A Cultural Event
The basics: Two temperatures, 180° and 110° Fahrenheit, are important in making yogurt. But, you can still make yogurt easily without a thermometer, like I do, if you are adventurous.
If you have a thermometer, simply heat the milk up to 180°F, cool it back down to 110°F and then add the culture. (As mentioned earlier, this is a cultural event). Put the mixture in a closed container and let it sit on top of your refrigerator overnight.
Here’s my no-thermometer method below. If anything doesn’t make sense, please contact me!
▪ A pot to boil the milk in
▪ No digital thermometer
▪ A long handled spoon for stirring
▪ A gallon (or less, whatever amount you want) of fresh milk. I just use boxes of whole milk from the supermercado here in my site. Milk straight from the critter would be best!
▪ Plain yogurt with live and active cultures. That’s right – live and active. Busy, busy, busy, they are. This type of yogurt has no flavoring in it, not even plain vanilla. It’s too busy being active to stop and become flavored. Usually I find it in a tall white plastic skinny jug. Ask for it at your supermercado.
▪ A container or jars for the finished product
▪ Something groovy to listen to and to sing along with as you stir, while the milk boils. Or you can go acapella.
Note: Yogurt can be made from all kinds of dairy milk including cow, horse, sheep, goat, but I just use the cow, cartoned whole milk. I don’t even want to think about milk coming from another animal, not even an almond or a soy, although those will work just fine.
Before you start, fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil on the stove top, let the spoon and jars sit in it for several minutes, and then pour the water out. Now, your supplies are fairly disinfected, mas o menos. (Hard to get real serious about disinfecting when you have a lizard sitting on the windowsill, watching.)
Heat milk over medium heat while stirring. This usually takes about 20 minutes or approximately five 4 minute songs you can sing elsewhere in the house. Then, once the milk begins to heat up and get frothy, stand over it intently and stir to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot, singing approximately 2 four minute songs. My children would guess that I sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and they’d be right. If the milk gets a scum-like layer on the top, halt your singing mid-song and just look at it with an appalled expression, treat it like scum and remove that stuff with your spoon and toss it away.
Like I said earlier, let the milk get to a rolling, boiling point, then continue to heat it up, stirring constantly, letting it continue to boil for about 5 more minutes. If you have a thermometer, heat the milk to 180. If not, just know that 180 seems to be about as hot as hell, or hot as milk that has begun to boil and then continues to boil for another full five minutes, stirring. If you get too involved in your song and you overboil your milk til it scorches like I once did, you’ll enjoy a new flavor of yogurt I call Toasted Treat.
Then, you need to let the temp go down to 110 before adding culture. Adding culture can sometimes make one snobby, but in this case, it’s just milk, so no worries. If you want, you can set the pot of milk into a sink of water and stir the milk. This will bring the temperature down quickly (in about 10 minutes). You don’t want it cold. You just want the temp to go down to non-super hot, more like tepid. The warm side of tepid to be exact. I don’t know who thought up the word “tepid” but it sounds like something neutral and boring, so that’s accurate. I guess it’s good to have a way to describe something that’s neither here nor there, neither black nor white, not real hot, but not cold. Totally non- committal.
For one gallon of milk you will need 1/4 cup of plain yogurt. But, if you are boiling less than a gallon of milk, just add ¼ cup or some big tablespoons of yogurt. It doesn’t matter if you use too much yogurt, but it matters if you don’t use enough. It never hurts to be generous in life, you know. Typically, generosity given out will come back to you in even greater measure, so I’d say it’s worth it. Trust me on this. Fact is, not enough yogurt and it won’t thicken. Pour the mixture into one big container with tight lid, or several smaller containers with tight lids.
Yogurt bacteria works best in a warm, draft-free place. Bacteria is conniving and wants its privacy, so leave it alone. You don’t want to go there. The container can be placed in an oven with the pilot light on or with a heating pad. I just place mine on top of my refrigerator. It isn’t warm, but it works. My mother used to wrap the container in a towel, then a paper bag to keep it cozy. I may need to do this for my wintertime batches.
Don’t shake or jolt the container as it works to form yogurt overnight. Try to go to sleep and not think about it. If you get up in the night multiple times as I do, just keep walking past the refrigerator and avoid eye-contact. 10 or so hours later, do a fancy dance around the kitchen, sort of a majestic type fanfare, and with a big flourish, open the container and stir the thick yogurt and have a taste. It’s wonderful!
While enjoying this batch of yogurt, be sure to save back a 1/4 cup to make your next batch! Don’t wait too long, though, or the culture won’t be alive and won’t reproduce. (Eventually culture dies and no amount of opera-going is going to bring it back.)
P.S. If your yogurt didn’t develop and become a thick pudding, and is still liquidy milk, then reboil the milk to get it real hot again, let it sit and cool down for ten minutes, then put in more of your yogurt starter. Then place again in a quiet spot for ten hours. You can sing, just don’t be real loud about it. You may have a sensitive, introverted batch that just needs more attention, then some alone time.