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Make Your Own Yogurt!

Sunday, November 2, 2014


  As the Ohio Pawpaw festival drew to an end, word traveled through the assembled performers and speakers that the fabled Snowville Creamery, supplier of premium organic milk and cream for Jeni’s Marvelous Ice Cream, would be giving away leftover products at its tent. All festival long, they’d had people riding a bicycle, turning the crank for an old-fashioned ice cream maker, freezing up the most outrageously rich and delicious treats imaginable. But there would be leftover milk and half and half and even whipping cream that Snowville couldn’t turn around and sell, and sure enough a man was hanging out the back of a big hi-cube refrigerated truck, handing it out by the half-gallon. Eager hands reached for milk and half and half. “Whipping cream!” he shouted, and there in his hand was a half-gallon of Jersey/Guernsey whipping cream, the richest, yellowest, thickest cream on the planet. The crowd visibly shrank back. Fat is bad for you, right? “I’ll take it!” I said, stepped forward, and the $20 prize was mine, for free. I shook it, eliciting a deep “glunk!” And felt an immediate responsibility to use it well. I just wasn’t sure how.

The half and half we got went into Bill’s coffee and over raspberries and cobbler, and it was delicious. I was a little afraid to open the whipping cream. I’m not in the habit of using it. Its freshness date neared. I didn’t want it to go to waste. So I went to the store and bought a gallon of 2%, what my father disparagingly called “Blue John” for the rim of blue around its edge. Dad was a fan of fat, was raised with cream from Jerseys that he milked by hand, and it was largely in his memory that I’d taken the half-gallon of cream. I didn’t know whether what I had in mind would work, but I was going to try.

I washed four quart yogurt tubs, and added a half-gallon of 2% to the corn-yellow whipping cream in a big pot. I was pretty sure the cream would float on top, and it did.  With a stick blender, I started to mix it together. The cream immediately began to whip up solid! Spooning the delicious whipped cream off the surface, I put the stick blender aside and stirred the cream with a spoon until the two were reasonably well blended. Kind of like the Amazon meeting the Rio Solimoes. I heated the mixture until it began to froth, and reached 180 degrees. With a candy thermometer, I kept an eye on it until it cooled to 109. Working quickly, I poured the milk-cream mixture into the four quart yogurt tubs, and took two tablespoons from each one, reserving it in a cup. To the 8 tablespoons of cream/milk, I added four teaspoons of Stonyfield Farm plain yogurt and stirred well. I then divided this culture evenly between the four tubs and installed them in a cooler along with three water bottles filled with piping hot water. Ideally, you want your milk to be between 106 and 109 when you place it in the cooler. The hot water bottles help keep it there long enough for the acidophilus bacteria to do their work.

Yogurt originated in the Middle East. It offered a way, in the absence of refrigeration, to keep milk from spoiling, to travel with milk and have it stay good for consumption. My friend Wheats, who evidently is not a fan, says, “Yogurt doesn’t go bad. It just gets worse.” Well, obviously Wheats has never had my homemade yogurt.

Eight hours later, I opened the cooler, to find the acidophilus had done its work. The creamy milk had set up into a solid golden dream. I spooned some out. Because it lacks the carageenan and guar gum  that’s added to commercial yogurt to give it a Jello-ish texture, homemade yogurt is looser, at least at first. After a few days in the fridge it sets up solid, and I find it never gets that watery whey separation the commercial brands do. It is also much sweeter, without so much as a hint of sourness. As The Joy of Cooking explains,

You may wonder why so little starter is used and think that a little more will produce a better result. It won't. The bacillus, if crowded, gives a sour, watery product. But if the culture has sufficient Lebensraum, it will be rich, mild and creamy.

When Phoebe was a little girl, I made all our own yogurt. She loved it. She still does. I remember the time I took it to her classroom as a treat. I put a tiny bit of food coloring in it, to color it an appealing pink. Sweetened it. Threw some sprinkles on it. All but a couple of the kids shrank back, afraid to touch it. Sigh. Yogurt, I guess, had yet to enter their deprived little lives. 

Because I'm an Atkins adherent, I take out a couple of tablespoons to reserve as culture, then sweeten the whole quart with Splenda and stir in a teaspoon of real vanilla extract. You can flavor it any way you want: with Kahlua and cardamom; with lemon, orange or almond extract The result is a lightly sweet, very lo-carb treat. I abhor the over-sweetened commercial yogurts that present themselves as healthy, but often have 36 or more grams of sugar in a tiny cup. Those pretty parfaits with granola toppings are 50-carb bombs masquerading as a healthy choice.

I write this in the hope that some of my readers will try this ancient art of fermentation, the magic of applying acid-loving bacteria to milk (or cream, if ye be so bold). There is no reason under the sun to buy a “yogurt machine” to do this for you. Nor is there any reason to pay $4.69 a quart for commercial yogurt. Unless it’s to get your starter culture. Heh. As long as you don’t eat every drop of your latest batch, and remember to save back a few tablespoons for culture, you’re in business indefinitely, at no expenditure other than milk and time.


It's kind of like that Amish Friendship Bread where people pass around starter... it just goes on and on.
I'm a Chobani Greek yogurt fan, but I may try this.

I've been wanting to make my own yogurt again for awhile but haven't done it. Long ago I had a yogurt machine but now that you describe how easy it is I'll have to have a go at it.

Instead of the coolers and hot water bottles try preheating your oven to its lowest setting, then turn off the oven but turn on the oven light. Wrap your incubating cultures in a bath towel, pop them in, and leave them overnight.

I haven't tried this. As it happens, though, I just made my first batch of sauerkraut last week. The only thing you really have to do is "massage your cabbage," which got my attention. Here's to probiotics, however we come by them.

Oh my goodness! 1/2 & 1/2 and cream from Jersey cows, not only the best mild/cream, but the sweetest prettiest cows ever... I eat the Fage brand Greek yogurt but would love to try making my own. And my son was also raised on yogurt but store-bought. So when you say, put them in a cooler, do you mean cooler as in a styrofoam cooler or an igloo-type cooler? Only wishing I could find milk from a Jersey cow in my FL suburbia.

Posted by Gail Spratley November 3, 2014 at 8:17 AM
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