Nothing makes me feel instantly transported to a far off country home in the middle of softly waving fields than homemade yogurt. Being I have never lived in a quaint country home in softly waving fields (though I dream), I have lived in Rome. This is where my homemade yogurt story begins.
I remember my first experience with homemade yogurt. It was the summer of 2003. Taking up residence with my cousin Michele in Rome during an academic stint, I was exposed to all things Roman. In addition to my cousin introducing me to this amazing little stovetop espresso maker and the perfect Roman pizza, this also meant his yogurt.
Italians are not big on breakfast. Whereas I could not get enough of a morning cornetti, some figs, cheese and a cappuchino (or two), the average Roman typically eats little. For Michele, it meant an espresso and a plain little cup of yogurt made at home with a European yogurt machine.
Skeptical as I was to take a spoonful of this fermented dairy, the sour bite was even more repelling to my taste buds. I winced and puckered my lips at first taste. Eeeww. At that time I naively and childishly thought, “The food here is so amazing, why waste a meal on this nasty concoction?!!” At this time, the only yogurt to have entered my mouth was Yoplait and when desperate, fruit on the bottom Dannon. Sugar was my cryptonite and no plain yogurt would cross my lips for years to follow. I did not yet understand the digestive benefits of these helpful little bacteria. This would later change.
Enter the summer of 2009. Enamored with the thick, creamy and savory yogurt dip Tzatziki that captured my attention at each meal in Greece, I knew I had to give this dip a shot. To make tzatiki, I needed good, plain yogurt. I began with store brands but in my quest to find a more “authentic” recipe (read: Greek rural grandmother style), the yogurt had to be tackled.
Of course, one can only eat so much tzatziki, it is true. What did I do with all of that leftover yogurt? Well, turns out it is the perfect vehicle for little dollops of homemade jam, honey, maple syrup…need I say more?
If you still eat that carageean thickened or acrid tasting, totally toxic artifically sweetened yogurt — just give me one chance to win you over!!! No special machine is needed. You can flavor it however you wish. You know what milk went into it. Bingo.
- 2 quarts whole milk (grass-fed and lightly pasteurized if possible)
- yogurt culture (this is a great foolproof culture for beginners) or 2 Tbsp of plain yogurt with “live and active cultures”
- 2 quart sized mason jars with lids
- two insulated oven mitts (this is my fool-proof tip!)
- saucepan or dutch oven
- candy thermometer
- funnel with wide mouth (optional)
1. Boil your milk in the pan until the temperature of the milk reaches about 180. Holding it here for a few minutes gives the yogurt a bit more body.
2. Let the milk cool in the pan until the temperature drops to about 110. I have found 100-110 to be ideal.
3. Stir in your yogurt culture, distributing it well.
4. Pour milk into mason jars and cap, using a funnel if needed.
5. Place one mitt over each jar and place in oven with the door shut.
6. 8-12 hours later—yogurt!!! Refrigerate. Eat.
- This yogurt has not been tested with raw milk, only lightly pasteurized and pasteurized.
- This may work best in a gas stove as the pilot light keeps the stove warm. The mitts do work as an excellent insulator, however. If you try it in an electric oven, let me know your results. Some say leaving the oven light on helps.
- Check your yogurt at the 6, 8, 10 and 12 hour marks to check consistency. Take out and refrigerate when you are happy with it.
- At about 160, the milk will develop a skin on the top. If you do not have a candy thermometer, you could give it another minute and try pulling it off.
- I experimented with many versions of yogurt-making. If you are beginning, try the direct-set culture recommended above. You will not be able to re-culture the yogurt into another batch but it gives consistently solid results. I love this one as the particular strain gives a mild and thick yogurt. If you choose the direct-set, follow temperature specifics on the packet.