Learning to Make Yogurt

My latest little project was to take up making my own yogurt. I love yogurt and really prefer it made from whole milk. In fact, I won’t buy the non-fat variety or any variety with additives like fruit; basically anything with extra sugar. I also really like Greek yogurt, though I’m happy any smooth and creamy variety. Well that means it can be tough to get the goods sometimes. And, it’s hard to believe, but I’m spending way too much on the stuff. No, I’m not eating gallons, but at $6 to $7 for 32 ounces of Greek yogurt I can run up a $20 bill weekly eating a couple of cups a day.

The solution? Well there’s always making your own.

Before I moved to my new apartment I had purchased a yogurt maker but never used it. Somewhere during the move it seems to have going missing and I didn’t think much of it at the time. Then came this year’s Prime Day on Amazon. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a big Prime Day shopper, in fact, I think this was the first time I even bought something during it. I am a Prime member, but that’s mostly for other benefits.

Still I found that a Dash Greek Yogurt Maker was on sale for a really good price and, even better, I had a enough points on one of my credit cards to get it without actually spending money. Well, I did have to spend money in the past to get the points so really, at the bottom of it all, I’d already spent the money – so might as well use it.

Of course a yogurt maker is really only a low temperature heater. That is, you do most of the work of preparing your yogurt outside of the maker, it’s just there to provide a good environment for the fermentation of your batch. I would have to do the work.

I don’t own a real double boiler and had to dig around for the right tools. Yogurt is simple, but it does require a few items. You don’t really need a yogurt maker, but it does simplify things. First I got out a pot and a pyrex bowl. Luckily I also had a cooking thermometer which may be the single most important thing you need to make yogurt.

I put five cups of whole milk into the freshly washed and rinsed bowl. You really don’t want any soap residue here. Then with a few inches of water in the pot I put the bowl across the top of the pot and brought the water to a boil. As I understand it you don’t really want simply put the milk on the stove as it makes it a lot harder to get a uniform heating and hots spots on the bottom of a pot could overheat and make things problematic. I wanted to get the milk heated to somewhere around 185F. You don’t want to boil the milk and I’m told it should be over 180F so that something or other happens to the proteins in the milk. I’m going to run out and get a PhD in physics and molecular biology next week, but for now I’m just going to assume I’d been told this correctly.

It took forever to heat the milk the first time. And that’s completely my fault. I’d forgotten that a lid for the bowl would keep the heat in and speed things up. Once I realized this things went along a lot quicker. I did check the milk every couple of minutes and whisked it when I did to keep any clumps or skin from forming anywhere. Soon, which is to say soon once I remember the lid, I had the milk heated.

You then need to cool it down to between 90F and 110F. I can’t be hotter or cooler or the starter won’t take – again, so I’m told. I haven’t actually tried to make yogurt above or below that range, so hey, I don’t know. I’m no longer in the business of disregarding good instructions just because I want to break things. Usually.

Once the temp was in the right range I added several tablespoons of fresh yogurt I had from some I’d recently purchased. Again following instructions, I used yogurt that hadn’t been sitting in the fridge for weeks (this never happens at my place anyway). I mixed it in a small bowl with a little heated milk first so it would even spread throughout the full five cups. By the way, there’s nothing magical about the measurement of five cups, it just happens to be the capacity of my yogurt maker.

I then put the mixture in the yogurt maker, set it for twelve hours and went to bed. The instructions with the yogurt maker suggested that between eight and twelve hours would be just right for my yogurt. With whole milk it said eight would be the minimum needed for fermentation and twelve would produce a nice tart blend. As twelve hour coincided perfectly with my coffee break at work (I live two blocks from work), it was the perfect amount of time.

I resisted the urge to check on things when I left for work on the morning at 5:15 AM. Sure it was probably ready, but I was going for the full twelve hours and I didn’t want to mess things up.

At 8:30 AM I was home and sure enough, I had yogurt. The next step for regular yogurt is just to toss the container in the fridge to cool and stop the fermentation as well as ‘set’ the yogurt. You can also strain it at this point which is what I did on the that first batch. The Dash Yogurt maker has a strainer you can use to separate the whey from the yogurt solids. It would take a few hours, in the fridge, and that would coincide perfectly with my 2:00 PM return from work.

Good enough.

When I got home I had Greek yogurt in the stainer, and whey in the bottom of the container. Lots of whey. Way whey. Bad, eh?

There’s a lot you can do with whey, it’s very good for you, but I’m going to leave that for another time. I used what I had to store some feta cheese, we’ll see how that goes.

So how was it?

Honestly it was good yogurt. I should have blended some of they whey back into it as mine was a little too dry. Next time I make Greek yogurt I’ll experiment with just the right amount. You can also achieve this by leaving it to strain for less time, but my work schedule this may only work on weekends. Still my yogurt was delicious. Of course since I’d strained it so much I didn’t have five cups of yogurt, more like two and a half.

That evening I went at it again, remembering the lid and what I’d learned from my first attempt. This time I made regular yogurt by skipping the straining step. This time I did have five cups when I finished and the taste of this batch was even better than the first.

What I’ve learned is that making yogurt is really, really simple. Yes it requires a bit of care and no, you don’t actually need a yogurt maker if you’ve got an oven or other method of maintaining a low temperature for the fermentation process. You could use a sous vide cooker, the oven, all sorts of things I’d wager. The yogurt make just makes it easy.

Is it actually cheaper? Yes, by about half or so, at least here at my markets. Basically regular yogurts costs whatever milk costs in your neighborhood. I put in five cups of milk and got out five cups of regular yogurt – no extra costs (unless you really want to amortize my pots, bowls, and electricity). The Greek cost a bit more as I got only half as much, though I did use the whey.

I’m definitely hooked on this and am going to be running out for some more milk rather sooner than later.


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