The local billy goat and I consume a shocking amount of yogurt: usually about 3 quarts a week. Yogurt makers are inexpensive (my model cost me $15 in 2003 and is now selling for $25 on amazon.com) and well worth it. Your first few batches may be a bit wobbly until you get the hang of it, but check out the math:
1 quart organic yogurt = ~$5
1 gallon organic milk = ~$5-6
1 gallon milk = 4 quarts yogurt
So. Depending on how much yogurt you eat, you might want to give it a try.
1/4 c. fresh (less than a week or two old) all-natural yogurt (try Fage,Stonyfield, or Brown Cow)
4 c. milk (your choice fat content: the thicker the milk, the thicker the yogurt. Try starting with whole and work your way down.)
After five years, my technique is half superstition and half science, but it works.
First, you heat up your milk to about 165°F. I used to use a thermometer, but now just look for foam. You don’t want it to boil. Then turn off the heat and forget about it for an hour or so while it cools down. Remove the skin and discard.
Meanwhile, right after I measure the milk, I put the starter yogurt into the measuring cup. I’ve never seen a recipe that says that you need to do this, but I find that things work out better if the yogurt is at room temperature when I mix it with the milk.
When the milk is cool enough that you can comfortably hold your finger in it, it’s cool enough. If you’re using a thermometer, you’re looking for about 105°F. It’s better to err on the side of too cool rather than too hot; I’ve forgotten about it for hours and not had a problem. Then add about half of the milk to the yogurt culture and whisk it smooth. Add the remaining milk to your yogurt container. Add the yogurt and milk mixture on top of this. Don’t bother to stir. Put it in your machine, plug it in, and let it cook for anywhere between 4 and 12 hours, depending on the age of the culture.
You’ll know when it’s done when you can clearly see a layer of whey that separates from the yogurt. You can pour that off, or keep it, your choice.
Aren’t you bascially leaving room temperature milk out on your counter for several hours? Why is this safe?
Two things. First, by bringing your milk up to 165°F, you are killing most of the most common milk-borne bacteria. Second, by seeding your milk mixture with “fresh” yogurt, you are giving the so-called “good” bacteria a head start. The idea is that the good bacteria outproduce the bad bacteria, and you end up with delicious yogurt.
Does it matter what kind of yogurt I use for a starter? Yes and no. For it to work, the most important thing is that your starter be fresh. You’ll also find that different brands of yogurt use a different mix of bacterial cultures, so a yogurt that you make from Dannon yogurt will taste different from one that you make from Trader Joe’s yogurt. My personal favorite starter is Fage.
Do I have to use a commercial starter every time? Heavens, no! I’ve been using my current yogurt culture as a starter for the next batch for about six months now. I only have to buy more yogurt when I travel or fall off the yogurt wagon for some other reason and it gets a couple of weeks old. Even then, I’ve sometimes reinvigorated it by making a really runny batch and then immediately making a good batch from the new one.
Why is my yogurt runny? There could be a couple of problems. First, you need to realize that homemade yogurt will almost always be thinner than commerical yogurt, which frequently comes with chemical stabilizers. But there could be other issues. The fattier your milk, the thicker your yogurt will be. It might just need to cook longer, even up to 24 hours. Or your culture could be bad, in which case you should buy a new one and start again. If this really bothers you, you could try spiking your milk/yogurt mixture with a couple of tablespoons of full-fat instant dry milk, although I have heard no-so-great things about the way that this product is made.
It’s really tart. Or curdly. Or something. What happened? If you forget to remove the skin, it’ll be gross. If the milk is too hot when you add it to the yogurt, the texture will be strange. If you forget to turn it off and let it go, say, 24 hours, it will be tart. None of these things will hurt you, but, depending on your tolerance for funky yogurt, you may or may not want to eat it.
What can I use it in? Everything! Most posts soon.