Here is how you can make your own yogurt*, because it is really easy and turns out tasty and fresh:
1. Heat up milk (any kind – lately I have been having tasty, repeatable results with whole milk**) in a saucepan or something over, oh, medium-high heat until it just about boils. This means you have to tend it or it will boil over/burn/etc. If it does boil over, no worries – the yogurt should turn out fine – scrubbing cooked milk just blows. Heating kills off organisms in the milk and denatures the milk proteins so the yogurt sets all creamy-like instead of in curds (next foray: cottage cheese!).
2. Take the pan off the heat and let it slowly cool down to a bit above body temperature (I just leave it on the counter – never have tried speeding the process in the fridge or with an ice bath or something, but I think you could end up letting it get too cool, and you want to catch it at just the right temperature to create a nice home for the bacteria to grow and munch). I check the temperature with a clean finger. Once I take it off the burner I also take the opportunity to mix in the skin on the milk and clean the bottom of the pan a little with a clean wooden spatula since once the pan cools down it’s harder to scrub it off. I’ve left all the bits in and it turns out just fine, with some interesting texture. But it’s your call!
3. Mix in 1 or 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (meaning, lots of hungry bacteria, ready to go!). Mix really well so all the bacteria get a fair chance to eat the milk sugars and propagate. Pour mixture into a squeaky clean vessel and seal with the cap. I use plastic food containers, or old yogurt containers, but there is probably some terrible leeching going on with the plastic, so maybe it’s time to look into glass jars.
4. Tuck the vessel tenderly into an insulation system of some sort. I fill a soft ice chest with blankets or shirts or whatever and make it cozy and then zip it up. People have successfully made yogurt in far more primitive settings that your home over the eons – you’ll be fine with whatever setup you have. I’ve experimented with heating pads and changing surrounding hot water, but my most consistent results involve simply insulating the vessel and leaving it alone for 7 hours.
You insulate because you want the bacteria to be warm and happy so they munch on the milk sugars and turn them into the lactic acid and other stuff that makes yogurt yogurt! I do 7 hours, but you can play with the time – think of it as: the longer you leave the bacteria in a warm environment, the more time they will have to munch and convert sugar to acid, so the longer you leave it, the more sour the product.
5. Refrigerate and enjoy! Lately I have been obsessed with just yogurt and sliced red grapes – oh man so good. Breakfast, snack, and dessert, yo. If you’re into the Fage strained yogurt, read this. I have successfully strained yogurt once using a clean pantyhose. True story. Made a tasty beet salad. Speaking of which: USE YOGURT INSTEAD OF SOUR CREAM! So good.
In conclusion, of course making yogurt like this is time-consuming, but it turns out so fresh, and, heck, you could even make little to-go cups of it with small reusable containers! Dude that is my next yogurt adventure once I start working. I also love how making yogurt expands your mind regarding the importance of microorganisms in the foods we eat.
Bon voyage! Genna
*I could have just linked to this exceptional yogurty resource and be done with it, but one more article on homemade yogurt can’t hurt!