Saturday, October 1, 2011

Homemade Yogurt - Yum!!!!

Over the last few years my family and I have become more and more vegetarian on our quest for healthier eating.  We jokingly refer to ourselves as 85% vegetarian since we only eat meat in small amounts about 2-3 times a week, lol!  With small children and being pregnant and nursing, I do worry about getting the nutrients that come from dairy that I need for myself as well as for my family.  I do not drink milk, and rarely eat store bought yogurt.  We do still eat cheese and eggs (sparingly), and butter (not so sparingly). 

My kids will eat just about anything, but I have to admit I am a bit of a yogurt snob – I don’t eat any low calorie type sugars (i.e. aspartame, sucralose, sweet-n-low, etc.), and I love really thick and creamy yogurt - if it could have the consistency of cream cheese, I would probably love it!  That being said, I have recently been introduced to drinkable yogurt, similar to kefer, and have really liked it. 

Yogurt is a lacto-fermented food, meaning that there are lots of healthy probiotics for your gut.  Even a little bit can go a long way for your health.  For those that are lactose intolerant, yogurt can usually still be consumed since the lactose has already been digested by the live/active cultures in the yogurt :0)

I was intimidated to make my own yogurt, the idea of having to use coolers with towels in a bathtub, inoculating yogurt, worrying about the temperature, etc., I was totally freaked that I would screw it up.  But then, as someone said, you can't exactly screw it up when you are growing something in it on purpose to 'spoil' it.  Two years ago my husband got me a refurbished Excalibur dehydrator (thank you honey!!) so it wasn't as intimidating to try making yogurt.  I tried the cooler method for this post, which was not as difficult as I thought it would be.  

So, let’s make some yogurt!!!
Start by pouring your milk into a heavy bottomed pan.  **See below for approximate amounts / recipe**  I usually do 2 quarts at a time.  I have experimented with using ¼ part half & half or heavy whipping cream to get the creamy layer on the top, but usually I just use organic whole milk. 
Turn the heat to medium and whisk occasionally to keep the bottom from scalding.  Using a candy thermometer to watch the temperature, heat the milk to 180°F.  Turn off the heat and let the milk sit until the temperature cools to approximately 112°F. DO NOT STIR during this time.  Once the milk cools, there will be a thin film of ‘stuff’ on top of the milk. Use a fork or spoon to skim it off the top and toss it in the sink.

There are several ways to inoculate your yogurt.  You can purchase ‘yogurt starter’ at natural grocery stores in the refrigerated section, usually by the yogurt (I think I got mine at whole foods).  Alternatively, and much easier, you can use regular yogurt that has live cultures in it.  The label on the yogurt will indicate that it has ‘X’ number of live or active cultures in it.  I think they usually have at least 3, while the one I used today has 6.  I have heard you can use whatever kind of yogurt you want, but like I said earlier, I am a yogurt snob, so I usually use the starter, although today I tried Stonyfield vanilla (no artificial sugars :0). 
I split my milk in half today, using yogurt starter in one batch and ready-made yogurt in the other batch, so I could try the store bought yogurt method. 
For the yogurt starter, you put about ½ a cup of milk in a jar and add the starter (a powdery substance) and shake it to mix it well.
If you are using ready-made yogurt, add approximately 6 oz. ready-made yogurt per gallon of milk (give or take – it is not an exact science, thank goodness!)
After it is thoroughly mixed, pour the milk with the starter (or ready-made yogurt) in it back into your pan with the remaining milk and mix / whisk well.
Pour the mixture into pint or quart glass jars (wide mouth jars are great since it is easier to get the yogurt out later!!)
I divided my batch between the dehydrator and the cooler so I could try the cooler method of incubating the yogurt.  I put ½ of each batch in the cooler and the other ½ into the dehydrator.

To incubate the yogurt in a dehydrator, put a lid and ring on the jar.  Place in the dehydrator at approximately 115°F for about 4 hours.
To incubate the yogurt in a water bath, cover the top of the jar with plastic wrap (i.e. Saran wrap), and then with the lid/ring.  Immerse the jars in water that is approximately 112°F (I fill it just below the lid so I don’t have to worry about water getting into the yogurt).  Put the cooler out of the way (i.e. in a bathtub, etc) and leave for approximately 6 hours. 
[NOTE:  I checked the water temp half way through (seeing as how I am up with a baby half the night anyways, lol!) and was worried it was too cool, so I added some hot water to it.  When it was done, the water still seemed cool, so I put my thermometer in it and it was at 112°F, which felt a little cool to the touch, but the yogurt turned out fine.]
Once the yogurt is done, put the jars in the refrigerator.  It will look a little soft, but after it cools off for a couple of hours it firms up a bit. 

I didn't notice a difference between the yogurt that was made with the starter or the yogurt that was made with store-bought yogurt.  I did notice a slight but negligible difference in the yogurt that was incubated in the dehydrator and the yogurt from the cooler when they first came out, but after they had been refrigerated, I did not notice a difference.
I usually add agave nectar to sweeten it, and love the taste :0)  My kids like to add honey to sweeten it – I think it gives it a honey flavor, but isn’t particularly sweet.  They also like to put in frozen fruit - the juice flavors the yogurt and gives it a little bit extra flavor.
Bon appétit!!
**The Yo’gourmet starter I used combines 1 quart milk with 5 grams (1 pouch) starter.  If you are using ready-made yogurt, combine 1 gallon of milk with 6 oz. ready-made yogurt.

Update 10-3-11
Yeah, I know I just posted this, but after visiting Kitchen Stewardship to review cooler temperatures for yogurt, I learned that organic milk sold in cardboard cartons is almost always pasteurized in "ultra-high-temperatures" (UHT), meaning it could sit on the counter for months and still be shelf-stable / "drinkable".  While raw milk would be wonderful, it is illegal where we live, so next time around I will be making yogurt with regular store-bought whole milk.  Best of luck!!  :0)
(to see Katie from Kitchen Stewardship's review on skim, whole, organic, and raw milk check )


  1. I have put off making my own yogurt because the Mountain High yogurt they sell at our Smith's is excellent and cheap (We usually get the plain 64 oz tub and make smoothies or mix honey or jam into it). I had a friend when I was doing my Master's degree that would bring in his "failed" yogurt batches about once a week (too runny, too sour, not sour enough) and they were always so good but I never got around to trying it. I think you've got me motivated to give it a try finally. Maybe we can start this for family night tonight because the kids would find it exciting.

  2. Pat, Thanks for visiting our blog, and we are glad you are motivated to try something new! I know I was very intimidated to try making yogurt too, but so glad I did! When we have it in the fridge, we tend to eat more of it, which is not only tasty, but good for us. Hope it goes well for you - I am sure the kids will love it, and it feels so good to be able to let them eat as much as they want of something that is so healthy for them! Feel free to share your experience with us :0)
    BTW, you might want to check out the update at the end.

  3. Raw milk isn't entirely illegal here, you just have to own the cow (or part of it). There's a dairy based in Texas that will sell you part of their herd for a small fee and then they deliver to Albuquerque about once a week. I can send you more information if you're interested.

  4. Pat, I would love to get more info - feel free to send it via email if you feel more comfortable doing so. Hope your yogurt night with the kids went well :0)

    Thanks so much!

  5. Hey Carla! Love the blog! When I cool the milk I usually get it down to about 118-120 degrees and then add the yogurt and put it in the jars. I figure by the time it gets in the jars and starts culturing it's at the right temperature. I also put my pot of milk in a sink full of ice water to speed up the cooling. I have a smaller cooler that I fill up completely with my yogurt jars. I never use a water bath and it turns out just fine. I was intimidated about making yogurt for a long time, but once I tried it and realized how easy it was I do it a lot now. And I've learned that there are lots of ways to make it and it usually turns out just fine.

  6. Rachel,
    Thanks for 'stopping by', so to speak - it's good to hear from you! Have you ever killed off your starter from putting it in the milk too early / at a higher temp? Do you notice a difference in flavor? Thanks for sharing your experience & successful tips!

  7. My in-laws buy raw milk here in southern Colorado, but they have to say that it's "for their cats". Hahah! I have always wanted to learn how to do this...I need to get this one down good because yogurt is a staple at our house!

  8. Natalie,
    I think I might need to get myself a cat, lol! If you haven't tried it, jump in - it was SO EASY!!! I waited so long because I kept freaking myself out that it would be complicated or that I would somehow ruin it, but really, it's hard to ruin bacteria infused milk, haha! Afterwards I thought "wow, that was it??? Why did I wait so long!!" Good luck, let me know how it works out!