The sun is out, the temps are up, kids are playing in the streets, and the flock of chickadees inhabiting the hedge that divides my neighbors’ back yards are singing with all their might. At risk of being slightly premature, I will say that spring has SPRUNG in Massachusetts, and I could not be a happier camper.
Then again, I guess there are some things for which I am impatiently waiting, like freshly-harvested fruits and vegetables to put up. And news of whether or not I will be able to grow my own selection of crops at my local community garden (I’m not even able to buy seeds yet and it’s time to plant snap peas!). But now is the perfect time to solidify preservation plans and put in the occasional practice round to ensure efficient processes and optimal products.
Given that it is still *technically* winter, I thought it might be fitting to share with you my technique for homemade yogurt than attempt one of the other, more seasonal projects I have in mind. Yogurt is not only heralded as a great source of several vitamins and minerals including calcium, but is also now touted as a source of probiotics, the healthy gut bacteria that prevent dysbiosis (the overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeast in your intestinal tract resulting in digestive upset), assist with your body’s production of vitamin K, and help sustain or establish proper immune system functioning.
In addition to its health benefits, making your own plain yogurt allows for personalization of flavorings and sugar content, an aspect of homemade eats that many health-conscious foodies seek when preparing items themselves. Even more, traditionally-made dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, and hard cheeses like parmesan can often be eaten by those who suffer lactose intolerance because much of the lactose in these products has been converted to lactic acid during their fermentation and aging.
After reading about the many different techniques used to make yogurt at home, I decided that I wanted to try a method requiring the least amount of energy so that the project, which has become a weekly routine, would be truly sustainable. So while I initially considered using my dehydrator or oven to maintain a consistent temperature during the fermentation stage, I felt that this was highly resource-intensive and unnecessary. A lot of the gadgets out there, dehydrators included, are not really needed for home food preparation and preservation; they simply make it more convenient and often do a better job yielding a consistent product, which can definitely make prep and preservation more cost-effective and enjoyable. But let’s face it; people have been fermenting foods for centuries (often discovering recipes and techniques by accident), and the more traditional, low-energy processes are still used today by different cultures worldwide. This particular food seemed well-suited for a more rustic approach, and I love a project that uses objects easily found in one’s home.
So break out the towels and cooler; we’re going to make some yogurt.
Makes about a quart
- 1/2 gallon of milk (not ultra-pasteurized; I used local organic 1% milk)
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt with live cultures (no additives; I used Stonyfield to start)
- 1/2 gallon of water
In a stainless steel or ceramic-coated cast iron pot, gently heat milk to 175-180 degrees F. Though I urge you to use a thermometer for accurate temperature keeping, there are a few visual indicators of readiness: a film should have developed on the milk’s surface and little bubbles will have begun to dot the edges of the liquid as it reaches 175 degrees F. For thinner yogurt, turn off the heat as soon as the milk reaches this range; for thicker yogurt, let the milk remain in this range for another minute or two.
Allow the milk to cool to about 105-110 degrees F, then stir in the finished yogurt. While the milk is cooling down, bring a half gallon of water almost to a boil. Pour the milk mixture into two glass quart jars and seal tightly; fill another two quart jars with the hot water and seal tightly. In a plastic or Styrofoam cooler lined with towels, place the jars into the cooler; the yogurt should sit in between the two jars of hot water, close but not touching them. Cover the jars with another towel or two and close the cooler.
Allow the yogurt to ferment between 8-12 hours, until the desired taste and consistency is achieved. I’ve found that about 8 hours of fermentation yields an optimal product- a creamy yogurt with a very subtle tang- for my preferences.
For a thinner, classic yogurt consistency, you do not need to strain the yogurt. For a Greek-style yogurt, you can strain the yogurt using a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl; you could also use a jelly bag, nut milk bag, or tea towel- whatever floats your boat! I’ve found that with 1% milk, a five to seven minute straining immediately out of the cooler gives you this thicker consistency. The remaining whey, which is pretty much liquid protein, can be used as a nutrient boost in smoothies, as a flour conditioner/milk substitute in homemade baked goods like breads, pancakes, and muffins, or as a drink for any acid-loving plants you have, including blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons.
Whether you strain it or not, vigorously whisk the yogurt to remove lumps, transfer into a clean quart jar, seal tightly, and store in the fridge. I don’t eat yogurt every day, so I’ve found that a quart is a good quantity for me to make on a weekly basis. Feel free to increase or decrease the amount of yogurt you make according to your own personal needs; just keep the ingredient ratio the same.
What are your experiences in and techniques for making yogurt? I’d love for you to share your stories below to get the homemade conversation flowing. :)