As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

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.


8 responses

  1. Joycita- could you please add a “search” function/button to your site? I am at a friend’s place studying and she just made yogurt. I’m going to make it this weekend. I have some questions regarding the maintaining the yogurt warm part of the ordeal.

    – I don’t have a cooler and things get quite icy in my Chicago apartment. Could I wrap the jar in towels and put it in my oven overnight? I wouldn’t/couldn’t put the oven on “warm” b/c that is about about 210 degrees. Any thoughts?

    – After you take it out in the morning do you have to strain it or anything?

    – When you take it out in the morning do you just put it into the refrigerator?

    My friend just used a thermometer but didn’t measure the yogurt or milk out.


    February 16, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    • Rach–

      Will look into adding a search function this weekend–thanks for the tip!

      I would wrap the jars in towels and put in your oven with the oven light on; I’ve done that before and it should stay warm with the extra heat generated from the light.

      I unusually do not strain my yogurt. I just unwrap it or take it from the cooler and put it directly into the fridge.

      However, Susan does strain; she says “…draining the yogurt to remove the whey will result in a much thicker yogurt. I usually line a colander with 2 layers of cheese cloth, add the yogurt and set it over a bowl to drain in the fridge overnight.”

      Recently I haven’t been using a thermometer (b/c mine broke); I am trying to get better and better at knowing (by feeling) when it is ready to inoculate.

      Let me know how it turns out!!

      February 17, 2011 at 6:10 pm

  2. Alegria,

    So, an update on my yogurt making experience. I’ve made two batches so far and they have been somewhat successful. My concerns are these:

    – Both times I haven’t really appreciated the taste. I have previously consumed no sugar, plain yogurt. The taste of the homemade yogurt tastes a little echado perder… like it is going bad.

    – The texture is not nice and smooth. I wonder how Greek yogurt is made. While I don’t expect to make it as wonderfully as the Greeks, I do wonder how I might be able to make it smoother. I’ve considered buying frozen cherries and putting the yogurt in a blender to have flavored and smoother yogurt. Thoughts?

    March 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    • A few thoughts:

      It helps to drain the whey from the yogurt as the whey becomes more sour and thus makes the yogurt sour.

      What sort of milk are you using? I would try to use the best quality milk available.

      Did you try straining it? I think that would help with the creaminess.

      And yes, I definitely thinking adding fruit and blending it a bit would be delicious!

      March 5, 2011 at 6:39 pm

  3. Rachelita

    Update: I added frozen berries today to the yogurt and I don’t recommend it. It came out a lot more icy because of the frozen fruit. Next attempt I’ll use dehydrated cherries. I’ll report back. Now I have 32 oz. of smoothie to drink.

    March 10, 2011 at 8:25 pm

  4. Rachelita

    Oh yes, that is what I did. I am talking about adding the fruit post yogurt. I even chilled the yogurt before I added the fruit. Again, next time I’ll try cutting up dried cherries and adding them (afterward).

    March 11, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    • And I think it would be better to thaw out the fruit to drain the extra water before adding too.

      March 11, 2011 at 2:51 pm

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