I tried something new today! I’m honestly not sure why I’ve never attempted yogurt making before. I’m not the biggest yogurt eater, and it always seemed like a lot of work, so I guess that’s part of the reason. Since Jeth likes yogurt (a lot), we decided it might be a good idea to try making our own, especially since “real” yogurt – the kind made with just cultured milk, no pectin or sugar for thickening, is really pricey. I was still nervous about the time this project might take, though. My mom used to make yogurt when I was little but gave up after several years because she said the process required too much babysitting. Since then, I’ve met a couple friends who make their own yogurt, and they both use incubation methods that seem to not require a whole lot of constant looking-after. After 3-4 hours I’ll need to check on it periodically to see when it’s done, but at least at first I can just let it sit and do its thing. One method, if you don’t need the oven all day, is to put the inoculated milk in there with the pilot light on to keep it warm. Our oven is pretty old, and doesn’t have a pilot light that works with the door closed, so that idea was out. Another friend puts her jars into a cooler filled with warm water, which seemed more doable for me.
Today I just used a quart of milk, since I didn’t want to waste half a gallon in case this didn’t turn out. I heated the milk to about 180 degrees, to kill any bacteria that might compete with the live cultures in my starter, and to denature the proteins in the milk, making them better for culturing. I’ve read that for thicker yogurts, holding the 180 degree temperature for 15-30 minutes is ideal. My goal was thick yogurt, but I just in case the yogurt misbehaved and needed an 11 or 12 hour incubation, I didn’t want to waste time since I was already getting a late start. I just crossed my fingers that it would have a good consistency anyway.
Next, I put the pot in a sink full of cool water and waited for the temperature to come down to about 120 degrees. I walked away and got distracted for too long, and then had to warm the milk back up to 120. Oops.. Then, I spooned 3 tablespoons of my starter yogurt into a small bowl, and gently mixed it with about 1/2 cup of the warm milk. Then I took that milk-yogurt mixture and swirled it into the larger pot of milk. As a side note, it’s recommended to use new (not more than a couple days old) batch or package of yogurt as your starter. I didn’t read this part of my recipe until I was halfway through, so I had to make an emergency trip back to the grocery store, running into the friends who I’d already seen the first time I was there buying milk. Oy..
Then, the entire pot of inoculated milk went into my sterilized 1-quart mason jar, and into a small cooler filled about 1/3 full with 120 degree water. As long as the water covers about 3/4 of the jar, it should be okay. Then I zipped the cooler up, made the very difficult pledge not to touch, look, or even think about it until at least 4 hours had passed, and sat down to distract myself (as a side note, has anyone read Geisha, a life? It’s very good, and distracting!)
After 3 hours the temperature was down to 100 degrees, and I very gently lifted the jar out of the cooler, and ever so carefully tilted it to see how the yogurt was setting up. Yogurt cultures don’t like to be disturbed while they’re multiplying, so it was really important not to agitate the jar much at all, just in case they weren’t done yet. Happily, the only thing in the jar that moved when I tipped it was the half inch or so of whey that sat on the top.
At this point I opened the jar to touch the top and make sure it really was set. It pulled away just a little from the sides of the jar, in a kind of semi-gelatinous way, which is an indicator that it’s ready. I moved it to the fridge, where it could finish setting up as it cooled. It’s done now, and for a first attempt, I’m happy with it. It was pretty thick, but not as much as we like, since we’re used to Greek yogurt (this batch drips in threads from a spoon). The whey was kind of slimy, which affected the texture some. To remedy this, I put it in a tea towel lined colander set inside a bowl to strain out some of the whey overnight, which thickened it up a lot, but reduced the volume by about half. We’re saving the whey, since it’s nutritious and good for adding to lots of different things.
Next time I will hold the milk at 180 for longer during the initial heating, which should improve the texture and eliminate the goopiness (which is probably the result of environmental bacteria/yeasts that got into the milk and competed with the yogurt cultures. Holding the temperature should get rid of those guys ). That way, the yogurt will have a better texture even when unstrained. The taste of this yogurt is really great: it is very rich and creamy because we used whole milk, and has just a mild tang because the incubation period was relatively short.
Here’s the budget breakdown: out of a quart of milk (which cost us $0.62, since we bought an entire gallon and just used part of it), we ended up with about 1.5 cups of very thick Greek yogurt. A quart of Chobani at the store (the brand to beat, in Jeth’s opinion) is around $5.00. If we had made a whole quart, it would have cost us about $1.70. I doubt we’ll be purchasing Greek yogurt much from now on. The best part? Jeth likes our homemade yogurt better than what we’ve been buying!
In other milk news, check out my husband straining out the butter he made earlier. We found a use for the leftover heavy cream from a couple weeks ago, and now we have butter and buttermilk to use in baking!