This week, I did something I've never done before. I made my own, homemade yogurt! I had read about yogurt making online, but figured I had my Fage and Chobani and such, so there's no need to do extra work just for yogurt. Right? Wrong! I have to say, even though my first try wasn't 'perfect', it was still amazing and better than anything I've had from a store. Interested? Read on!
At my local Farmer's Market, I am lucky enough to have access to milk from local, grass-fed cows. Even better, it's not homogenized! They have both raw and pasteurized milk; I buy the pasteurized (but unhomogenized) stuff because I am feeding it to my children, so I want the bacteria killed for safety (and my own /paranoid/ peace of mind!) I have heard that raw milk is less allergenic, though. I do think the way homogenization changes the size of the fat molecules in store bought milk isn't a good thing for our health. Milk from grass fed cows is *much* healthier, too, and contains lots of omega-3's. Yum.
So I bought a gallon of unhomogenized whole milk and set about making yogurt. You can use any milk, store bought or fresh, as long as it is not "ultra pasteurized." It can even be low fat, but the higher the fat content, the creamier your yogurt will be.
I followed the basic directions on this site because they are simple and straightforward:
1) pour a half gallon of milk in your crock pot
2) turn it on low for 2 1/2 hours (I left mine for 3 hours)
3) unplug the crock pot, don't lift the lid, and leave it alone for 3 hours
4) scoop out 2 cups of the warm milk, put it in a bowl with a half cup of plain (store bought or homemade) yogurt, whisk together and return to the crock pot and stir
5) put on the lid and wrap the crock pot in a heavy towel or two and let it sit for 8 hours (unplugged)
That's it! Yogurt in the morning. I left mine for closer to 11 hours because I went to bed and left it sitting on the counter wrapped in towels. It's important not to stir it or move the crock pot once it is wrapped in towels. It needs to sit undisturbed to form yogurt.
When you whisk in the 1/2 cup of yogurt, you are adding the culture to the milk that will multiply and create yogurt. You can use any brand as long as it is plain and says "live and active cultures" on the label. I used Fage; be aware that using Greek yogurt is fine, but it won't make your yogurt any thicker than using regular yogurt.
After 8-10 hours, open the lid and you'll have yogurt.
If you used non-homogenized milk, the cream will have risen to the top. That's why it is a bit yellow. I just stirred it back in and it dissolved and was creamy in the end. It still separates a bit in the fridge, kind of like Stonyfield Farms Cream Top yogurt used to be before they started homogenizing their milk (boo!)
Homemade yogurt is not quite as thick and smooth as store bought yogurt. This is normal:
It is perfect right now for eating or for making smoothies! But if you want to thicken it a bit, just line a colander with cheesecloth or coffee filters and spoon it in, like this:
Put the colander over a bowl and keep it in the fridge for an hour or several hours until it is as thick as you like. You will end up with less yogurt as the whey drains off. You can discard the whey or use it in recipes or smoothies.
After a couple of hours, spoon your yogurt into a clean container. I just used my old Fage container. A half gallon of milk yielded about one full 35 oz container of yogurt and cost under $3.
You can then whisk it gently if you want your yogurt to be extra smooth.
The resulting yogurt tastes SO good! Mine was sweet and fresh tasting and not as tart as commercial yogurt. It is just fantastic! There's nothing like fresh yogurt from local milk. This is something I feel good about eating and giving to my kids.
If you want to get more particular and maybe even get thicker yogurt, I have read that temperature makes a big difference. If you have the time and inclination, you can monitor your milk to be sure it reaches 180 degrees, then allow it to cool to exactly 110 degrees and add the 1/2 cup of yogurt to it, and then try and keep it around that temperature for several hours. Apparently if you do this you get more consistent results. There are a lot of methods out there, including using hot water baths, mason jars, and coolers, but I like the simplicity of this crock pot method. So this is the method I am going to keep using!
Have fun and let me know how *your* homemade yogurt turns out!