Making yogurt is so easy, and not at all technical. People have been doing it for ages without food thermometers or fancy yogurt makers!
I learned how to make yogurt from a couple of Syrian ladies a few years ago, so this method is based on what they showed me. I'm calling it Syrian yogurt in honour of them, and in the hopes that their families and friends are safe despite the escalating casualties in the Syrian civil war.
Once you get the hang of making basic yogurt you can up your game and make Greek style yogurt, or the thick, drained yogurt known as labneh in the Middle East. This is my absolute favorite type of yogurt!
Why make your own yogurt?
Making yogurt is cheaper and healthier than store bought, and super easy.
Honestly, even though I knew how to make yogurt years ago I didn't often do it because I could get organic plain yogurt for a reasonable price and didn't always eat it anyway.
However, when I came to the US last year I was shocked at how difficult it is to find yogurt that isn't made with corn syrup in the regular markets! That just seems to defeat the purpose of eating yogurt!! The only yogurt that doesn't have seem to have corn syrup in it is organic, and that's at least $5 a container. So I'm back to making my own yogurt!
To make yogurt you'll only need 2 ingredients: Milk and starter culture (pre made yogurt). What type of each changes the quality and texture of your yogurt.
The type of milk you use is important.
Preferably you'll want organic, whole milk. If you can get raw, go for it! This is, afterall, what people have been using until very recently to make yogurt. Otherwise look for regular pasteurized rather than ultra pasteurized. Pasteurization kills bacteria, and you want bacteria in your yogurt, that's what makes it good!
Yes, organic is more expensive, but you don't want me ranting about hormones and corn-fed cows and e-coli right now, do you? Ultimately, once you get your yogurt system going you'll be able to make tons of organic, tasty yogurt for far cheaper than storebought regular yogurt.
Also, the more fat, the better the yogurt. Seriously, who wants runny skim milk yogurt? A little bit of fat never hurt anyone, at least not the good kind of fat.
The type of yogurt you use as a starter makes a difference.
You'll need about 1/2 - 1 cup plain yogurt as a starter, to get the bacteria growing in your milk. Once you make your own yogurt you can simply reserve some of it to use as a starter. For your first time you'll need some store-bought yogurt.
Again, ideally organic yogurt is preferable. You'll also want to use a thicker yogurt, as this will in turn make thicker yogurt.
If you can't find thick organic yogurt (i.e. Stoneyfield is organic, but thin and runny), and you want your yogurt to be thick, then you can turn your runny yogurt starter into Greek yogurt first following the directions below, then use it.
This method is pretty fool proof and non-techy, but I've included tech notes for those who need to be absolutely sure they're doing the right thing!
Milk (anywhere from 2 cups to 4 gallons, the amount of milk = the final amount of yogurt)
1/2 - 1 cup plain yogurt
1. Bring your yogurt starter to room temp.
2. Stirring regularly, in a thick bottomed saucepan bring milk almost to a boil over high heat. You want it to get foamy and just start to roll. You do not want it to burn to the bottom of the pot.
For those tech-y folks, this means your milk will be at 170F on a candy thermometer :)
2. Remove from heat and cool until it's cold enough to touch, but warmer than room temp. You can do this slowly on the counter, or quickly by placing your pot in a sink of cold water.
For those with thermometer in hand, this is about 120F.
3. Blend your yogurt starter into your milk until smooth.
4. Keep your yogurt warm for 8-10 hrs or overnight. You can do this a few different ways. First, you can choose to do this with all the yogurt in the pot, or in clean containers, like mason jars. I was taught to just leave it in the pot, but have switched to glass jars for convenience.
To keep your yogurt warm (approx 120F) you can:
a) Wrap the pot in a large towel and place in the oven with the oven light on. (I've done this numerous times successfully)
b) Pour into containers with tight fitting lids, place in a cooler and pour in several inches of hot water. Cover the cooler with the lid. (This is also a successful method for me)
c) Place on a warming pad. (I haven't tried this but I've heard some people do it)
d) Keep warm in a crock pot (Also haven't tried it personally)
I usually do this in the evening and wake up to fresh, thick yogurt in the morning! Now on to the thick labneh, Greek style yogurt.
To Make Greek Style drained yogurt (or Labneh)
Materials:Cheesecloth or cotton flour bag
Method:1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth or a flour sack.
2. If adding salt to yogurt, add to taste and stir in.
3. Pour yogurt into cheesecloth. Tie cloth around the wooden spoon so the bag can hang. Place a bowl under the strainer to catch the whey and move to the fridge to drain for 2 -10 hrs. The time will depend on how thick you want the yogurt to be.
I love love love thick drained yogurt. In Syria they drizzle olive oil and salt over the labneh and then slather it on bread. You can also use it as a veggie or cracker dip.
How do you like to use yogurt?
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