Add a Bit of Culture to Your Life

I’m pretty sure I cannot survive a day without dairy. For real! But wow, is dairy expensive! Real cheese will cost you an arm and a leg and a gallon of organic milk will cost you any of your remaining appendages. There have been many months of our life when our dairy bill was higher than our gas bill…

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Wait. What kind of culture did you think I was referring to?? Yogurt culture, of course!

Months ago I mentioned in a post that I had begun making my own yogurt in a crockpot. While that was a great way to start, the jar method is totally so much better–better looking, better tasting and better fun! Making homemade yogurt is definitely one of my favorite do-it-yourself things that I’ve tried so far.

May I just sing the praises of yogurt for a moment? It boosts your immune system, regulates your digestive tract, is a great source of protein, makes incredible smoothies, can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack or dessert, and, I think, is a hearty food–it makes you feel fuller! It can be eaten with fruit, homemade granola, a swirl of honey, a pinch of cinnamon. It’s great in recipes as a substitute for high fat and calorie foods like mayonnaise and sour cream. And it’s great in pancakes, waffles and muffins in place of buttermilk. And it’s a great toddler food! Because it’s easier on the tummy than regular cow’s milk, babies can have it earlier. I love yogurt!

So I want to show you how I make it, in case you want to make it too! Before I explain, I invite you to endure a bit of Q&A in case you’re not yet singing the praises of yogurt with me…

WHY MAKE HOMEMADE YOGURT?

1. It’s cheaper! As is the case with most things in life, doing it yourself with save you oodles of money. Making our weekly stash of yogurt costs about $3. Maybe less. Buying the equivalent from the store would be about $9 a week. I’m totally fine with saving over $300 a year just by making it myself!

2. It’s greener! Not that the yogurt itself is green… ew… but you don’t buy tub after plastic tub that you then just throw away. You can use the same exact jars time after time.

3. It’s better for you! Have you read the ingredients in many of the yogurts out there? Ick! To speed up the thickening process companies add unnecessary things like pectin, to “enhance” flavors they’ll add artificial flavoring, and to change the look they’ll add dyes. And they want me to put that in my body? Homemade yogurt needs two things: milk and probiotics (aka, friendly bacteria). That’s it! No starches, no preservatives, no pectin, no artificial anything.

4. It’s quite rewarding! There are few things in the world quite as satisfying as walking into the kitchen in the morning, opening the oven and being greeted with beautifully solidified yogurt–that YOU made! (well, really it was the bacteria, but go ahead and take credit for it!)

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?

1. Start to finish: About 8 hours. But the actual time you are working: 30 minutes.(Remember, the bacteria do all the work and you take all the credit!)

HOW DOES IT WORK?

1. Basically, you ferment milk, add the right probiotics and let them go to town.

2. Scientifically, well, our cute little probiotics eat the lactose and poo out lactic acid. Then we eat their excrement! Yum! I mean, Ew! It almost makes me not want to eat yogurt anymore! Almost. (But remember, we’re adding a bit of culture to our lives, which often means eating things that at first we think are gross. Like monkey brains. Or durian. Or probiotic poo.)

Alright. I’ll step off my yogurt soapbox and explain how I make it  in 5 simple steps:

HOMEMADE YOGURT

Ingredients: half gallon of milk, yogurt culture (for vanilla yogurt, add sugar and vanilla to the list)

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1. PREPARE YOUR MILK. In a saucepan, heat milk to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Doing so kills off any bad bacteria, reducing the competition for the good bacteria. Keep an eye on the milk. It’ll heat up quickly. Then, let your milk cool down to 110-120 degrees. The optimal temperature is 111. Our friendly probiotics need a warm environment to dine in. You can either just let the pot sit for hours as it cools, or you can help it along by either putting it outside or sitting your pot of milk in a sink or tub of ice water.

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2. ADD YOUR CULTURE. Once your milk has cooled to the neighborhood of 111 degrees, scoop out a few cups of it. To those cups of milk you just scooped out, add a half a cup of yogurt. (See my note below on picking a yogurt culture/starter.) Using a whisk, mix the culture into the milk. Once the culture has been well incorporated into the milk, pour it all into the original saucepan. Give it a bit of a whisking to mix it all together.

2b. (optional) ADD SWEETENER. This step is necessary for making vanilla yogurt. If you like your yogurt plain-Jane, omit this step. Otherwise, add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 3/4 cup of sugar. Give it a slight mixing. To ensure that it dilutes well, you can also add these ingredients to the milk before it has completely cooled to 111.

3. POUR IT INTO JARS. This can be the messiest part, so I like to first pour the liquid into a pitcher or a measuring cup with an angled mouth to aid in pouring. As you can see, for this batch I used a funnel. Not much more to say about this step! Fill your jars, close them with the lids, and then…

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4. PUT THEM TO BED. I take a large towel and lay it in the oven. I place my filled jars on one layer of the towel and then wrap the towel over and around it. Snug as a bug in a rug! Then, turn on the oven light. Leave the oven itself OFF. I repeat: do NOT turn on the oven. The oven light emits enough heat to keep the inside of the oven warm. The towel helps to insulate as well.

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5. LEAVE THEM ‘TIL MORNING. Leave your yogurt in the oven, undisturbed for at least 6 hours. I normally wait about 8 and then check it. (The longer it’s in there the firmer it will get.) Each time I’ve been greeted with solid jars of probiotic poo! Don’t be discouraged if it’s not quite as firm as you expected. Sometimes it can take as long as 24 hours for it to reach desired consistency. Also, remember that many commercial brands add things like pectin or gelatin to firm it up more quickly. Ours will not have that, so it will be a different consistency than store-bought yogurt. Then put ‘em in the fridge to hang out ’til you’re ready to enjoy them!

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Here are a few more TIPS that I have found helpful:

PICKING A CULTURE/STARTER. To make yogurt, you need the bacteria. So you’ll need existing yogurt. I like Danon. The point is, your culture has to have 2 main bacteria: lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus. So make sure whatever culture you pick has at least those two. (Some add others, but these are the only two that are necessary.) Also, it doesn’t take much! So you could pick up a small cup of it rather than a larger tub. Not much is needed because the bacteria do better when they have less competition and more milk to eat. Once you begin making your own yogurt, you can save the last 1/2 cup or so as the culture for the next batch. If you head out of town for longer than your yogurt will keep, you can just pick up a small cup to use as a starter.

WHEN TO MAKE IT. I like making it at night. My normal routine is to prepare my milk after dinner, let it cool and then put it to bed not long before I put Evie to bed. Your yogurt will needs to be undisturbed for 6-8 hours. So making it before bed means it’ll be ready by the time you wake the next morning and it won’t tie up the oven for the day. If you make it during the day, pick a day when you don’t need the oven for other meals.

CONTAINERS. I can’t wait to get adorable, wide mouth Mason jars for my yogurt. I don’t really want to ship them overseas, so until we move, I’m totally fine with using old spaghetti sauce jars. Just wash them (especially the lids) out thoroughly or you’ll have tomato flavored yogurt!

WHAT ABOUT THE WHEY? A thin, liquidy substance may develop on the top of the yogurt. This is called whey and is completely normal. You can discard it by pouring it off or you can mix it back in with the yogurt. It’s perfectly normal.

HOW LONG IT WILL LAST. Your beautiful yogurt will last at least 7-10 days in your fridge. So make as much as you think you’ll consume in that amount of time and adjust the recipe accordingly. Remember to save a little bit of your yogurt as starter for the next batch!

Happy yogurting, my friends!
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