Oh, yogurt! I hadn’t had yogurt in years, and it definitely wasn’t because I didn’t like it. Last summer after some prayer from friends, I was trying out foods that previously made me sick, and I discovered I could eat yogurt again! We began eating quite a bit of it around here, and I knew there had to be a more affordable way for me to consume the luscious Greek yogurt I loved so much. And there is :)

As promised, here is my method for making (Greek) yogurt. If you make yogurt yourself or decide to give it a try, I would love to hear about your experience.

The basics
Essentially, you need to bring your milk to 185° to kill any bacteria currently lingering in your milk. Then, bring the milk to a temperature no greater than 110° (the yogurt enzymes die at about 118°) so you can add you yogurt starter. Let it incubate for 6-12 hours, and voila! Yogurt!

I use what I believe is the highest quality milk available to me; I recommend you do the same. Do not use a milk that has been “ultra-pasteurized”. The milk I buy is non-homogenized and vat pasteurized. In terms of pasteurization, this is the least damaging kind. It is heated slower and longer than standard pasteurization. This milk also comes with cream on top which I include when making yogurt. If you don’t have milk that comes with cream, you could add a couple cups of heavy cream you purchase separately if you want it to be nice and thick.

A higher fat milk will produce a thicker and richer yogurt, though you can still make it with skim. I also strain my yogurt so it will be extra thick like Greek yogurt. You can also use raw milk (though, unless you “buy the cow” or already own some, you cannot get it legally in Iowa). If you do, you may find that your yogurt is somewhat runny or may degrade over time. This is because all of the enzymes and nutrients already living in the raw milk want to take over and not leave enough room for your yogurt bacteria to reproduce. Still, if you have access to raw milk, use it! You may need to use fresh starter after so many batches or work out a few kinks along the way. This is a great tutorial on yogurt making using raw milk.

The fresher your yogurt starter, the better. When you make your first batch, you’ll need to buy some starter (or get some from a kind friend). This can be a specific dry yogurt starter or just some yogurt you can buy from the store. Once you are making your own yogurt, just reserve some from your last batch to use in your next.

If you aren’t making yogurt every 7-10 days, you may want to purchase fresh starter.

First, you need to bring your milk to 185°. This will kill any existing bacteria in your milk to leave plenty of room for the yogurt bacteria you’re going to introduce. I do this by slowly heating my milk and cream in a large stock pot on my stove, stirring frequently. Set to high, you could achieve this in about 3 hours in your crock pot as well.

Next, place the stock pot in an ice bath in the sink and continue stirring. This prevents the milk from getting a skin. You want to bring the milk to 110°. This only takes about 10 minutes. If you are using a cast iron stock pot or a dutch oven, you’ll want to pour it into a different pot in the sink. The temperature change will otherwise cause the cast iron to crack.

While the milk is cooling,  turn on your oven light. Alternatively, if your oven can be set at a trusty 110° (without overheating after several hours), you can simply turn it on.

At this point you are ready to add your yogurt starter. The general rule is a couple of tablespoons per quart of milk. Too much starter is actually detrimental to the process since all the bacteria can become too crowded. I use about 1/4 or a 1/3 of a cup for 1 gallon of milk and cream. In a separate bowl, add a couple of ladles of your warmed milk to your starter, and whisk gently to temper. Add it to the rest of your milk. Remember you are working with live organisms! Don’t stir too briskly.

Now, you have a couple of options. I like to use my oven. Adjust oven rack so it is low enough for your stock pot with it’s lid on to fit. If you are working with your oven “on”, make sure it hasn’t gotten too hot. Then place the stock pot in the oven with the light on and allow it to incubate anywhere from 6-12 hours. The longer it incubates the tangier it will be. Less time equals less tangy yogurt. Your choice. I usually start it in the evening and allow it to incubate over night so I don’t have to be bummed about not having a free oven.

Instead of the oven method, you could also put your yogurt mixture in jars, and then place them in a cooler to stay insulated. I have also kept them warm in a water bath on the stove or in a crock pot. Many people have dehydrators they choose to use. Again, your choice. Anything that you can ensure will keep the right temperature will work. I like to use my oven because it is already there taking up space, and with only the light, I don’t have to worry about it getting too hot and killing my yogurt.

After incubation you will have yogurt! If you want regular yogurt, you are done! Put it in storage containers and refrigerate.

Since we like it oh, so thick, I ladle/pour it into a colander lined with a tea towel or sometimes t-shirt material, and allow it to drain over a bowl. (You could also use fine cheesecloth, and I have heard of others who have used coffee filters.) It can drain at room temperature, but I like to put it in the refrigerator. The batch you see drained for 9 hours, but the time is really dependent on how thick you want it. If the yogurt turns out thicker than you like, you can simply stir some of the whey back in.

In terms of yogurt, the whey is waste, but you can use it to soak grains, mixing it into soups, or fermenting kimchi. You can even use it in breads.

Well, that’s it my friends! Let’s fall in love with the process. Be it yogurt making or other homemade goodness, let’s celebrate creating with our hands.