Homemade yogurt from purchased yogurt

Andreae Prozesky, like her yogurt, is well cultured.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m not someone who identifies as hippie-like. I prefer my clothes crisp, my jewellery un-hempen, my hair tidy, and my shoes free of cork.

But when it comes to food, I have to admit that I lean a little towards the hippie direction. As if the home-made granola didn’t tip you off.

Let me reveal to you, gentle reader, my newest obsession in the world of home economics: I make my own yogurt. Granted, throughout much of the world, people make their own yogurt every other day. They’re probably doing it right now.

But making your own yogurt here, now, in the face of “pre-and-pro-biotic” enriched multinational yogurt brands, makes you look a little weird.

It wasn’t always thus. There was a time when the dairy case at the local grocery store wasn’t buckling under the weight of thirty varieties of yogurt, like it is now. If you lived in Newfoundland and had developed a taste for yogurt, making your own was the only practical way to ensure a steady supply of high-quality stuff, teeming with healthy live bacteria and challenging the taste buds with simultaneous hits of tartness and creaminess.

So it was when I was a child, when my mother—hippied out in floral kerchiefs and diaphanous blouses—would make homemade yogurt in little glass jars with plastic lids in a plug-in yogurt maker in the kitchen. She wasn’t the only one doing it, either. Folks of all stripes were getting in on the action, coaxing milk into yogurt in crocks, behind furnaces, on radiators, and wherever a steady temperature of 115°F (46°C) could be found.

If you were eating yogurt, chances are that you or someone you love had made it.

Then, suddenly, yogurt became all popular, and you could buy it anywhere—in plastic tubs, foil-topped single-serving containers, throwaway tubes (seriously), even beverages (remember Yop?). Yogurt became part of the mainstream, and became as sugar-laden and artificially-flavoured as anything else in the supermarket. Whatever dignity yogurt had was stripped, along with its tartness (enter Aspartame and its ilk) and its creaminess (bye-bye delicious, wholesome milk fat).

Finally, there came the continuing “probiotic” boom of the mid-aughts, with some of the creepiest advertising I have ever had the displeasure of witnessing, using words that suggest “yogurt makes you poop” alongside images that read “yogurt makes you skinny.”

…What?

I mean, that’s so Degrassi Junior High I can’t even believe it.

Sure, both claims are semi-valid: yogurt’s bacterial content does, shall we say, keep the digestive system chugging along as it should, and a relatively small serving of full-fat yogurt does fill you up nicely and healthfully, making you less likely to pig out on crappy junk foods later in the day, so there is some kind of weight-control benefit. But none of this is news, nor is it rocket science, nor am I convinced that patented, lab-grown bacteria like the Danone corporation’s “BL Regularis” do the trick any better than do the bacterial strains that have been used to make yogurt since time immemorial.

Despite what the yogurt behemoths would have you believe, there’s nothing complex about yogurt-makery. You take some milk, you heat it up, you add some bacteria, you keep the mixture all snuggly warm, and in a few hours you’ve got thick, delicious yogurt with all the health benefits and none of the trash (or innuendo). You don’t even need any special gear: I make my weekly batch in two 500 mililitre jam jars, but anything clean, with a lid you can close tightly, will work fine.

And where to get the magical bacterial cultures that make yogurt what it is? Well, you can either buy little packets of yogurt starter (as it’s called) at Food for Thought or in the health food section of some supermarkets, or you can just get some good, plain, no-junk-added yogurt and use that. I’ve tried the packets of starter and they’re fine, but I prefer to go with the old standby: Astro Balkan-style yogurt. But that’s just me. Use your favourite.

After you’ve made your first batch, save about ½ cup of yogurt to use as starter for your next batch. You can go on and on like this for ages, until your yogurt starts to taste too tart for your liking, or until the bacteria give up on you. Then you just buy a new carton of plain yogurt or packet of starter and begin again, beaming with pride while you admire the beautiful, health-promoting yogurt you’ve just made.

Homemade yogurt, my way (from purchased yogurt)

MAKES 1 LITRE

3 ½ cups milk (I use whole milk)
4 tablespoons instant powdered milk (thickens the yogurt and adds extra vitamin D)
½ cup plain, natural yogurt (the ingredients should just read “milk” or “milk ingredients” and “bacterial cultures”)

GEAR:
• large, stainless steel pot
• stainless steel whisk
• meat or candy thermometer (cheap in the gadget aisle at the grocery store)
• immaculately clean jars and lids to hold 1 litre of yogurt (reused jam jars are fine)
• tea towels, baby blankets, flannel shirts, or some other snuggly material for incubating the yogurt

In the large pot, over medium-low heat, warm the milk to 185F, stirring occasionally and keeping a close eye on it: milk can boil over very quickly, and it makes a huge mess. Once the thermometer reads 185F, remove the milk from the burner and whisk in the milk powder.

Leave the warmed milk alone until it has cooled down to about 115F. Stir your pre-existing 1/2 cup of yogurt into the 115F milk, then gently pour the milk mixture into the jars, and screw on the lids. The mixture may be a little lumpy. That’s okay, the yogurt won’t be.

Carefully wrap the jars in towels or shirts or whatever and place them in a large crock or box or basket or something where they will be kept upright. I use an old slow-cooker insert that I picked up at a thrift store for a few pennies.

Place the yogurt somewhere warm: in a gas oven with just the pilot light on, in an electric oven with the light left on, on top of the fridge (towards the back), next to your furnace or hot-water boiler… you get the idea. Forget about the yogurt for a little while, then go back and check it after a few hours have passed. Be gentle: yogurt doesn’t like being jostled.

The longer you leave the yogurt, the thicker and more tart it will be. I leave mine for five hours to get a thick, slightly tart batch.

When the yogurt has thickened and tartened to your liking, pop it in the fridge. Use it exactly as you would any other yogurt, but resist the temptation to add sweetener to the jar: exposure to sugars can kill the bacteria that make yogurt so good for you. Instead, drizzle some honey, maple syrup, or fruit preserves on your yogurt as you serve it.

Send your questions, comments, and active suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca

6 comments

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25 April 2007

  1. Dreae · April 25, 2007

    Shag-up alert! In my post-natal, sleep-deprived state, I left out one critical bit of information:

    You stir your pre-existing 1/2 cup of yogurt into the 115F milk before pouring the mixture into the jars and wrapping them up tight.

    Otherwise, you just have warm milk.

    So sorry for the omission!

  2. Kerry Cornell · April 25, 2007

    It worked! Perfect! No more multiplying plastic tubs falling out my cupboards for me. Thank you Andreae.

  3. Lori Butler · April 25, 2007

    LOVE IT!!! Totally excited!

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