Disgusted with the watery texture of supermarket yogurts and unable to maintain a regular supply of Rizal Dairy’s Greek yogurt, I decide to try my hand at making my own yogurt.
Making yogurt is, surprisingly, easy enough; so easy in fact that I now make it regularly. No special equipment is required. All that’s needed is milk, a starter (about ¼ to ½ cup of store-bought yogurt), a stockpot that fits inside a larger pot (for a waterbath), and – this is absolutely crucial – an instant-read or candy thermometer; I use my Wilton professional thermometer.
Once I’ve got my equipment, I create a water jacket using the two stockpots. This ensures consistent results and prevents the milk from burning. The larger pot is filled with water while the smaller pot is filled with milk. I’ve used whole milk and carabao’s milk – both produce excellent, full-bodied yogurts (naturally, considering how much fat and milk solids are retained in these types of milk); while low fat milk produces a very thin yogurt with somewhat insipid flavor (again, not surprising). I beseech you to not even think about using skim milk.
When milk nears 185°F, a film forms on the milk’s surface. This is also the temperature, incidentally, when milk begins to froth as for a latte, say.
Placed on the stovetop over medium heat, the water heats the milk to 185°F, the temperature needed to remove the possibility of bacteria or anything else that may interfere with cultivating the yogurt cultures. The milk is then cooled to 110°F, the temperature at which the yogurt cultures start to reproduce. I do this by removing the smaller stockpot containing the now-hot milk and placing the pot over an ice bath (a huge mixing bowl filled with ice water). In such an arctic environment, the temperature drops quickly, something I wish this torrid summer heat would do as well.
Once the milk reaches 110°F, I pitch my yogurt. The term pitch is a beer maker’s term that simply means to add. Brewers pitch yeast to make alcohol, I pitch yogurt to make more yogurt. In these photos, I’ve pitched one-half cup of my previously made homemade yogurt to make new yogurt. If this were a new batch, I’d use one-half cup of a store-bought plain yogurt.
The prepared yogurt is then stirred in the milk visibly begins to curdle almost immediately; the transformation is fascinating! and I cover the pot with a clean kitchen towel. Curious minds and tiny hands have made it necessary for me to put a DO NOT TOUCH sign. Homemade yogurt needs to rest in peace for at least seven hours, no more or else it becomes too sour and thick.
Yogurt is created by “helpful” bacteria that ferment the milk. It consumes the sugars (lactose) found in milk, which cause it to curdle and produce lactic acid. It’s lactic acid that acts as a natural preservative and gives yogurt its pleasantly sour taste. We all know how healthy yogurt is frozen yogurt, anyone? Yogurt is also a great source of protein, calcium, and other essential vitamins whose active bacterial cultures aid in digestion.
After seven hours, I now have yogurt (that looks a bit like broken up taho and whey, a clear liquid that separates from the milk solids and which I describe as a benign but indescribable shade of yellow-green; chartreuse perhaps? Though I’m not brave enough to do so, culinary enthusiasts use whey as a cold libation, a soup base, or as a cooking liquid for pilafs and risottos.
I strain the yogurt/whey by lining a large wire mesh sifter with a double layer of cheesecloth and placing it over a glass bowl. It’s quite relaxing to hear the pitter! patter! of the dripping whey, quickly at first and then intermittently.
I’ve found that it’s best to make yogurt early in the day so that after its seven hour rest, I just pour the strained yogurt into containers and let it chill overnight. The next morning, I’ve got the best yogurt I’ve ever had for breakfast along with some granola that I’ve also made.
The advantages of homemade yogurt are many: it’s cheaper, preservative-free, and better-tasting. Personally, I like that I can control how thick and sour I want my yogurt to be, as well as choose what kind of milk to use. Making my own yogurt has opened my eyes to how good yogurt can be, and what I’ve been missing all these years. Thick and pleasingly sour, it’s refreshingly nutritious and perfect for my beat-the-heat fruit smoothies.