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Homemade Yogurt = Awesomeness!

There are few breakfasts, if any, that beat a nice scoop of good creamy yogurt topped with a handful of crunchy granola. And if by chance you stumble across a forest of blackberry bushes ashore, forget it. Best. Meal in a bowl. Ever… ok. at least tied for the best.

Being a person who will happily eat food off a rock with sticks and wash it down with two buck chuck from the bottle, you might think I didn’t care a whole lot about what I ingest. Dirt and bugs, I’m cool with that. High fructose corn syrup and McDonalds, no way Jose. I like good food. Tasty, fresh, stuff you pick from bushes, healthy, you know… real food. That stuff nobody eats anymore in a world where food grown with poison and flown from the other side of the world is considered normal or “conventional” as we call it.  Life’s too short to eat crap. Sure, I’ll scarf down a yoplait from time to time if it’s all there is but have you ever had fresh yogurt? No? Oh man. Your world is about to change.

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You can try to find it in the store but unless you live in a foodie land like San Francisco, good luck. Even so, it can be tough to find. If you do find it, you’ll notice that it’s not exactly cheap. You can find fake junk yogurt for about $2 a quart. Decent organic yogurt will run you from $3 to $5 a quart. The good stuff will cost anywhere from $6-$8 a quart and if it comes in a cool glass jar, you’ll have to front a bottle deposit of about $1.50. Its totally worth it, but if you’re not made of money, watching the register cha-ching close to $8 for every quart of yogurt can seem a bit frivolous after a while.

A tub of yogurt from time to time won’t break the bank, but add that to trying to buy organic produce, local meats, local baked bread, etc… and your monthly food bill can get pricy, quick. I could easily cut my food bill by 75% but I don’t like eating refined junk. But why not make your own yogurt. Homebake bread. Make your own granola. Forage berries from the woods. Eating doesn’t get any better or healthier and you can eat for a similar price as buying groceries at Grocery Outlet or the dollar store. And not only does it taste amazing, all those little probiotics and active cultures have all kinds of health benefits.

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Lets get back to yogurt though. If you haven’t made your own before, do it. I couldn’t believe how easy it was and how good it tastes. It doesn’t taste like any yogurt I’ve had before… It’s addictingly awesome. Have you ever done a taste comparison of a fresh homegrown chicken egg and a store bought one? Yeah, it’s that good. Rich, creamy, fresh, it will bring a smile to your face. Even using the best organic raw milk you will find it will cost less than half of what you can get the store bought fresh yogurt for.

The smell of granola is starting to creep out from the oven and I’m getting hungry so lets get on with this. Let me conclude by saying that once you make homemade yogurt, I doubt you’ll ever buy it from the store again. Here’s how to make your own yogurt.

What you’ll need:

  • 1/2 Gallon Milk (Get the best stuff you can find, it’s worth it. If you can find it and have a couple extra pennies, whole raw milk is out of this world. You can also use low fat or skim milk but note that the end result will vary with the milk you choose.)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt – Use your favorite brand, just make sure that it has “active cultures”. For future bathes, you can use your homemade yogurt.
  • Saucepan – Large enough to hold your milk with a few inches to spare. A pan 1-2 quarts larger than the volume of yogurt you will be making is a good rule of thumb.
  • Larger saucepan – Nice big saucepan or pot into which you can place the smaller pan.
  • Thermometer – Ideally a candy style thermometer, but anything that will read in the range of 185 degrees will suffice.
  • Small bowl
  • Whisk or other stirring utensil

 Instructions:

  1. Make a double boiler/water jacket – Heating the milk slowly and evenly helps preserve the nutritional value of the milk. I make a water jacket by placing a small sauce pan (1-2 quarts larger than the amount of yogurt you will be making) into a larger pot. Fill the big pot with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the small saucepan. Holding the little guy down so it doesn’t float up. Once filled with milk, the water level should be about the same as the level of the milk.
  2. Get the milk hot and frothy – Pour the milk into your saucepan and heat until just below boiling, somewhere in the 185-200 degree range. Stir the milk often to avoid scorching the bottom while making sure the milk doesn’t boil over. Essentially by heating the milk above 185 degrees, we change the protein structure so that the milk will thicken into that smooth yogurt consistency we all love instead of separating into curds and whey. The longer you let your yogurt hang out at this temperature, the thicker the end result will be. 10-20 minutes is a good place to start. Using the water jacket method of heating takes some time, use lids or foil to keep as much heat in as possible if need be.
  3. Cool the milk – Many recipes call for making an ice bath to chill the milk more quickly. On a boat, ice is a luxury that I prefer saving for cocktails. So I just pulled the saucepan out of the water jacket and let the milk hang out on the counter. You’ll want to let it cool till its just hot to the touch. 110-115 degrees.
  4. Inoculate the milk – Pour a splash of the warm milk, a cup perhaps, into a small bowl. Add your 1/2 cup yogurt starter and whisk it all together.  Pour the whole lot back into the large pan of milk and mix it all up. This just helps us ensure that the yogurt cultures get mixed well.
  5. Incubation –  Now we just need to keep our milk yogurt mixture at about 110 degrees, plus or minus a few degrees, for the next 4-8 hours. You can use warming pads, slow cookers, dutch oven wrapped in towels, or anything clever you can think of. Google away for ideas. My supplies were limited to the basics. I simply used the water jacket I cooked everything in to increase the heat holding capacity and incubate the yogurt. Cool the water in the big pot to 110 degrees and replace the milk saucepan and cover both pots, just like those Russian nesting dolls. Wrapping the whole thing in a couple of towels and placing into a warm oven can help maintain the warmth. Just make sure the oven temperature doesn’t climb above 110-115 degrees. We don’t want to kill our new bacteria buddies.
  6. Party Time – Let your yogurt hang out all cozy and warm for the next 4-8 hours. The temptation will be overwhelming, but resist the urge to disturb it. I don’t want to pretend to be a chemist but as your bacteria buddies party in the incubator, they create lactic acid. Once the pH reaches 4.6, the milk coagulates into that wonderful yogurt consistency. The longer you let the party continue past the point of thickening, the more sour/acidic the yogurt flavor. Six-ish hours would be a good starting point for your first batch.
  7. Refrigerate – Stick your new yogurt in the fridge. Cold temperatures send the bacteria into hibernation thus stopping the development of the acid. Cooling it in the same container will yield the smoothest consistency.
  8. Storage – After the yogurt is completely chilled you will probably find a layer of watery whey on top. Strain this off or stir it back in (I strain), and transfer the yogurt into airtight containers. The yogurt will last about two weeks in the fridge… if you don’t devour it in one sitting.

Top with berries, granola, trade a jar full to your anchor neighbor for a bloody mary, or just straight up gobble it down… Enjoy!

And of course, some photos:

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If you’re going to spend 8+ hours making something, might as well splurge on the best ingredients you can find. Raw milk rocks!

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Water jacket boiler contraption. Little bowl holds milk. Big bowl filled with enough water to come up to level of milk in little bowl.

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If you’re concerned with sterilization you can boil the water with the small pot upside down to kill any critters with the steam. Not sure how much merit there is to this but what the hell, can’t hurt.

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Next, pour the milk in the small saucepan. The object is to get the milk IN the pan. I recommend against taking pictures while you pour.

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Time to heat that milk up. With the water jacket approach it will take a while to reach 185 degrees. Good time for a morning cocktail. You can heat without a water jacket more quickly but heating the milk slow and even helps preserve the health values of the milk. Especially if you start with raw milk.

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Stir the milk often to keep it from scorching on the bottom. If your thermometer doesn’t have a clip, or the clip doesn’t fit on the bowl, try a wood clamp.

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Woo hoo! Finally 185+. Don’t let it fully boil but let it simmer at 185-200 degrees for 10-20 minutes. The longer you let it cook, the thicker the yogurt. If you don’t go long enough, the yogurt will still taste good can have a slimy consistency.

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Let the yogurt cool, add your starter yogurt, maintain 110 degrees for 6-8 hours, put the bowl in the fridge, and in the morning this is what you get. Looks appetizing, doesn’t it.

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Ha! Yogurt! That gnarly looking watery whey on top is normal. Stir it back in or strain it off then transfer the yogurt into an airtight container. Keep it in the fridge and it should last for a couple weeks.

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Mmmmm Yogurt with granola straight from the oven!

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…and with berries foraged from China Camp on a morning hike.

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So fresh and delicious… enjoy!

Geoff