Question – Roland, what type of yogurt maker do you use?
Answer – What’s a yogurt maker?
I’m often asked for recommendation on yogurt makers; what brand I use, or what type to look for. The problem is that I don’t use one. I use a pot, a spoon, and a thermometer (although the thermometer is optional).
Our ancestors didn’t plug in the yogurt maker and go to bed for the night, they stirred old yogurt into new milk and waited. Ta da! Yogurt.
Over the years, they perfected the process, heating the milk to kill the bad bugs and cooling it and stirring in the good bugs to make more consistent yogurt. I take what my ancient ancestors did (and Galya’s current relatives do) and add the ‘science’ of a thermometer to make myself feel better.
Besides, if I told you to heat the milk until it’s too hot for your finger, then cool it until it’s luke warm, you’d ask me what temperatures those are in degrees. We’re all like that, and I don’t trust my own finger, much less yours.
Making yogurt is easy…
…and it’s inexpensive. Milk is as low as $2.99 for 16 cups, and even fancy milk is $4-5 for a gallon. Compare that to $2-$5 for a mere four cups of store bought yogurt and you can see why homemade is your best value.
Besides, cheap yogurt has ‘stuff’ in it that allows it to be cheap: thickeners, gums, and stabilizers. Yuck to some people, merely unnecessary to others, and to people with sensitive tummies, ouch.
…and if you like Greek yogurt, you can do that, too, but you first have to make regular yogurt, because Greek yogurt is made FROM regular yogurt.
Makes 16 cups
Ingredients and equipment
- 6 to 8oz of plain, active culture* yogurt. Choose one who’s taste you enjoy.
- 1 gallon of milk – skim, 1%, 2%, or whole is up to you. Choose your favorite.
- Big heavy bottomed pot
- Flame Tamer (optional)
- Wooden spoon
- Candy thermometer (or some way to tell when the milk reaches around 190 degrees and cools to 125 degrees)
- Containers for storing yogurt. I make 16 cups of yogurt (1 gallon of milk, see?) and use four 4 cup plastic Glad containers or 8-9 glass pint jars.
- Oven with an oven light or some way to keep the yogurt at 80-100 degrees. Or so.
Pour the milk into a big, heavy pot.
Slowly heat milk in the heavy pot until it reaches 190 degrees. If you have a flame tamer (a metal disk that diffuses the heat from the burner), use it to keep from scorching milk to the bottom of the pot.
As it approaches 165 degrees, stir occasionally, but try not to touch the spoon to the floor of the pot, since there may be a milk ‘skin’ down there. You really want to leave that gross ‘skin’ down there untouched.
Warning: As the temperature of the milk climbs, watch it carefully. If it boils, it will suddenly foam up and boil over AND that milk skin on the bottom with disgustingly separate from the floor of the pot and float around in the milk. If this happens, you will need to use a strainer to remove it and it’s ‘chunks’ as you transfer the milk into the smaller containers.
When your milk is 190 degrees, remove from heat and allow to cool until it reaches 125 degrees. To speed up the cooling process, you can poor it into a fresh, cool pot and/or put the pot in a sink full of water and ice, and periodically stir the milk to cool it.
Meanwhile, spoon equal portions of yogurt (which is your starter) into each of your jars or storage containers. When the milk reaches 125 degrees, ladle or pour some milk into each container and stir to combine.
Ladle or pour remaining milk, equally, into your containers. Stir gently to mix. Wipe container edges with a clean paper towel, and put the lids on the containers.
Place them in the oven and turn on the light or put them in another warm place. I’ve used all sorts of temperatures, from 80 degree ‘room temperature’ to 95 degrees in my oven with the light on. As long as you keep it under 115 degrees, it should be okay. Cooler temps take longer to firm up.
Whatever you decide, leave the yogurt alone for about eight hours, and check to see if it’s thick. If desired, let it thicken longer, but eventually you have to put it in the fridge, which stops the fermentation.
The longer the ferment, the more tart the yogurt. To test this, I once took two of my eight jars and let them ferment an extra 4 hours. The yogurt was just as good, but extra tangy.
I’ll call it strained yogurt, since this isn’t Greece. There’s nothing special about Greek yogurt; it’s just strained yogurt that’s probably not from Greece.
Line a colander with a very clean and fresh bandanna, cloth napkin, or handkerchief. American cheesecloth is too loose weave to use without using a million layers, so don’t even bother.
Pour in some yogurt, and place it in a large bowl that leaves room underneath the colander for the draining whey. Cover the yogurt and bowl with plastic wrap or a large plate to keep the moving fridge air out. Stick it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you’ll have strained yogurt, just like the Greek stuff.
For smaller batches, I use a drip coffee filter basket and filter over a small bowl.
For even thicker stuff, like yogurt cheese, take the next step. After you’re already at the “Greek yogurt” stage, twist that bandanna up so you have a ball, and place something heavy on the ball of yogurt for a few hours, or overnight. This presses even more liquid out.
* Almost all yogurt has active cultures, despite rumors to the contrary. Those who say otherwise are the same people who say McDonalds doesn’t use real meat in their meat, but they do. They probably also think agave nectar is healthy. It’s not.