Reliable Simple Homemade Yoghurt
In the last couple years, H and I have gotten interested in trying to incorporate homesteading activities into our lives wherever possible. As part of that, I’ve been making my own yoghurt (or yogurt, if you prefer). To get started, I did a bit of googling but the blogs I found that talk about yoghurt make it sound very hard, using a lot of specialized equipment in a process that is fickle at best and often yields milky goo.
After some experimenting, I’ve come up with a system that is simple, uses no special equipment and makes some of the best yoghurt I’ve ever had. Every time.
When I say simple, I don’t mean quick. There are a lot of steps and you have to enjoy the process or it’s not worth it. I mean simple because nothing is carefully measured, carefully set, or carefully timed. I don’t even have a food thermometer. Every instruction here is approximate but the recipe has never failed.
1 quart + 2 tbs milk. I use whole milk because I doubt there’s much benefit to low-fat and if you’re going to the trouble of making your own yoghurt, you may as well make the best you can.
2 tbs plain yoghurt with live culture. Whatever brand you like best—my source yoghurt (probably 10 generations ago) was Fage, a Greek yoghurt. It’s expensive, but that just adds to the satisfaction–I make great yoghurt for one-third the price of store bought.
Equipment you might not already have around the kitchen:
- Glass jar with a top, at least 1 quart size (larger would be better).
- Warming pad. We had one in the closet from when H threw her back out. I set it on medium, you may have to experiment to find the right setting on yours. It should be comfortably warm to the touch.
- A cooler. Big enough to close with the glass jar and warming pad inside.
Cliff’s Notes (to visualize the process):
- Sterilize the milk
- Let it cool and mix with small amount of yoghurt
- Incubate overnight
- Strain out the whey
- Heat 1 quart of milk on the stove to somewhere just short of boiling.
- While the milk is heating, pre-heat the oven to 170-180 degrees (as hot as you can get while being certain the milk will not boil, leaving a safety margin to allow for oven imprecision).
- When the milk is steaming but not boiling, transfer it from the burner to the oven and leave it there for 30 minutes. I use an all metal pot so I can just move it directly without the trouble of pouring it or dirtying another utensil.
- After 30 minutes, remove the milk and transfer it to the glass jar, skin and all.
- Cool the milk down until the sides of the jar are comfortably warm to the touch (no more than 110 degrees or so). Since this step can take hours without assistance, I place the jar in a large bowl of ice water. If you use the ice water method, keep in mind when you test it that the outside may be a lot cooler than the middle, so let it sit on the counter a bit or swirl it around to try and equalize the temperature before testing. If in doubt, err on the side of too cool because it can heat up again during the incubation period with no harm done, whereas if it is too hot, it will kill the bacteria and the yoghurt will not form.
- While this milk is cooling, mix the additional 2 tbs of milk (from the fridge, not from the hot milk in the jar) with 2 tbs of your source yoghurt in a cup. Stir and set aside.
- Plug in the heating pad and place it inside the cooler with the top on to pre-heat while the milk is still cooling. (Again, I set mine to medium, your pad may be different—shoot for comfortably warm).
- When the milk has cooled, add the milk/yoghurt mix, close the top of the jar and place it in the cooler. To avoid a too-hot spot, try to keep the heating pad from directly touching the jar. I place a dishtowel between them. With most coolers, you can close the top with the power cord for the heating pad sticking out.
- Wait 10-12 hours. Much less and the yoghurt won’t be finished forming, much more and it will start turn sour.
- Remove the jar from the cooler. You can call it done right now, but I prefer to strain out the whey to make a nice thick better-tasting yoghurt.
- To strain the whey, get a largish bowl and place a colander on top. Line the colander with the cheesecloth. You want the cheesecloth folded so it is at least 2 layers thick, but 4 or more layers is better because less yoghurt will push through and you will end up with purer whey.
- Pour the yoghurt in and scoop out whatever sticks to the bottom of the jar.
- Place the contraption in the refrigerator. The longer you leave it, the more whey will drain off and the thicker the yoghurt will get. I leave it about four hours, but you will get most of the benefit in the first hour.
- Whey is a clear viscous liquid that is a good source of protein and can be a partial substitute for water in pancakes, biscuits, etc., but since I make a lot more than I use, I throw most of it away.