How-To-Tuesday: Making Yogurt

I like yogurt. I really, really like yogurt. And I like my homemade yogurt the best. You might be wondering why you should bother making yogurt when you can buy it in convenient little cups from the store. The reason is that homemade yogurt contains just milk and live cultures, and none of the undesirable fillers that commercial yogurts have. Also, it tastes better. 🙂 Homemade yogurt is delicious plain, or with just a little maple syrup to sweeten it. You don’t need to “hide” the flavor with gobs of sugar or – even worse – artificial sweeteners. Also, since it is fresh you will get the most benefit from the live cultures – as yogurt sits on the shelf in the store those cultures slowly die.

I looked at yogurt in the grocery store and here are some of the additives I found: sugar, corn starch, modified corn starch, gelatin, pectin, Aspartame (this one comes with a warning on the label), locust bean gum, tricalcium phosphate, potassium sorbate, acesulfame potassium, citric acid, “natural flavors” (whatever that means), carmine, annatto extract, Red #40. I don’t know about you, but that’s a long list of things I do not want in my yogurt. The brands I reviewed were: Brown Cow, Tillamook, Yoplait, and Yoplait Light. Yoplait Light had the worst ingredients, but even Brown Cow contained thickeners and dyes that I don’t want to eat.

Now that we’ve established why you should take the time to make your own yogurt, I’ll fill you in on how to do it.

Homemade Yogurt

2qts. whole milk
2T plain yogurt with live, active cultures

Choosing milk: Whole milk is best. It gives the best flavor, the best texture, and it is better for you. How is that? Well, without getting sidelined in a long, scientific discussion, the short answer is that skimmed milk is higher in sugar/carbs. Whole milk has the optimum of ratio protein, sugars, and fat. Buy organic milk if you can, and look for one that says merely “pasteurized” and not “ultra-pasteurized” or “ultra-high pasteurized.” The latter two have been heated to the boiling point and don’t taste very good.

Pour 2 quarts of milk into a pan and heat slowly to 180°, stirring often. Set the flame to medium-low and use a candy thermometer. If you heat the milk too quickly or too high, the yogurt will have a grainy consistency.

Heat slowly to 180°.

Once the temperature has reached 180°, remove the pan from heat source and let cool to 110° – this will take about an hour. (If you’re in a hurry you can partially submerge the pan in a few inches of ice water in your sink until the temp reaches 115°.) Scoop about a cup of the warm milk into a bowl and mix in 2T of plain yogurt with live, active cultures. Then mix the cultured milk back into the remaining warm milk.

Culture with 1T yogurt per quart of milk.

Pour warm cultured milk into incubation chamber. I use the Yogotherm incubator. It’s nice because it doesn’t require electricity. The drawback is that it is made of plastic. There are electric yogurt incubators you can purchase that use glass chambers.

Pour cultured milk into incubator.

Secure lid.

Incubate for 8-10 hours.

The cultured milk should incubate for 8-10 hours. Then refrigerate it for several hours to firm up the yogurt and help it set. (I usually start heating the milk after dinner, let it cool, mix in culture, and then put it into the incubator. It sits overnight while I sleep and then I put it into the refrigerator in the morning.) After it has chilled you will find that the yogurt has formed thick curds, although it is not quite as firm as what you get at the grocery store. This is because commercial brands often have thickeners added.

After refrigeration the yogurt has set.

Next, remove 2T of yogurt into a small dish to save for making the next batch. This way you don’t have to nag your spouse not to eat the last of the yogurt. 😉 Commercial cultures can be re-used a few times before they start to lose potency and you need to buy some fresh yogurt to replace it. If you’re fortunate enough to acquire an heirloom culture, it can be used indefinitely.

Set aside 2T for your next batch.

Since homemade yogurt doesn’t contain any thickening agents (gelatin, carageenan, corn starch) it will be a little thinner than you’re used to. I think it is lovely as is, but it does tend to fall off the spoon before reaching the mouths of little ones. Because of this I like to strain my yogurt. Straining is how thick “Greek-style” yogurt is made. Strained yogurt is very creamy, and since some of the tartness comes out with the whey it is also sweeter.

To strain the yogurt, place a colander in a bowl.

Use a colander in a bowl to strain yogurt.

Line the colander with a clean, thin towel. You don’t want to use terrycloth for this. Something like a “floursack” towel would be perfect. You can also use paper towels.

Line colander with towel.

Pour yogurt into lined colander and place in refrigerator. The whey will drip down into the bowl below. Whey is the yellowish liquid that separates from yogurt.

Strain yogurt for 3-4 hours.

After 3-4 hours the volume of the yogurt will have reduced by almost half. You can also strain the yogurt overnight to get a very thick “yogurt cheese.” Whey is full of probiotics and also contains protein so don’t toss it! You could use the whey in smoothies, soups, making bread, or feed it to pets. My dog LOVES having whey on her food.

Thickened yogurt and whey.

Enjoy your yogurt plain, or with a little maple syrup to sweeten it, and perhaps some fresh berries.

Delicious, creamy yogurt.


Wait a minute. . . I don’t have an incubator!

OK, I can help with that. There are a few methods available, like using your slow-cooker or a small cooler. I’ve tried those and they mostly work, but occasionally a batch will not set properly. I’ve also found that they don’t maintain a consistent temperature throughout the yogurt, so you end up with thick spots and thin spots. But they’re worth trying if that’s all you have available and want to see what homemade yogurt is like. One method I have used with good results requires a heavy pan (like a Dutch oven) and a heating pad.

Pour milk into Dutch oven and follow instructions above for heating, cooling, and adding culture to the milk.

Low-tech method uses Dutch oven.

Then set the Dutch oven with warm, cultured milk on an electric heating pad and cover with a thick towel.

Use heating pad to maintain temperature.

Secure the towel snugly around the Dutch oven, and set the heating pad to “WARM.” Let sit for 8-10 hours.

Incubate for 8-10 hours.

This method will give you an evenly cultured yogurt. (I used non-homogenized milk for this batch so there’s a layer of yellow cream on the top.) After chilling, follow the directions above to strain.

Lovely yogurt made with a heating pad.

Give this method a try, and if you find you like making your own yogurt it will be worth it to make a small investment in a yogurt incubator.

Happy Culturing! 🙂



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1 Response

  1. Jeff Cowan says:

    Hey Sarah,

    This is Ryan’s coworker Jeff, who also makes yogurt. Thanks for the culture! It worked great.

    I use the EuroCuisine incubator with the little glass jars. Works well and has a timer from about 6-15 hours. I get the best results around 7-9 hours, though if you like tarter yogurt, go longer.

    I also only heat my milk to 170 and then cool to 105 or so. I had a number of issues at 180 and I think it changes the protein structure too much.. Ended up with some weird batches (consistency wise). But if your method is working for you, great! Just wanted to share my method with you and your readers.


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