Making Yogurt

June 15, 2011

When I started checking out yogurt books from the library, I was expecting something like an ice cream maker book with a hundred different recipes on how to make yogurt. I was sorely disappointed, as most yogurt books give you one to four recipes on how to make yogurt, and then about 50-100 recipes on cooking with yogurt. In the end, I turned to Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz because he explained why certain things were being done.

One of the reasons I have never really attempted making yogurt before was because I really didn’t want to spend money trying to keep it insulated and warm for 8 hours, especially if I tried this once and never did it again. Katz also had a solution for this with items I already had on hand. So, I heated a little bit of water to 120⁰ F and poured it in an ice chest, high enough to cover most of the jar I was going to use. I overheated it because I knew the ice chest would cool it a touch, and figured by time I was going to put the yogurt mixture in it that it would have cooled a little more. In hind sight, I didn’t need to heat the water: my tap water comes out near 120⁰.

Ice chest water temp

With a jar full of water, I measure the temp of the water in the ice chest for fermenting yogurt.

Next, I heated a quart of milk to nearly 180⁰. Originally, when I read this step in all the recipes, this made absolutely no sense to me because the next step is to cool the milk to 110⁰. The milk I bought was already pasteurized, so heating the milk was pointless to me. No so, according to Katz. Heating up the milk makes for thicker yogurt. I got to looking at another book, Better than Store-Bought: A Cookbook written in 1979 by Helen Witty and Elizabeth Schneider Colchie, and they stress, “Do not be tempted to leave out this step. It ensures a smooth, even curd.” Katz then suggested putting the pot into an ice bath, but I thought it would just be easier to go ahead and put the heated milk into my jar and put that in the ice bath. This cooling has been a bit tricky for me, as the temperature at the bottom of the jar is colder than the top, so I’ve overshot 110⁰ a few times with the top too hot and the bottom too cold.

Cooling the milk

Once I got the temperature down, I added only a tablespoon of yogurt which claimed to have live bacteria in it. Katz says that his older copy of The Joy of Cooking says that the lesser amount of yogurt “starter” actually gives the bacteria room to grow, which results in a less watery yogurt. I then placed the yogurt in the cooler. Up to this point, it had taken me 30 minutes to process.

As to what yogurt to use as a starter, it needs to contain live active cultures and should not have been pasteurized after the yogurt was made. In addition, the yogurt should not contain things like gelatin, which is used as a thickener.

The next morning, which was about 11 hours later, I checked to see if the yogurt had fermented to my satisfaction. First off, the water inside the cooler was 85⁰. The yogurt in the jar was firm and did not slosh around when I tipped the jar slightly. I opened it up and tasted it, and it was good. It still had a slightly sweet flavor, but then again, I’m not accustomed to eating yogurt that hasn’t been chilled. I declared it a success, and placed it in my refrigerator, where Katz says it will store for weeks.

Now, I’ve read different things regarding using another tablespoon of your homemade yogurt to start the next batch of yogurt. Some claim that your yogurt will start to pick up other bacteria from your home, so a fresh starter is necessary. Katz didn’t seem to have an issue with this, and my logical thinking tends to agree. I mean, we have only had controlled, single strand bacteria and yeast for maybe the last hundred years, since Louis Pastuer. Therefore, all yogurts made for the millenniums leading up to this discovery would have been wild, whatever bacteria was there, fermentation of milk. I think if I started having problems, then I would get a new starter, but otherwise, if I’m constantly buying yogurt to get that pure bacteria, then I might as well just be eating store bought yogurt because I’m buying it. However, for as easy as it is to make, it is really inexpensive to make. I’ve seen cheap $2 a quart yogurt full of fillers like gelatin, and for those same $2 I can buy a gallon of milk and use a culture repeatedly and get four quarts of yogurt without fillers and with very little effort.

Update: Now that I have a few batches of yogurt made, the other day I decided to be lazy and use the microwave to heat the milk to room temperature, but not warmer. I found out that not heating the milk up to 180⁰ makes the yogurt runnier and it does produce a little bit of curd rather than being smooth yogurt. So, my cheating did not pay off.



One Response to “Making Yogurt”

  1. […] YoChee Way by Nikki & David Goldbeck basically skims over how to make yogurt, leaving it to the instructions of the yogurt maker unit, going directly to converting yogurt to […]

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