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Make Your Own Yogurt!

January 6, 2009
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In our house, we eat a LOT of yogurt. I usually have some every day, either in a smoothie, or with some of my favorite granola and some fresh fruit or homemade jam stirred in.  Plain is the name of the game in our house (I find the commercial flavored kinds sickeningly sweet), and always organic. Have you ever looked at the list of ingredients in some of the non-organic  flavored yogurts out there? The kinds billed “Light” are the worst offenders. Yuck.

One week this past summer, I gazed upon our ever-growing stack of empty yogurt containers (we were saving them for transplanting our vegetable seedlings into) and thought to myself, oh man, there has got to be a better way. Besides the obvious expense of going through that much yogurt each week, the amount of plastic containers building up just didn’t seem to me to be very sustainable. We try to be conscious of our impact on the earth, in whatever ways we can, and accumulating that many plastic containers just seemed to be kind of wasteful. Beyond that, I was just curious! I knew there were yogurt making machines out there, but I’m all about learning to do things myself (plus, I try not to accumulate machines in the kitchen that serve only one purpose – with the exception of our ice cream maker, of course.) Doing  a little bit of research, I discovered that people have been making yogurt as a means of preserving milk for literally thousands of years – since 2000 BC! – and honestly, it’s easy! The main things you need are a milk you like (I usually use organic 2% milk), a starter culture of yogurt (which can be any plain yogurt that contains active live cultures, either storebought or some of  your last batch of homemade yogurt), a way to measure the temperature of the milk, and a way to maintain temperature in the yogurt while it incubates for 4-6 hours. There are a few different ways you can do this, but I’ve had great success using a simple electric heating pad that I picked up for about $10 at CVS. (The heating pad also comes in handy when I’m making bread; it keeps a warm, constant temperature around the bowl while the dough rises.)

And, homemade yogurt is utterly delicious. It’s milder in taste than storebought plain yogurt, not sour. It has a wonderful creamy, smooth consistency, not as gelatinous or stiff as the storebought yogurt. And the beauty of it is that you can completely customize it according to your tastes. Like it very thick? Add more powdered milk. Want to sweeten it a little bit? Add some honey or maple syrup. You can stir in any jam or preserves to make flavored yogurt. I made a batch this past weekend, and tried to take photos as I went along — so I hope you enjoy, and if you love yogurt as much as we do, maybe you’ll try to make your own this year, too!

Equipment and materials: get these all ready before you start.

1. A large heavy stockpot, washed and clean.

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2. A skillet that will hold a spoon, candy thermometer, and whisk. You could get away without a whisk if you wanted, but I use it to whisk in powdered milk. You’re going to sterilize these tools in this skillet, so the skillet should be deep enough so the tools can be submerged in water that you’ll boil. I use a 3 quart skillet.

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3. An electric heating pad (I bought mine at CVS for about $10), and a few clean dishtowels. Have your heating pad set to the highest setting so it’s warm and ready to go.

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4. Your choice of milk. I usually use Organic Valley 2%, but you can use skim or whole milk. I use a half gallon of milk at a time, which will make a little over 8 cups of yogurt.

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5. Powdered milk – this thickens the yogurt up a bit. I use Organic Valley nonfat dry milk, and a resealable pouch like this has lasted me just about 6 months.

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6. Half a cup of starter culture (plain yogurt), in a liquid measuring cup. The first time you make it, you will use a storebought brand of plain yogurt that has live active cultures. I’d recommend Stonyfield Farm plain organic yogurt, as it has 6 kinds of live active cultures. These live active cultures – varieties of lactobacillus bacteria, to be more specific – are important, as they’re the bacteria that will turn your milk into yogurt as it incubates. Once you’ve made your first batch, you can save a 1/2 cup portion each time and use it as the starter for your next batch.

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7. You’ll need some containers to store your yogurt in, in the fridge. I use glass Pyrex containers, just because that’s what we usually use for storing food.

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8. An ice water bath. I fill up one basin of our kitchen sink about halfway, and dump in ice cubes. The ice water bath will be used to cool down the milk before you add the starter culture.

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Once you have all of the above equipment and ingredients gathered, you’re ready to start!

The Process

1. Take your milk and starter culture out and have them at room temperature.

2. Now, you’ll sterilize the utensils to be used in the milk. To do this, place your thermometer, spoon, and a small whisk (if you want) in the skillet and fill the skillet with water so the parts of the tools that will touch the milk are submerged underwater. I also lay a pair of metal tongs in along the side; I’ll use the tongs to lift the tools out of the boiling water. Once the water reaches a boil, let it boil for 1 minute before removing the tools.

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3. Once your tools are sterilized, lift them out of the boiling water with the sterilized tongs, and set them on one of the clean dishtowels.

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4. Place the milk in your heavy-bottomed stockpot, and shake in about 1/4 cup of powdered milk. Start this mixture heating over medium-high heat.

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5. Place your thermometer on the side of the pot so it’s submerged in the milk.

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6. Using your sterilized whisk (you can use a spoon, but a whisk works better), mix in the powdered milk until there are no more lumps.

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7. Continue heating the milk mixture, stirring occasionally. You want to bring the temperature to just under boiling – 185 degree F. This will kill off any unwanted bacteria that might be in there.

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8. Once the milk mixture reaches 185 degrees F, keep it there for 1 minute, then remove the pot from the heat and transfer the pot directly into the ice water bath. Stir the milk mixture  until the temperature comes down to between 120 and 115 degrees.

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9. Transfer the pot to the preheated heating pad (I usually place a dishtowel on top of the heating pad, which I rest the pot on.)

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10. Use your spoon to transfer 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture into the liquid measuring cup containing your starter yogurt. Mix the warm milk into the starter yogurt until it’s pretty smooth.

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11. Now, pour the warmed starter yogurt/milk mixture back into the pot, and stir thoroughly to combine.

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12. Put the lid on your pot, and wrap the pot in a few dishtowels. Keep the pot, wrapped in dishtowels, on the heating pad for 4-6 hours. The yogurt should stay around 105-110 degrees F for this entire time, which is why I wrap it in dishtowels – they help insulate it. If the temperature drops much below that, it will be too cold for the bacteria to work; too much higher, and the bacteria will be killed. The yogurt should be set after 4 hours; leaving it longer will develop a bit more tang. I usually leave mine for 6 hours.

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13. After 4-6 hours, your yogurt is ready! Stir it well with a spoon to create a smooth, even texture. It will seem fairly loose at this point, but will firm up overnight in the fridge.

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14. After you’ve stirred it thoroughly, transfer the yogurt into your containers, and place them in the fridge overnight.

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15. Make sure to reserve 1/2 cup of the yogurt to use as a starter for your next batch. If you want to make sure no one accidentally eats it, you can always put a little note on the container.🙂

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And that’s it! Start to finish, I find the prep process (not including incubation period) usually takes me about 30 minutes. The yogurt lasts us about 2 weeks, and like I said before, it’s really delicious! I love the fresh, creamy taste and consistency, and the way I can tailor it to my tastes however I want. If you’re inside on a rainy or snowy weekend this winter, it’s a great time to try making your own!

More yogurt information:

History and Folklore of Yogurt Making (Stonyfield Farm)

Make Your Own Yogurt (Mother Earth News) – detailed step-by-step description of the process, as well as alternate methods of incubating your yogurt if you don’t have a heating pad

Homemade Yogurt (101 Cookbooks) – more interesting information about yogurt, as well as a “tasting notes” sheet you can use for your homemade yogurt experiments.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2009 11:47 am

    Amy, this is so cool! There is so much great information (and inspiration) in this post. Can’t wait to try …

  2. January 6, 2009 12:12 pm

    Excellent, detailed post. I agree wholeheartedly with you about store-bought flavored yogurt. I never thought of adding jam to my yogurt – sounds good.
    Thanks for all the tips – you’ve made me want to start up making yogurt again.🙂

  3. January 6, 2009 12:50 pm

    We also eat a lot of yogurt in our house, so I started making my own yogurt about 1 1/2 years ago. I make 1/2 gallon almost weekly. I’m a lot lazier in my preparation though and warm up the milk in a pot and mix and incubate it in a 1/2 gallon jar, so I don’t need any utensils. Prep time is much shorter and less dishes to wash. Additionally, we get our milk straight from the farm in glass bottles, so we don’t have any materials going into the recycling bin. Here’s my method if you are interested in checking it out: http://tardyhomemaker.blogspot.com/2008/08/making-yogurt.html.

    I use a heating pad, too, and found it the best method for heat regulation after several failed experiments with other methods!

  4. January 6, 2009 1:15 pm

    We go through at least 1/2 gallon of homemade yogurt every week, so I started making my own in the crock pot. So easy! We use raw milk from a local farmer. My toddler eats it straight – it’s that good. Love your site.

  5. January 6, 2009 4:24 pm

    I have wanted to make yogurt for some time now. Thanks for all your great info and photos. I see I need to collect a few things before I set out on this project!

  6. January 6, 2009 4:25 pm

    This looks less intimidating than I would have thought. So if I follow all these steps, then I would be able to strain it to make greek yogurt right? I think I may try this on Sunday.

  7. January 6, 2009 7:43 pm

    love the note🙂 this looks so neat, i’ll have to give a go sometime…

  8. January 6, 2009 10:44 pm

    I am definitely going to give this a try!

  9. January 7, 2009 6:54 am

    very cool! I love the pictures and all of the details, this will be a fun winter project – now you have to try a bit of yogurt cheese it’s a great substitute for cream cheese and I’ve been using it to spread on toast, for frostings, and as a dip binder.

  10. January 7, 2009 10:16 am

    Amy, this is like the time you made your own cheese, now I want to make yogurt too! What a great tutorial, I’m bookmarking this for one of those wintery, shut-in days.🙂

  11. January 7, 2009 2:42 pm

    I can not wait to do this! I can’t believe it’s so…unintimidating. Not what I would have guessed at all!

  12. January 7, 2009 4:55 pm

    Great informative post! You made it very clear and look very easy!

  13. January 8, 2009 6:06 am

    wow this is super impressive, I’ve just made my own paneer so will add this to my list for later!

  14. January 8, 2009 3:32 pm

    I’m sitting here, eating my Yoplait peach yogurt, and all of sudden I can taste all the excess sugar in this stuff. I’m saving the cup for seedlings, as you wisely suggested, but next week, I’m making my own yogurt. Thanks for such a fantastic layout!

  15. Betsy permalink
    January 8, 2009 6:44 pm

    Amy, this is such a great post! You answered all my questions about making yogurt, and I am definitely going to try making my own soon!

  16. January 9, 2009 10:57 pm

    I had forgotten about making our own yogurt. This was great (and awesome to look at, with your pictures). I got a yogurt maker as a gift when I graduated from college (won’t mention when that was) and wonder where it ended up. But use a heating pad?!!! Why not!
    Thanks for this. Brought me back to reality. Even tho’ we buy organic yogurt, why not make it?

  17. January 10, 2009 9:49 am

    Thanks Kristin! I hope you enjoy.

    Erica – so glad you liked the post! My personal favorite is fresh blueberry jam stirred in…yum.

    Lisa and Shannon – you both are so lucky to have that nutritious raw milk at the ready…I’ll bet it makes such delicious yogurt.

    Gretchen – glad you liked it!

    Victoria – yes, I’ve read that if you strain the yogurt overnight in cheesecloth, over a bowl in the fridge, it will be thick like Greek yogurt. I too have to try that!

    ttfn300, Sara – enjoy!

    sue bette – I saw that yogurt cheese on your blog and I made a mental note to myself…I definitely am going to try that!

    LyB – enjoy!

    Holly – I was surprised too, and now that I’ve made it a few times, it really goes quickly and easily. I hope you enjoy!

    Dana – thanks!

    Rachel – ooh, homemade paneer sounds delicious.

    KitchenVixen – thanks; I’m so glad you found it helpful!

    betsy – thanks!🙂 Hope you and C enjoy.

    oh – yes! I’m all about trying to make my own version of commercial products…homemade is almost always better, in my book! I find the heating pad works quite well. Cheers!

  18. christine permalink
    January 12, 2009 5:15 pm

    Ok I tried doing this this weekend. I found it hard to keep my heating pad temp. consistently at around 110 115 degrees. I confess a couple times it did get up close to 120, but I quickly uncovered the pan and let it cool down a little. Soooo, with that confession, my yogurt didn’t really turn out. It’s got a sort of slimy consistency with areas of thickness. do you think it was the temp control that ruined me?

  19. Penny permalink
    January 13, 2009 1:32 pm

    I don’t even like yogurt, but after reading your recipe I was so inspired – I am going to make some this week! I can’t wait to taste it!

  20. Kristina permalink
    January 29, 2009 12:02 pm

    I just came across this doing a search for making my own yogurt, and this is the one I’m going with (with a couple modifications from others I’ve read). Thanks for posting this, along with the pictures — I think the creamy final product is what convinced me!

    I’m kind of doing this on the cheap, without a thermometer or a heating pad (GREAT idea, though, if this seems lucrative I might get one), but I think from other things I’ve read I can do it. I’m also skipping the powdered milk, so I’ll let you know how it works. A tip I got from another site for thickening is to put it in the freezer for a bit before putting in the refrigerator overnight.

    Next stop, labneh (soft cheese made from yogurt), my own vegetable broth, and I won’t need to buy ANYTHING with more than one ingredient in it!

  21. Heather permalink
    May 20, 2009 7:05 pm

    I made this recipe the other day and my yogurt turned out nice and thick and it tastes okay, but it has a curdy texture to it, not smooth at all, which I really don’t like. What did I do wrong?

  22. massybird permalink
    October 29, 2009 7:10 am

    Amy, have you tried using goat or sheep milk for your yogurt? I’d be curious to see how the taste and texture are affected with different types of milk. I’ll try goat milk this weekend and let you know what I find.

  23. November 30, 2009 5:25 am

    Seeing this post was just what I needed. My brother use to make it, but about 30 years ago! I have everything and I “thank you ” for the wonderful instructions on how to….

  24. March 28, 2010 8:46 am

    Hey mama! LOVE this post! We have linked to it on our blog and I hope you don’t mind me forcing my friendship on you.😉

    Today IS the right day for me to finally get my yogurt making on…

    Thank you for the inspiration!!

    Much Love ~
    Sadie from allnaturalme.com

  25. May 19, 2010 5:23 pm

    Hi. I made yogurt today. I sterelized all the utencils, followed the right tempretures etc, but after 3h of incubation at 48C, it was totally set end there was allot of whey leakage. 8 cups of milk yielded 4 cups of yogurt… or yogurt cheese? Do you have an idea what could have happened?

  26. Nikki permalink
    May 5, 2011 4:45 pm

    thank you so much for the heating pad idea! i was just thinking about that this morning, as I’m calculating out some flour to try to cultivate my very first sourdough starter (without eggs, wheat, milk, bakers yeast,potato…yadda yadda!)
    Heating pad!!! mine turns off after one hour, but I have a gas heater.. maybe they will live on the shelf there.
    thank you for another idea that doesnt make me go and buy MORE machines!! Its good to hear the ice cream maker is worth the space and money though- ive been trying to decide whether to purchase one or not. then i realize the only SAFE ice cream or froyo I can eat (there are VERY rare ice creams without eggs, gluten, and corn syrup). i usually eat yogurt to help with the fact there is milk in it. But…. its 6 bucks a pint for the only safe ice cream near me…… and a pint is just NOT very much🙂
    maybe I’m gonna make some yogurt, and then some FROZEN yogurt, over the next few days.
    thank you for my next project!!

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