Adventures in yoghurt making (Part 1)

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I’ve recently become a bit obsessed with the idea of homemade yoghurt. I think it probably started with our trip to Greece, when each morning part of breakfast was the creamiest, most delicious yoghurt I’d ever tasted, topped with fruit and maybe just a swirl of honey.

I was sold – it tasted nothing like the yoghurt we get in stores here in Canada, and I started trying to figure out where I could get this amazing product here in Toronto. If I scoured Greektown, would I find it? However, after a few unfruitful searches, I gave up and decided that it was just one of those “taste of vacation” experience that I wouldn’t be able to relive.

Until – I took a trip with my mum up to the Bruce Peninsula where our B&B hostess – a woman, coincidentally, of Greek descent – served us a similarly amazing yoghurt each morning. It was heavenly. I finally worked up the courage ask our host Kathy where she got her amazing yoghurt.

(By the way, if you’re ever planning a trip to Northern Ontario, I can highly recommend the Purple Frog B&B. Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten and the most amazing hosts).

She looked at me a little funny and then told me: “I make it. The way my mother taught me.”

In this moment, my mind was a little bit blown. Homemade yoghurt. Of course, I vaguely knew this was a thing people did in the past, but now? How? What would I need? Would it  be difficult?

I decided to do some research and experimentation.

There are tons of articles out there giving you advice on how to make your own yoghurt. Here’s just where I’ve started so far.

Basic yoghurt making facts

Making yoghurt is a few simple steps:

  1. Heating the milk
  2. Adding live cultures
  3. Incubation
  4. Setting
  5. Straining

How you achieve these steps seems to be the subject of some internet debate, and will determine the equipment you need and the time it will take to make your yoghurt. Having tried a few different methods now, here’s the set up I recommend starting with:

  • Kitchen thermometer
  • Mason jars
  • Live cultures – either from a company like Cultures for Health or by simply reserving some yoghurt from a live culture yoghurt you already have in the fridge (my preferred option)
  • Dutch oven or large pot that you can use as a water bath
  • Stainless steel bowl or equivalent
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Cheesecloth

NB: I haven’t costed out the savings on this recipe yet, mostly because I’ve just been enjoying myself too much. A cost comparison to come in a future yoghurt related post.

Ingredients

  • 2 litres of milk (I use 2% but pick your favourite – although i’ve read homogenized may not work)
  • Cultures – either 4 table spoons of live culture yoghurt or a sachet of cultures

Process

  • Pour your milk into a large pan. Over a low to medium heat, bring the milk to 180° F. Stir frequently to avoid the milk burning.
  • Once temperature has been reached put milk aside to cool to 110°F. If you’re short on time, fill your sink with some cold water, and pop the pan in there (making sure none spills up into the milk, of course) to speed the process along.
  • Once your milk mixture is done, you can stir in your live cultures. If you’re using yoghurt as your culture, you may want to give it a bit of a whisk to avoid getting lumps. Transfer your cultured mixture to jars and secure tightly.
  • Now for the incubation period!

At this stage you’re going to want to fill a dutch oven or large pot (that has a lid) with water. Make sure the water pot is large enough to house your jars!

Bring the water up to a temperature of 120°F. Pop your jars in, and seal with the lid. Personally I also tried adding an additional heat trapping mechanism by securing a clean tea towel over the lid with a plastic band. Your yoghurt is now going to incubate for a minimum of 6 hours (if you like a tarter yoghurt you may want to keep it incubating a little longer)

A note on the incubation stage: 

There is so much advice around how to keep your yoghurt at the right temperature while it is incubating. Many suggest that you can simply bundle your jars up in towels, put them in  a warm place, and leave them be. That method seems to rely on a super long incubation period and more patience than I have. Some say that you can just leave your oven at 110°F and leave your jars happily in there. Sadly, the lowest my oven goes to it 170°F so that wasn’t going to work for me.

The method I’ve come up with is modified from this one at Serious Eats. In it, it suggests using an air tight coolbox, and filling that with your 120°F water, and just leaving it be.

I don’t have a coolbox, airtight or otherwise, and given I’m on a budget I decided to look around for what I had to hand. As I did have a dutch oven, I decided this would have to do. I’ve found it works pretty well – mostly I check it every couple of hours to see if the temperature has gone too low, and if it has, I just gently heat it on the stove to get it back up where it needs to be.

  • Once your yoghurt is incubated, you’re going to transfer it to a fridge, where it will sit for another 6 hours – this stops the culturing from continuing and helps thicken up the mixture.

How do I know if my yoghurt is done incubating?

Good question. Your mixture is going to thicken up a lot, but there will be some liquid still in there. You may also see some lumps forming in there.

Oh, and use your nose! Is there that clean, bright slightly acidic yoghurt smell? If so you’re probably on a good track.

This also depends on what kind of cultures you’ve used. For example, I used a packaged culture that suggested a thinner consistency yoghurt would result and this is what it looked like at the end of the incubation period:

Even though it still looks quite liquidy in this stage, it definitely firmed up and became yoghurt-like in the final stages.

  • Your yoghurt has sat in the fridge for a few hours – now its time to separate the curds from the whey. Set up a stainless steel bowl with a fine mesh strainer on top. Cover the strainer with cheesecloth, securing with a rubber band as needed. Gently spoon your yoghurt mixture into the cloth-covered strainer and leave for approx 2 hours.

As you’ll see in the two pictures above, when it first goes in it is still very liquidy, whereas after the two hours it has firmed up into a lovely creamy mixture.

And there you have it – your own homemade greek-style yoghurt. Top with (homemade, of course) granola, or honey, or fruit. Mix in whatever you might mix yoghurt with usually, have it with your desserts, add flavourings. The options are almost certainly endless.

Some final thoughts (for now):

  • If you want to make another batch of yoghurt, hang on to a little bit of your mix – you can use it to culture the next round you make. (So long as you use it within about 7-10 days)
  • Once you’ve strained the yoghurt you’ll have a clear yellowish liquid in your bowl. Don’t throw this away! This is the whey. There’s all kinds of uses of whey (which I’m currently exploring so you can expect another post on that soon!) but not least it should be possible to use this as a culturing agent too for your next batch.

But for the moment all you have to do is enjoy!

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