Making Yoghurt

My big project over the last few days has been making yoghurt, thanks in part to some heated yoghurt related discussions on CUSS and Other Rants. I was going to make cheese this weekend too, but I don’t really need cheese just yet, so maybe next weekend. Unless I can come up with some amazing uses for cheese. Anyway, prepare for cheese, is the point I am trying to make.

Anyway, people seem to think that yoghurt is hard to make, filled with mystique and difficulty. It’s not, and I made it even more easy by borrowing my father’s yoghurt maker, because while I like being a bad-ass and making stuff at home, I am also lazy. And it’s cold, making it hard to maintain proper temperatures for incubating yoghurt.

So, here’s how you make yoghurt:

Step one: heat a quart of milk to around 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 Celsius), to sterilize it. I used pasteurized but not homogenized milk, which is what I would recommend if you cannot obtain raw milk. You can use any kind of milk; I of course advocate for organic full-fat cow, sheep, or goat, but you can use camel, mare, human, whatever you can get your hands on, at any fat percentage. Heat it in a stainless steel pot, if you can, and use a metal spoon to stir it as it heats. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can heat the milk until it starts to foam.

Step two: allow the milk to cool to between 105-110 degrees (41-43 degrees Celsius). If you lack a thermometer, splash a little on your wrist to check the temperature like you do when heating milk in a bottle for infants or checking the temperature of bath water, if you lack children as a frame of reference.

Step three: add two tablespoons of a plain yoghurt with live cultures. I use Nancy’s, but you don’t have to. The important thing is the “live cultures” on the label. You can also buy plain old yoghurt cultures in some health food stores. Whisk well. Some people like to make a slurry of a little bit milk and yoghurt in a separate bowl and then pour the slurry into the big pot. I don’t.

Step four: incubate! If you have a yoghurt maker, pour the mixture into the cups, close the yoghurt maker, turn it on, and forget about it. If you don’t, you can incubate the yoghurt in the oven, using the pilot light for warmth or periodically turning the oven on (with the yoghurt out!), allowing it to warm. Try not to jostle the yoghurt.  You’re going for105-122 degrees (41-49 Celsius, incidentally).

Incubation can take 8-14 hours. As the yoghurt incubates, it will thicken. The longer you allow it to incubate, the thicker and more tangy it will get. I like me some tangy yoghurt. After it’s incubated, the yoghurt is ready to eat, and it should be refrigerated.

Here’s where the optional step comes in: straining. I really like Greek-style yoghurt, which is traditionally strained. To strain yoghurt, you need to place a colander over a bowl or pot or something, and then line the colander with cheesecloth which has been folded over. Or a clean lightweight cotton rag. Whatever. Pour the yoghurt into the colander and allow it to hang out for a few hours. An amazing amount of liquid will collect below while your yoghurt gets thick, creamy, and fucking delicious.

See, making yoghurt isn’t so hard! You can re-use yoghurt from this batch a couple of times for starter, although you should periodically buy new yoghurt for fresh, happy cultures. As always when making cultured dairy products, if your yoghurt looks funny, smells weird, or just doesn’t feel right, toss it. Better safe than sorry.