The Definitive Yogurt Post

Or, a single girl’s adventures in the oddly fascinating world of yogurt culture.

If any of you keep checking the comments on my blog (as I am wont to do when I am obsessed with a post) you might have noticed the comments flying between Vickie and me regarding the whole process of yogurt making.  It is just fascinating to me for some reason.

Now, I already wrote a ‘recipe’ for my homemade yogurt on the side bar. This is still how I make my yogurt every week–check it out, it even has pictures. But I always felt like I just had beginner’s luck, and didn’t completely understand why what I was doing worked.  Vickie asked a lot of questions, did some experimenting, and came up with a few variations on her own, so I thought I’d share EVERYTHING we’ve learned here.  I KNOW.  You are on the edge of your seats.  So without further ado, the yogurt chronicles begin.

When I tried to make that frozen yogurt last week (failed attempt.  But wait, I thought of a new way to use that icy sweetened yogurt.  It will be great in my smoothies!)  I realized how delicious the strained yogurt was, and how it was very similar to FAGE greek yogurt, and in fact, how, the longer you strained it, the thicker it would become, until, as Vicky (*Vicky with a ‘y’ is my personal trainer.) said, it is ‘yogurt cheese.’  So that got me thinking.  I routinely buy a gallon of milk to start my yogurt.  But I only use half a gallon per batch.  And sometimes the second half gallon is still good by the time I make the next batch.  But sometimes not.  I throw a lot of milk down the sink.  I decided to splurge and buy a gallon of organic milk for $6.00.  And make two batches of yogurt–one regular, and one ‘greek yogurt.’  This means for $6.00 I get 4 cups of organic greek yogurt and 8 cups of regular organic yogurt.  Which I think would cost me about $17.00 if I just bought the yogurt in the store.

One of the big points of discussion was whether or not you need to heat the milk to 180-190 degrees.  When I first researched the process, all the articles said to do that.  So I did it.  I didn’ t really know why.  So when Vickie questioned whether or not it was necessary, I had to go find the answer.  It is not 100 percent necessary (in fact, Vickie had success making a batch of yogurt WITHOUT heating to the high temperature) but I did find this information on why it was recommended. This same guy has a pretty good video about yogurt making.

Another thing we talked about was yogurt makers.  Vickie decided against the commercial yogurt makers for the same reason that I did.  Some of them have you make small batches in little glass jars, and others use a bigger container but it is plastic.  Once I realized that a yogurt maker was pretty much an ‘incubator’ to keep your yogurt at a constant temperature, I decided it was a piece of equipment that I did not need.  There are some websites that tell you how to use a crockpot to make yogurt.  This did not work for Vickie.  I think it could work, but you would have to do some tests to see how hot your particular crockpot is.  It seems that one thing everyone agrees on is that the yogurt cultures will DIE in a temperature above 115 degrees.  Vickie found that her oven with the pilot light on was the perfect incubator.  My microwave works well.  We both wrap our containers in a towel as a further insulator.  I found this nice quilted pillow sham in my drawer, and it is a really nice size and thickness for my containers.

I think the video I linked to recommends using a heating pad for incubation.  Again, I think there could be a lot of variability in the temperature of heating pads (okay, I remember almost baking a tiny baby puppy on a heating pad in summer…) so again, I think you’d have to be careful and check your temperature to make sure you don’t heat the milk to over 115 degrees.  And once I start incubating, I just want to leave it.  I don’t want to keep checking on it.

That brings me to our next topic:  incubation time.  When I started, the articles I read said 4-6 hours.  They said that longer than that would not yield a thicker product, but it would make the yogurt more tart.  And since I do not like tart anything, I have pretty much kept to the 4 hour incubation time.  Once in a while, if I am busy I will let it go for 6 hours.  Vickie likes the idea of making a batch and then leaving it overnight to incubate.

Next, to make the ‘greek style’ yogurt, you have to strain it.  Here is my professional set-up.

Just a nice enamel strainer, lined with 4 layers of cheesecloth, sitting on top of an old tupperware bowl.  The article I read said to gather the four corners of the cheesecloth and twist lightly.  So that is what I did.  Vickie used 2 large size coffee filters, and said they worked great–the yogurt came right off the filters.  I think the coffee filters might be more economical.  It seems that straining yields a little less than half the volume of the original yogurt.

This is a picture of the liquid that has separated from the yogurt.  I have used it in smoothies before.  I think it still has some nutritional benefits.

And edited this morning to add a picture of the final product.  This picture doesn’t show how creamy the yogurt got, but you can see how thick it is!  This yogurt was strained on the kitchen counter for  a couple of hours, and then put in the refrigerator to continue straining overnight.

So there you have it.  What, you ask, is a single person going to do with THAT MUCH YOGURT?  Well (to be read Forrest Gump style) I will be using yogurt with fruit, yogurt in scones, yogurt WITH scones, yogurt in baking, yogurt instead of sour cream, yogurt in smoothies, yogurt in soup, yogurt to TOP soup, yogurt with muesli, yogurt to fill pancakes, yogurt with walnuts and dates, yogurt dip, yogurt chicken……  I pretty much stopped drinking milk when I started making yogurt.  And now it has usurped cottage cheese as my favorite dairy product.

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11 thoughts on “The Definitive Yogurt Post

    • Thank you so very much, Miz. That means a lot to me, coming from you.

      And I had to go look up go gurt. That sounds like a fun, OUTSIDE food!

  1. REALLY good job putting it all together!

    I am not at all sure that I am holding a 100+ degree heat for the entire incubation process.

    I did discover two things that can drop the milk temperature (accidentally):

    1) The yogurt starter – if 1/2 cup is taken right from the refrigerator and added to the warmed milk, it can drop the temp of the milk 5-10 degrees. So I take my 1/2 cup starter out of the refrigerator and let is set at room temperature to warm (starter can NOT go in the microwave or it will kill the live cultures (we think).

    2) if the milk is warmed in one container and then dumped in another container (for incubation) this can also drop the milk’s temperature 5-10 degrees.

    I will post (after I try a couple more different combinations). I don’t feel like I have the big picture yet.

    • Good observations, Vickie. I agree with all. But I guess as long as my yogurt is coming out okay I am okay with not knowing the exact incubation temperature.

      You will have the TRUE definitive post on yogurt making!

    • I like that–flaunting the rules. That is a relatively new thing for me in the cooking/baking arena, especially as I have tried to make favorite recipes more healthy.

      Speaking of healthier recipes, I think I am going to make the ginger cookies on Christmas morning. That will be fun, and it will make the house smell delicious by the time my sister and dad arrive.

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