I grew up in a very rural area. There was no such thing as a quick trip to the store. Mom planned her grocery shopping with the precision of a five-star general mapping out an attack. It was an event. I’m not so precise or so organized, but this mindset stuck with me. Even when I moved into the city, I never considered it a convenience to go to the store for one thing. This way of thinking has its advantages. You learn to substitute, you branch out to try new things, and, hopefully, you plan better next time. “Convenience” food wasn’t uncommon in our home, but it was a conscious choice, not a necessity. I remember the occasional boxed mac and cheese, but I knew that anything Mom choose to make from a mix, she could have made from scratch if need be. To my mind packaged foods have become more prevalent, even less healthy, and more ridiculous over the years. We are starting to see a backlash. More people are cooking at home. They are buying whole foods that my Grandmother would have recognized as food. Maybe it’s a revolution. I’m glad to see it because it is, I believe, the best way to feed ourselves.
I told you all of that to tell you this; I learned to make yogurt! Once I’d made it a few times, I added it to my list of things that are so easy to make, with such great results, you will never want to buy it again. The longer that list gets, the happier I get. There are yogurt machines out there. Don’t buy one. I have a small kitchen, so I don’t have room for one purpose appliances. Here’s the equipment I use to make yogurt: Glass jars, a saucepan, a tea kettle (not essential), and a cooler. The process takes a while, but most of the time is inactive. Prep takes about ten minutes.
4-8 ounces plain full-fat yogurt (You’ll need one with live active cultures,a good quality organic is best.)
1/2 gallon of whole milk (Quality matters. I’m lucky enough to have access to milk from a great local dairy, Seven Doves)
Top priority here is cleanliness. Yogurt is made by culturing bacteria, and you don’t want to introduce any “bad” bacteria to the mix. Gently heat the milk in a saucepan. I don’t use a thermometer, but 110 degrees is about right. You want it warmer than body temperature but not so hot that you couldn’t put a (clean) finger in it for a few seconds without getting burned. While the milk is heating, start bringing a few quarts of water to a simmer in a kettle or another saucepan. Turn off the heat. Stir the yogurt into the warm milk. Take a few minutes and incorporate it well. Pour the mixture into your glass jars. I like quart jars, but have had good luck with smaller jars as well. If you have a funnel, it can help prevent spillage. Screw on lids. Place jars into a small cooler in one layer. Add heated water and, if needed, enough cool water to bring the temperature near 110 degrees. Add water until most of each jar is submerged, but don’t cover the lids. Close the cooler. After six to eight hours have passed, open the cooler and check jars. The mixture should be visibly thicker. Open a jar use a clean spoon to test consistency and flavor. If you prefer a thicker and/or more tangy yogurt, seal and replace the jar. Recheck every hour or two until desired consistency is reached. If temperature has noticable dropped, add more hot water. Incubation shouldn’t take longer than twelve hours. Once you are satisfied with the taste and consistency, the yogurt can be eaten right away or stored in the fridge until you are ready to use it. I like a thick, greek-style yogurt, so I often strain mine right after incubation. I use a clean, “flour sack” kitchen towel or a coffee filter. Strain until desired consistency is reached. An hour or two will result in a thick but easy to stir yogurt while several hours will result in yogurt cheese, which can be used like cream cheese in many recipes.
There are a lot of variables in this process, so your results will vary. After your first batch, you can use your own yogurt as a starter, though results might be less consistent. I freeze an eight ounce portion from each batch and use that as the culture for the next batch. Unstrained yogurt will last about ten days in the fridge. Yogurt cheese will last about seven. Use common sense and don’t eat anything you have doubts about.