strains.

Making the Yogurt

First, you will want to put your dish rag in the bottom of your stockpot.  This helps stabilize the jar(s).  Then pour milk into your quart sized jars.  Make sure you leave about an inch or so of room from the top of the jar.  Place the jar in the pot and fill the stockpot with water at least half-way up side of jar.  You'll want to bring this to a boil.  I place my thermometer in the water so that it sterilizes. 

Once your water is boiling, turn the heat down a little, to around medium to medium-high... enough to maintain a good simmer.  Move your thermometer to a jar of milk... having it in the water till boiling sterilized it.  You'll want to keep it going until it reaches 180-185 degrees.  I have a digital timer, so I just set it to alert me when it reaches temperature so I don't have to keep going back to check too often.  But this takes around 15-20 minutes, usually.

Once the milk has reached 180-185 degrees, turn the burner off.  Lift the jar out of the water and onto the counter.  Put a cap on the jar.  Do not pour the water out of the pot.  Put a lid on the pot and place it inside your cooler, making sure the towel surrounds the pot so that it doesn't melt your cooler.  Leave the lid on the pot and put the lid on your cooler.

Now you wait for your milk to come down to between 90 - 120 degrees.  I've found that between 100 - 105 is optimal for me... this makes a nice, thick, creamy yogurt.  This takes about an hour and a half.  You can either check the temperature with your thermometer once you think it could be reaching the proper temperature.  Or you can just feel the outside of the jar.  Remember that our body temperature is 98.6 degrees, so you want it to be slightly warmer than your hands.  If its too hot to hold, its not there yet.  I checked the temperature with the thermometer the first time I made yogurt, but haven't checked it since.  I just go by feeling the heat on the outside of the jar.

Once your milk is at the proper incubation temperature, you will need to stir in about 2 Tablespoons of yogurt starter into each quart of milk.  Be sure to stir gently, as you are stirring in living organisms and don't want to jostle them too much.

Next, place the lid back on the jar tightly.  Open up your cooler and place the jar(s) into your cooler next to the warm pot of water.  Remove the lid from the pot and be sure the towel is nestled around your jar(s).  Place the lid back on the cooler and let it incubate for 4-24 hours.

Don't ask why that picture is sideways... it won't turn...

The longer it sits, the more tart it will get.  I've incubated my yogurt for anywhere from 6 hours to 14 hours.  I found that at 6 hours, it wasn't quite thick enough for my liking.  8 hours seemed to produce a good, thick, creamy yogurt with a hint of sweetness.  I didn't notice much change in thickness by increasing the time, just a more tart taste.  I try to only let mine go 8-10 hours normally. 

Once your incubation time is up, transfer your jar(s) to the freezer for about an hour.  Don't open them before you do, just put them right in there.  After that time is up, transfer them to the refrigerator.  You'll get a true sense of the consistency of the yogurt at this point.  Don't be alarmed if there is some whey on top of the yogurt, this is totally normal.  Just stir it into the yogurt.   

Before you start enjoying your new batch of yogurt, be sure to reserve a couple tablespoons of your fresh yogurt in a small glass jar in the fridge.  This will be your yogurt starter for your next batch.  And remember to reserve more than a couple tablespoons if you make more than a quart at a time. 

This is a picture of the thickness of 8 hour yogurt.

Some Thoughts About Using Raw Milk

Of course, one of the benefits of raw milk is all of the healthy vitamins and nutrients contained in the milk that are killed during pasteurization.  You would think you'd want to preserve these as much as possible in your yogurt... making raw milk yogurt.  This means you shouldn't heat the raw milk past 118 degrees.  I cannot speak from experience here because I haven't wanted to waste my raw milk, but take a read through this post on making raw milk yogurt from Kitchen Stewardship.  She has gone through the trial and error, trying to achieve truly raw milk yogurt and has not been too successful.  She found that making it in the way described above with raw milk works great, though... as have I.  Maybe one day I'll try the lower heat and will update this post if I'm successful.

This post was posted as part of Real Food Wednesdays at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.


Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship said...

Nice work! Looks like you got it working just great! :) Katie

The Voogts said...

Thanks for posting this, Sara. I definitely need to give it a try sometime. It does sound like a lot of work, but I'm guessing once you've tried it once it's no big deal.

This is a post from the lady we bought our house from:
Sounds like she does it raw. I'd probably go with your method, though. Maybe try raw someday way down the road :P When I actually have raw milk.

Melissa said...

I'm going to try this one of these days! Where do you get yogurt starter? Someone gaveme a "yogurt maker"... It plugs into the wall. Do they not work as well as this method?