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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Making Yogurt

When I make yogurt, I am connecting to a tradition that is thousands of years old. Yogurt is the number one consumed probiotic food in the United States. It is very affordable to make at home, and the end result can be far better for your health than several of the commercially prepared products. Last Friday, I made a half gallon batch of yogurt. Here's how...

I began by scrubbing down all surfaces and spraying them with sanitizing solution. I sanitize my equipment and surfaces with an acid-base sanitizer called Star-San, which I can find at my local brew supply shop. I do not own a double boiler, so I make one using two pots. I use double boiler so that I do not directly heat or scorch the milk. To make a double boiler, I place a smaller pot within a larger pot and fill the larger pot with some water. How much water? That's the trick; you want the smaller pot to float in the water without the water overflowing from the large pot onto the stove.

Carefully, pour a half-gallon of milk into the inner pot. You may find that you need to remove more water from your double boiler so the large pot does not overflow.

I pause here to say that you can make raw milk yogurt, and that would follow a separate process. Today, I am giving directions for yogurt making using pasteurized milk.

Turn on the stove and heat the double boiler. In the meantime, sterilize your equipment. In my case, I sterilized a half gallon tempered glass jar and lid, my spoon and tip of my thermometer. I allowed those to air dry.

I waited for my milk to slowly come up to 185 degrees F. I would occasionally stir the milk and remove the skin that would sometimes form on top. Once at temperature, I turned off the heat and allowed it to sit in the hot water bath at 185 degrees F for 5 minutes. In the meantime, I made an ice water bath.

Let's pause to discuss why I heat the milk to 185 degrees F. When you make yogurt, you are creating the perfect environment for microbes to thrive. The goal is to select for only yogurt-making bacteria and not anything else. Pasteurized milk is a level playing field for both good and harmful bacteria. Somewhere between pasteurization at the factory and your refrigerator, your pasteurized milk could potentially have picked up a few harmful bacteria. This is usually no problem if it is just a few in a refrigerated environment, but if those few multiply to thousands during yogurt making, it is no good.  So, we heat pasteurized milk again before culturing it to destroy any potentially harmful bacteria that might be present right before we culture the milk with yogurt-bacteria.

After 5 minutes, I quickly cooled the milk to 115 degrees F, using the ice bath and stirring quickly.  I poured the milk into the sterile glass jar. I added a packet of thermophilic yogurt culture; if you don't have starter culture packets, you can also add 1/4-1/2 cup of live-active culture, plain yogurt to culture your batch. I placed the lid on the jar and shook it vigorously for two minutes.

The type of yogurt starter culture you use will determine the taste, consistency and process that is used. These set of directions are for a thermophilic yogurt culture, which is most common. (Mesophilic cultures are incubated at lower temperatures).  Yogurt can be thick, runny, thin, or ropey in consistency. Many years ago, I used Stoney Field Farm yogurt to culture and got ropey yogurt. Yogurt can taste mildly sweet to very tart. Most commercial yogurt producers will add thickening agents, so expect homemade yogurt to be thinner unless you are adding gelatin or powdered milk.

Once cultured, the milk needs to incubate at 105-115 degrees F. My particular culture called for incubation at 112 degrees F.  What do you do if you don't have a fancy yogurt machine or incubator? There are luckily several options. In the past, I have kept mine in a warm water bath in an ice chest. I now have thermos specially designed for yogurt making, which requires no electricity. Last Friday, I wanted to try the old-fashioned towel method for the first time. I found a draft free and warm area of my kitchen. I then wrapped the jar in two thick towels and let it sit there for many hours.

Incubation often takes 6-8 hours. I checked my yogurt at 6 hours and it still looked like milk. So, I allowed my yogurt to sit several more hours and eventually it gained the consistency and taste of yogurt. If you incubate your yogurt for too long, you run the risk of very tart yogurt. I did incubate my batch for closer to 12 hours, but I was lucky. It tastes perfectly and has a wonderfully thick consistency due to the culture I used.


  1. Thank you Katrina Bogdon,
    Your blog is so useful and helpful. It is mostly useful especially for patient.Yogurt is available in a variety of different flavors, although plain yogurt is the simplest, most wholesome and versatile. You get more about Yogurts on http://homemadeyogurts.com