Making your own yoghurt is an easy way to make a food that is cheaper, fresher, better for you, and better for the environment. Yoghurt is such an easy food to make if you just think of it as alive. If you have already gotten comfortable with yeast baking, this will be a snap. It likes food and warmth, and it doesn’t want competition from other organisms.
Choosing the right milk: Get educated
Start by getting good milk. I have tried unsuccessfully to make yoghurt from non-organic, big company milk. The cows are given antibiotics all the time so it’s in the milk and the yoghurt organisms can’t grow. What other explanation is there? Not to mention all the other reasons there are that those big dairy operations are disgusting. I have made it from Horizon Organic Milk, which is ultra- pasteurized and homogenized- i.e. dead.( I used to buy ultra-pasteurized milk when I had an apartment in Paris that didn’t have a refrigerator. It doesn’t sour! Bacteria doesn’t want it.) I have even made it with milk from non-organic Lewes Dairy, because I am told they only use antibiotics if a cow is sick, as they are smaller and can notice individual cows. It turns out well. My favorite, though, since I can’t get raw milk in Maryland, is the Nice Farms Creamery. It is pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized, but not homogenized, so the cream rises. Yum.The only reason he doesn’t get organically certified is that the hoops they would make him jump through are too expensive for a small dairy. Ironic, isn’t it. Here’s a young farmer who loves his cows, works his butt off to make the best product he can, and definitely sells better milk and butter than Horizon, and he can’t get certified. As Joel Salatin would say, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal!” (Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World) Great and very satisfying book about farming and what is wrong with the world, by the way. Wish I had written it.
Small, Local, and Whole:
So do look for the smallest dairy nearest you, and go visit them one day! Better yoghurt. And I really think you should use whole milk. My brother in law, a doctor of alternative medicine and TCM, Robert Clickner, in Charlottesville, said that generally lower fat milks are first stripped of their healthy butterfat and then made to taste creamier by the addition of dried milk solids which have been oxidized by the heat process. I think that’s how he explained it.( I have another brilliant brother-in-law, Dr.James Gerni in Indiana, who probably has more ammunition for me if he would care to comment…??) I would also read the Weston Price Foundation on healthy milk.
If this is your first time making yoghurt, you need a yoghurt culture. Buy a small pot of the unflavored version of what you enjoy eating, making sure it says it contains live cultures. I had a great culture that was given to me by my childhood doctor, the late Dr. Ali Mehrizi, who was Persian (Iranian). He taught me how to make yoghurt, drained yoghurt, and yoghurt/seltzer fizzy drinks! Eventually it got contaminated because I didn’t make it for a long time, and he has passed on. It was really tart! Now I just buy a plain Greek yoghurt I like, and use 2 tablespoons of that for a half gallon of milk. Use it fresh.
Clean and heat:
Use glass containers to store your yoghurt in. They are easy to clean, don’t absorb flavors or contain bisphenols, and they are non-reactive. A wide mouthed jar is easy to pour into and scrape out, but you can actually make it in a jam jar and then take that to work with you. Just make sure it doesn’t break.
Now that you have good milk, jars, and yoghurt, pour your milk into a clean pot and bring it just to a boil. Keep a close watch on it. I usually set a timer for 5-7 minutes because I can’t count how many times I have scrubbed burnt milk off the stove.
Let it cool:
Cut it off and let it cool to the warmth you would put in a baby’s bottle. It feels comfortable on your wrist. Depending on how much yoghurt you are making, this might take a while. If it gets too cold just give it a little warmth and stir it.
Inoculate/Add the yoghurt culture:
If you just want to make a quart, a tablespoon is fine. I don’t really measure a tablespoon, of course. I just scoop a soup spoon full. A dollop. Mix it into the warm/ tepid milk with a whisk. That really distributes the culture.
Put in Jars:
Using a clean funnel or canning funnel, carefully fill clean glass jars up to a half-inch of the rim. Wipe up spills. Put the lids on and find a quiet, warm place for the yoghurt to develop. In summer, when I eat the most yoghurt, I just set them on the counter next to the stovetop. In winter, I set them underneath the woodstove. I loosen the lids a little, because I imagine they need to breathe. This may not be true. In summer with a active culture they are ready in about a day. In winter up to three days. Once it is firm you should put it in the refrigerator where it will firm a little more.
The way Dr.Mehrizi made it was in a big bowl, with blankets piled on top to retain the heat. He always drained it. He said more warmth made it more sour and firm. This makes sense because the lactic acid is a metabolic by-product of the bacillus.
If you like Greek style yoghurt you can line a colander with muslin or any square of clean, thin cloth, set it over a bowl to catch the whey, and drain for as long as you want. You can have anything from a thicker, creamier yoghurt to an actual fresh cheese, if you squeeze it. You can flavor it if you like as well.
What can, but probably won’t, go wrong:
-If you put your culture in when the milk is too hot it will kill the culture and it will just sit and look at you. You can put more in later when it is cool if you catch it.
-If you add too much culture the acid will curdle the milk. This is not what you want but you can cover it and leave it out until the clear whey that separated out develops a nice sour twang. Then you can pour it through a cloth, let it drip, squeeze it gently until it forms a ball, and eat it as a cheese. I like it with crushed garlic mixed with salt and pepper and a few tablespoons of nice green extra virgin olive oil. That mixed up and poured over the ball of cheese is great on bread or crackers. Also you can mix it with the garlic, salt, and pepper, put it back in the cloth and squeeze some more, and form it into a cheese log, as if it were chevre. Excellent save.
-If you don’t eat it within a few weeks, like any other yoghurt mold will form on it. Bacteria and fungi like good food. Also, make a new batch before the last of what you have made becomes old-tasting. Any nasties that have taken up residence can transfer to your next batch.
-Yoghurt has different characteristics depending on when and how you make it. It can be runny, especially in winter, but it is still good. I have had it actually fizzy in the height of summer. It was delicious.
So there you have it: Get good milk, scald it, cool it, inoculate it, let it get thick, eat it, and save a bit for the next batch.