By Contributing Editor
It’s easier than you might think to start your own, in-home yogurt production. Unlike other do-it-yourself dairy projects, there are no fancy enzymes to track down, no fancy equipment to purchase. With a carton of milk, a little leftover yogurt (from the store), and a spare half-hour, you’ll be whipping up a batch of fresh yogurt in no time. For equipment, instructions, and cultures for making yogurt, cream cheese, buttermilk, and more, check out our Homemade Cheese and Dairy Product Kit.
As with most DIY projects, the sustainability advantages are huge. Rid your life of those insipid single-serving yogurt cups. Make a grocery-store supply chain obsolete. Stop endorsing the carbon-costly shipment of yogurt across the country. And not that you likely have a backyard bovine (and if you do, that’s awesome!) but if you did, you could make yogurt from your own pet cow.
About that supply chain bit. It’s really the best and biggest part of doing things yourself. Taking responsibility for making your own consumer goods reduces things down to the lowest common denominator, or raw materials. In this case, that’s milk. Milk is everywhere in this country. It’s consumed everywhere, and it’s produced everywhere. Chances are pretty good that the milk in your grocery store didn’t cross any state lines to get to you. This isn’t always true– I’m guessing they don’t produce much milk in Arizona, say, or Hawaii– but if you live someplace with regular rainfall, your milk is probably a fairly local product.
Yogurt, on the other hand, is not so widespread. Because there’s fewer companies making yogurt than making milk, yogurt is more likely to be shipped from great distances. If you start making your own, using milk from closer to home, you’re creating a huge energy savings. No more nationally-shipped yogurt coming into your house; you can do it yourself.
Yogurt Making Supplies:
1 quart milk. Try whole milk your first time; it’s the easiest one to work with. You don’t need raw milk for this to work, but you DO need to make sure you’re not buying milk labeled ULTRA-pasteurized. This process breaks down some of the necessary proteins in milk, and it’ll make your yogurt fail. The cartons will be clearly labeled. Plain old pasteurized is fine, just steer clear from ultra-pasteurized.
1 tbsp yogurt with live active cultures.
Two saucepans that fit inside each other, with the smaller one big enough to hold all the milk.
Optional but recommended: a thermometer that reads up to 200 degrees at least.
A large thermos, for incubating the yogurt.
A container to hold the finished yogurt, one quart in size.
Step one: Pour a few inches of water into the larger of the two saucepans, and set the smaller one on top. This creates a double boiler, which will ensure the milk doesn’t heat too quickly and scorch. *Note: If you have a ceramic-top electric stove with very low burner settings, using a double boiler may be unnecessary.* Pour the milk into the smaller saucepan, and begin heating it. This takes awhile. It’s good to have a book, some knitting, or some dishes to scrub while you’re waiting. Or, you could be making dinner at the same time.
Step two: Heat the milk to 185 degrees, stirring occasionally. Stirring is more important the hotter the milk gets.
Step three: Cool the milk to 110 degrees. The easiest way to do this is to set the saucepan in a cold water bath. Watch closely; the milk cools more quickly that you might think.
Step four: Once the milk is cooled to 110 degrees, stir in your yogurt. This little bit of yogurt will provide all the microorganisms needed to turn all your milk into yogurt. Stir well to make sure the yogurt, or “starter” is evenly distributed.
Step five: Pour the hot milk into your thermos, and set it someplace warm and still for seven hours. This is the incubation stage, and it can actually be done several ways. The thermos method is the one I used, but I’ve heard of other folks using their slow cooker, their oven, or even a hot car on a sunny day to incubate their yogurt. Feel free to be creative, I guess!
Step six: Once the seven hours are up, open your thermos and you’ve got yogurt! There will be a layer of yellowish whey floating on top of the finished yogurt. Whey makes a great addition to bread or pizza dough, or you can just pour it off. It might take some shaking or stirring to loosen the finished yogurt from the bottom of the thermos, but with a little persuasion it should pour out. Pour the yogurt into your storage container.
Enjoy the yogurt however you see fit! I like mine for breakfast. Check out this great recipe for tandoori chicken with homemade yogurt for a different way to use yogurt.
Now that you’ve made yogurt once, you may never have to buy it again. To begin a fresh batch of yogurt, just take a tablespoon of your homemade yogurt and begin the whole process again. If you want to use homemade yogurt for a “starter,” it’s best to do this within 5-7 days, to ensure the culture is still active.
Enjoy your homemade yogurt! Making it yourself gives you the flexibility and opportunity to be creative, and has huge sustainability advantages as well. Make it with local milk, and quit supporting big rigs travelling our nation’s highways, filled with yogurt.