I Was Spoiled by Yogurt
I was spoiled by yogurt while serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia.
In addition to up a recycling project at an orphanage and teaching English at the university, I gave private English classes to a German/Bolivian boy whose family settled in Bolivia some 20+ years ago. As a Peace Corps volunteer, one cannot take monetary payment for services given. The German family was very thankful for their son’s private lessons, and as a way of thanking me, gave me homemade bread, pickles, cheese, cured meats, jam and yogurt. The family owned a dairy, so milk was omnipresent.
When I returned to the States, I longed to have freshly made yogurt. I missed the sour bite that I grew accustomed to over the two years and I missed seeing the cows whose milk I was consuming . I was determined to start making my own yogurt.
Lucky for me, I found a dairy here in Central Texas from which I could buy fresh milk every two weeks. The cows are the ones that frolic in our bucolic dreams. They eat grass. They aren’t given hormones. They are treated with dignity.
Once I found the dairy, I needed to find a recipe. I searched online and found many recipes, after all, yogurt is quite simple to make. However, my curiosity got the best of me, and ended up purchasing the book by Anne Mendelson, Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages. If you enjoy cooking and learning about the history of food, I highly recommend this book. It is a wonderful reference that weaves together the history of dairy products (horse, goat, cow, sheep, etc. etc) throughout the world with 120 recipes, simple and complex alike.
Making yogurt usually takes place at my house in the evening. (You’ll see why shortly.) Flip to page 158 and you will find “Homemade Yogurt: Basic Recipe with Cow’s Milk.” The steps are as followed:
2 quarts milk
4 tablespoons plain unflavored yogurt (as the starter) *I generally buy organic yogurt*
“Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan and gradually heat it to or just below boiling.”
When I first started making yogurt, I had a thermometer. However, it kept getting steam in it and now it no longer works. So, I’ve learned to heat the milk slowly and recognize when it is near the boiling point. Because you want the milk to heat slowly, make sure you are heating the milk on medium heat and you are stirring occasionally. This should take ~ 15 minutes. However, it is best if you are right near the pot so as to not burn or boil the milk. You can tell the milk has reached the “magic point” when you see small bubbles and the milk looks like it wants to start “rolling” like if you were to boil a pot of water.
Remove the pan of milk from the heat.
“Let it partly cool until not quite hot to the touch, about 110 to 115 degrees.” (Without a thermometer, this feels like a very hot bath that you would get into without getting yourself burned.) I speed up the cooling process by either placing a large metal spoon (metal conducts heat away from the milk) into the milk and stirring frequently OR by placing the pot of milk into cold water. The stirring method takes ~15 minutes and the water immersion method takes ~10 minutes. Again, you want to be present during this process so the milk arrives at the proper temperature.
Since I make the yogurt in the evening, I always let it set overnight. Inevitably, this is way more than 6 hours (I sleep a lot!); there is no harm in letting the yogurt have more time to set.
In the morning, open the cooler, unwrap the towel from the jar and open it. Voila! The consistency should be that of“delicate custard, not a heavy putting.”
I find that my yogurt keeps much longer than store-bought yogurt. Sometimes several months even. I use it in place of sour cream; place dollops on top of spicy lentils; and eat it for breakfast with granola.