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Making Yogurt – The Easy Way

Easy way to make yogurt - LivingHomegrown.com

All homemade yogurt is surprisingly easy to make.

But most people make one of the heated (thermophilic) yogurts. These are what we would normally think of as traditional yogurt (Greek or Bulgarian style yogurts) They are made by heating and cooling the milk, inoculating it with a yogurt culture and then keeping it at 110 degrees for a few hours to ferment.

Although this is fairly simple and makes a delicious yogurt, I sometimes find the heating and temperature requirements to be a pain.

But there is another way!

You can make a delicious yogurt at room temperature.

Yep, room temperature. No heating or maintaining a temperature.

EASY PEASY!

All that is required is an heirloom yogurt culture from the mesophilic class of yogurts. (More on that below).

  • It is cultured at room temperature (70-78 degrees F)
  • There is no need to heat the milk – at ALL!
  • It can be reused to culture the next batch -Indefinitely!
  • It has the same benefits as the heated yogurt
  • It is just as delicious as the heated yogurt (I swear!)

Everything you need to start is in the post below.

And if you want to dig even DEEPER, here is an entire podcast episode giving more details:

How To Make Yogurt At Home – Living Homegrown Podcast

How to make yogurt - LivingHomegrown.com

How is Traditional Yogurt Made?

It helps to first understand how traditional or thermophilic (heat-loving) yogurt is made. This type of bacteria only grows or cultures at about 110 degrees.

So this means that to make it, you go through a process of heating and then cooling the milk to 110 degrees. You inoculate it with a yogurt culture and then keep it at that temperature for a few hours to ferment. You do this in either a yogurt maker or some other warming device like a warm oven, etc.

At that temperature, the culture consumes the milk’s sugar, multiplies and magically converts the milk into yogurt.

What is Mesophilic Yogurt?

Mesophilic refers to the fact that the bacteria thrive at moderate or room temperature conditions.

This type of yogurt creates the same transformation of milk to yogurt, but it is able to do it at room temperature (70-78 degrees F). If you go too much above or below that, the cultures will do nothing at all.

Villi Yogurt - LivingHomegrown.com

Flavor & Consistency:

Mesophilic yogurt has all the same benefits as traditional yogurt and a similar tangy flavor. But it has a thinner consistency.

I use a Viili culture because I like the flavor and consistency of that particular strain. The fact that it is thinner does not bother me because I use it in smoothies. But it certainly thick enough to eat with a spoon with fruit.

But there are other yogurt cultures that fall into this mesophilic category:

  • Filmjolk (very thin, drinkable)
  • Piima (thin consistency, tangy/cheese-like flavor)
  • Matsoni (thicker, stronger flavor, excellent in frozen yogurt)

You get different flavor (tartness) and consistency (thickness) based on the yogurt culture you use and how long it ferments. You can also get different characteristics based on the milk you choose to culture in (whole vs. low fat, etc.).

Also, the longer you let a yogurt culture, the more tart it will be. But if you let it ferment too long, the yogurt will begin to separate into curds (solids) and whey (liquid).

Where Do You Buy These Cultures?

I get mine at Cultures for Health. They are high quality and reliable. Plus, they have lots of information on how to use them. But there are many other sources on the Internet.

Homemade Yogurt - LivingHomegrown.com

If Fermenting Feels Scary To You:

Listen, you will be leaving perfectly good milk out on the counter for 12-48 hours.

If you are a newbie, this can feel a little weird at first. You may even worry that you will poison your family!

Don’t worry.

If it is a healthy culture, it will immediately take over the milk and begin to turn the milk sugar to lactic acid. This acid environment is safe and free from things like botulism.

But even if something goes wrong, you are not going to get botulism from this. During fermentation, the milk is not sealed in a jar. So you are working in an aerobic environment (oxygen is present), making botulism a non-issue here.

Even if something does go wrong with your starting yogurt culture (i.e. it’s dead or weak), the milk will spoil rather than culture. And just like spoiled milk in the refrigerator, you will know because it will smell bad. (Hint: If it smells unpleasant, don’t eat it.)

Once you make your own yogurt on your counter, you will feel victorious – in a rebellious sort of way.

Heck, you may even feel like getting a yogurt tattoo or something. (But let’s not go nuts here, OK?)

What Type of Milk to Use:

I make viili yogurt with whole, organic, pasteurized milk. You can’t use ultra-pasteurized because it is too sterile and won’t work well.

But the milk can be homogenized or non-homogenized – your choice.  You can use low fat milk, but the consistency will be even thinner.

Although you can use raw, goat and even nut milks to make yogurt, the steps are a little bit different. For the sake of a shorter post, I am only describing cow’s milk here.

How To Make Room Temperature Yogurt:

Homemade Yogurt - LivingHomegrown.comLook how easy this is:

  1. Purchase a Viili starter. I get mine from Cultures for Health.
  2. Pour your milk into a clean jar. I use my vintage canning jars for this because they look so lovely on the counter.
  3. Add the starter and stir. (It is okay to use stainless steel or wooden spoons)
  4. Add a coffee filter or cloth over the top to keep out bugs. Use a rubber band to hold it in place.
  5. Let the mixture sit for 12-18 hours until it sets. (During your initial fermentation and the creation of your first starter, it can take up to 48 hours. But should only take about 12-18 hours during subsequent ferments.) The time varies depending upon the strength of your starter and the temperature of the room.
  6. You will know it is done when the yogurt will pull away from the sides and is thickened. At this point, put it in the refrigerator for 6 hours to set, firm up and stop the fermentation.
  7. After that, you can eat it!

Making the Next Batch:

Remember, this type of yogurt culture can be used over and over again…indefinitely. This means that if you keep this culture alive, you never have to buy yogurt again.

To keep your culture viable, you must try to make your next batch of yogurt within 5-7 days. After that time frame, the culture will start to die off and may not be healthy enough to re-culture.

If you get into a routine, it’s not too difficult. I make my yogurt every 7 days on the weekend.

To make your next batch, add one tablespoon of your previous yogurt for every 1 cup of milk. For example:  2 tablespoons of yogurt would be mixed with 2 cups of milk – and so on. Stir well and continue on with step 4 above.

Vacations & Trips:

Trips happen. If you want to keep making yogurt, do one of the following:

  • Make a fresh batch of yogurt just before leaving on your trip.
  • Have a friend keep the yogurt starter and remake a batch for you while you are gone.
  • Freeze some yogurt in 1 tablespoon measurements (I have not tried this myself, but hear it works)
  • Just start over with a new purchased starter culture when you get home

Can I Sweeten or Flavor It?

Yes!  I use maple syrup. But you can stir in fruit, vanilla, honey or whatever you want. But first, always pull out some unsweetened, unflavored yogurt to use for your next batch.

So What Do You Think?

Do you make yogurt at home? Think you might try?

Tell me in the comments.

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.