Homemade yogurt. Sounds weird, right? Is there any churning involved, you might ask? No. It is expensive? Not at all. Is it hard? As hard as falling off a log (i.e. no). There are three basic steps: measure, mix, and wait. That’s it. Think you can handle it? I know you can.
The step-by-step instructions for making homemade yogurt are detailed in the diagram below. I’ll expound on those points later, but for now, check this out:
Your first Yogurt Starter
There are several ways to make yogurt and it depends what kind of yogurt you want to make. Kind of yogurt? You mean there’s more than one? Yes. Yogurt is made as bacteria digest lactose in milk. Different bacteria produce different flavors and consistencies. They also require different conditions to propagate. Some will work at room temperature, some require warmer temperatures. “Lacto” bacteria that incubate at warmer temperatures typically produce a thicker yogurt than those that thrive at room temperature. Store-bought plain yogurt is one such yogurt; it is inactive at room temperature. You can use store-bought yogurt as a starter if you have an incubating method; some use a cooler with a hot pot of water inside it, others use a crock-pot, a third method uses an oven; my sister uses a proper yogurt incubator. These methods present a “direct-set” approach which means you can only use the yogurt for a few “generations” before you have to get more starter. Plenty of people make yogurt this way, especially if they find a plain yogurt with the taste and consistency they love. You can even buy direct-set packets of freeze-dried bacteria that work with the above incubating methods.
I, however, want to be able to make yogurt that isn’t at all dependent on electricity. I don’t want to buy direct-set packets or plain yogurt from the store. I don’t want to heat anything up. I want to keep it as simple as possible. That’s why I went with an heirloom culture; that’s one that can theoretically last “forever”. To combat the runny-ness typical of “room-temperature” yogurt cultures, I use Half-and-Half instead of milk. If Half-and-Half is too expensive for you, you can use milk and filter the yogurt later (see Making Yogurt Cream Cheese and Whey below; use much less time to drain the whey from your yogurt until it is the thickness you want it to be).
My family tried two heirloom yogurt cultures from Cultures for Health: Villi and Buttermilk. The Villi culture was tangy, the Buttermilk was more creamy so we decided to stay with the Buttermilk culture. If you order a culture, it should come with instructions that detail how to activate it. Essentially, you add freeze-dried yogurt flakes to milk or cream and let it sit for much longer than it takes to make yogurt regularly (you can really leave it alone for a long time; try not to tip or move it at all and avoid checking on it until 24 hours have passed). Then your starter is ready to make your first batch of yogurt.
Making Yogurt…in Detail (5 minutes + waiting time)
You won’t need this information after you have made a couple batches of yogurt; it’s much easier than it looks on paper. To help you get started and to take the worry out of trying something new, I’ve added a lot of information that should help you get off to a smooth start:
- Empty previous batch of plain yogurt into an empty jar and screw lid on tightly.
- Put 1 heaped TBSP plain yogurt (per cup) into a new glass jar; put other jar in ‘fridge (see “Making Flavored Yogurt” section below).
- Add 1 cup milk or cream (per TBSP of plain yogurt) to the new glass jar; DO NOT USE ULTRA-PASTURIZED.
- Mix yogurt and milk/cream with a WOODEN or PLASTIC spoon: do not use metal spoon in the glass jar. Spoons should be clean and dry; wipe spills and jar rims with a dry paper towel (water contains bacteria that can contaminate the yogurt).
- Put a basket coffee filter or paper towel over the jar and secure with a rubber band to cover the jar opening from dust or debris: set jar lid aside for later.
- Set the jar in a warm (70F to 80F) place where there isn’t too much draft. The jar must not be within 8′ of another bacteria source such as sourdough starter or another type of yogurt starter. Leave the jar untouched for 18-24 hours (moving the jar before it is finished will make the contents runny). Do not leave out for more than 36 hours, less time in a warm house (Summer); if the yogurt has separated (thick layer of fluid on the bottom), or if there are mold spores on the top, the yogurt has been left out too long or the culture has become weak. Discard and get a new starter culture.
- When the yogurt in the glass jar is done, you have two options:
- Repeat steps 1-6 immediately -OR-
- Put the lid back on and put the glass jar in the ‘fridge for 6 hours to force the culture to hibernate. The yogurt in the glass jar is good for up to 1 week in the ‘fridge to use as a starter. After that, the yogurt in the glass jar may still be eaten but may be too weak to make another batch.
- Repeat steps 1-7 to make another batch at least once a week, preferably twice a week. Eating yogurt three times a day with meals is supposed to help women lose weight. If you eat 1/3 cup of yogurt three times a day, you would have to make a fresh 1 cup-jar each morning. This would require 7 cups of milk or cream per week, or almost 2 quarts (1/2 gallon). That is approximately $5 + tax/week for Half & Half, or $1.50 + tax/week for milk. Not bad!
Making Flavored Yogurt (5 minutes)
NOTE: it is important that you flavor the yogurt in a separate container, not the jar you pull your starter from. Once yogurt has been flavored, it cannot be used to make another batch!
There are multiple ways to flavor yogurt:
- The easiest is with frozen berries because you don’t have to add sweetener. For each cup of yogurt, defrost 1/4 cup of berries and mix in. Be careful not to include too much juice, or it will make the yogurt runny. If using blueberries, make sure to crush them a little first.
- For vanilla flavor, add 1/4 TSP of organic vanilla essence for each cup of yogurt, and add 1-2 TBSP of raw organic honey (or 100% maple syrup).
- Chocolate is tricky: mix 1 TBSP non-alkali cocoa powder with 2 TBSP raw organic honey (or 100% maple syrup) and 1/4 TSP organic vanilla essence until it looks like chocolate syrup; mix into 1 cup yogurt.
- Use Fruit-Only Preserves. The easiest preserve to make is cranberry jelly because it contains natural pectin; follow directions on the back of the packet but use honey instead of sugar. Cranberries have anti-oxidants and help coat soft tissues in the body with infection-fighting agents; great for surgery!
Making “Buttermilk” (2 minutes + waiting time)
- Find a large (1 – 2 QT) jar; an empty juice bottle will do if washed and dried well.
- Add 1/4 cup yogurt per each QT milk; DO NOT USE ULTRA-PASTURIZED
- Leave at room temperature for 4-6 hours (longer if you like a more tart taste)
- Keep jar or bottle in ‘fridge.
- Use a small strainer (like a handled tea-leaf strainer) to catch the yogurt starter when you pour out the “Buttermilk”.
This is not true buttermilk, since it is not the liquid byproduct of the butter-making process, but it is a cultured equivalent. It tastes like yogurt but the texture is not thick; it is easier on the digestive system and contains probiotics. DO NOT ADD TO HOT DRINKS; the buttermilk will curdle. If you leave your buttermilk glass out, it will turn into yogurt! (Do not consume if the yogurt separates, has light yellow/orange “patches” on the surface, has mold spores, or smells stale. Otherwise, it is fine to eat.)
Making Yogurt Cream Cheese and Whey (2 minutes + waiting time)
You can make yogurt cheese with store-bought PLAIN yogurt too: it filters the same way. CHECK THE INGREDIENTS: It should only have ONE: cultured Grade A milk. If it has anything else in it, don’t buy it.
For small batches (from 1 cup yogurt):
- Put a basket coffee filter in a colander or sieve and place over a glass bowl.
- Pour up to 1 cup of yogurt onto the coffee filter.
- Leave at room temperature to drain for 8 hours, scraping the drier cheese away from the filter with a spatula every couple of hours so the cheese can dry uniformly.
- Put the yogurt cheese in a container in the ‘fridge; It should last for up to one month.
For a larger batch (from up to 1 quart of yogurt):
- Make or buy a large, draw-string bag. I bought a cheap (low thread-count) square of fabric from a dollar store. You can use a cheap cotton sheet (Muslin would work too). I cut out a square and sewed it into a rectangle bag. I used an elastic draw-string…it was all I had at the time, but it works quite well because as the whey drains off, the load lightens and the bag raises up away from the bowl to stay out of the whey! The rectangle shape was an accident too, (I forgot that if you fold a square in half, it becomes a rectangle) but it works rather well: I can give the corners a good tug and the bag flips the yogurt cheese over so the dry stuff moves to the middle. Ingenious and completely unplanned 🙂
- Make sure you wash the bag before use in white vinegar water, vegetable-based dish soap, or with Soap Nuts so you won’t contaminate the yogurt cheese with detergent residue. Completely dry the bag before using, or you’ll introduce bacteria. If you see discolored blotches on your yogurt cheese, it has been contaminated.
- Hang the bag over a glass bowl (kitchen cabinet knobs make great hangers), fill with up to 1 quart of yogurt, and leave it hanging for up to 24 hours, until the inside of the bag looks like cream cheese. Give the corners a good tug every few hours to move the drier parts of the cheese toward the middle so the wetter parts can drain.
- Put the yogurt cheese in an old Butter, cream cheese, or yogurt (with lid) container. Well-drained yogurt cheese should keep in the fridge for up to one month.
- Pour the Whey through a coffee filter on a colander: the liquid will be much clearer and will keep longer.
1 cup of yogurt should yield 1/4 to 1/2 cup of yogurt cheese, depending on whether milk or cream was used to make the yogurt. You can keep the liquid in the bowl (the whey) if you make your own mayonnaise or lacto-ferment other things (condiments, oatmeal, gingerade); otherwise, you can throw it away. Yogurt cheese does not heat well, so put it on a warm (but not hot) bagel or toast. Yogurt cheese can be mixed with honey and vanilla to make a tasty fruit dip! I use it instead of sour cream or cream cheese (it is sort of in the middle flavor- and consistency-wise)