They say that the origin of yogurt occurred many millennia ago, when nomadic Turks carried in goat skin bags. This apparently introduced bacteria to the milk, which allowed it to coagulate, and a new word, and staple food of many civilizations was formed. Yogurt, according to history, has been responsible for the fecundity of Patriarchs, the cure of intestinal ailments in Kings, and remarkably long lifespans of peasants.
Yogurt today is thought to promote digestive health, aid in the prevention of osteoporosis, and reduce the risk of high blood pressure. But the best part about yogurt, is that it tastes good! It’s versatile! It can be found in almost any grocery or convenience store, and its easy to make! “Wait” you say, “Easy to make? I though you had to use a special machine, and buy special cultures?” Nope, I make yogurt on an almost weekly basis, I have no special equipment, no powdered cultures, and no goat skin bags to hang on the back of my camel.
Here is the list of items I use to make yogurt; a large pot (not aluminum), a lid, and a large towel. That’s it! I used to use a thermometer, but since I’ve been making yogurt for so long, I no longer need one. The trick to making yogurt, is to heat milk to about 185 degrees, which prevents the proteins from curdling, then, cool the milk to about 113 degrees, add culture (I’ll explain shortly) and try to maintain the temperature for 4 – 10 hours. Maintaining a warm milk temperature allows the culture to stay happy, and happy cultures multiply prolifically, which then thickens the milk into yogurt. (That is the textbook explanation, with the technical terms included, look it up if you don’t believe me).
Another benefit of making your own yogurt is the cost. I can make about 3 quarts of yogurt from one gallon of milk, and if I strain excess whey to make Greek style yogurt, I can get about 2 quarts. One gallon of organic milk sells at my grocery store for about 6 dollars. One quart of organic Greek/strained yogurt sells for about 8 dollars, you do the math.
As I said earlier, you don’t need any special culture, all you need is 1/4 cup of plain yogurt with live cultures. Choose a plain yogurt with the flavor you like best – the flavor of the homemade yogurt will closely reflect the “parent” yogurt.
I like to start the yogurt making process about an hour or so before going to bed. Then, before I go to sleep, I tuck my yogurt in, sing it a quick lullaby (happy cultures, remember?) and in the morning, I strain the whey and can have fresh yogurt for breakfast.