Get Cultured

As I get older and (I hope) wiser, I continue to want to make more and more of our food from scratch. I've taken on mayo, mustard, ricotta, buttermilk, jams and jellies, roasted pumpkin, hot cocoa, bread and butter pickles and salad dressing. No matter the effort  to make these things--though often times it's actually much easier to make it than buy it, the homemade version is immeasurably superior to the store bought stuff. So now it's time to get cultured!

Yes, cultured with yogurt. I love yogurt. Need I remind you that it pairs beautifully with Cowgirl Granola? We easily go through a large container of the Greek Gods yogurt every week, which got me thinking, "Why not make my own yogurt?" It seems so easy. Milk, a little yogurt starter, some heat, a long time fermenting and you've got yogurt. I can do that!

The funny thing is everyone seems to have a slightly different approach. Heat milk to 170 degrees. Heat milk to 185 degrees. Let the milk cool to 90 degrees. Let milk cool to 110 degrees. Cool it naturally. Cool it in a cold water bath. Wrap the jars in towels and set in a warm place for four hours. Place the jars in an oven with a light on overnight. Whose advice do I follow?

They all say that experimentation is key. I'm always up for a little experimentation so I decided to give it a whirl. Worst case is that I turn it into frozen yogurt. Best case, I'll have delicious homemade yogurt. Looks like I win either way!

And I found out quickly that it is imperative to figure out what works for you. I learned that wrapping the glass jar in a towel is essential. And do not let the oven light go off. I also learned that once the yogurt is the consistency you like it, it will thicken up a little more once you refrigerate it, so keep that in mind. We preferred the less tangy tasting yogurt, which we got after fermenting it for just 8 hours. So play around with it and see what you like best.

Here a few of the links I consulted before making homemade yogurt. Browse their suggestions and make your own yogurt concoction. It does take a bit of experimenting--see my notes below on how I did this. One thing I can do is promise you that the homemade version beats any yogurt I have ever had.
Buen provecho!

On the left is undrained yogurt and on the right is drained Greek yogurt.

Homemade Yogurt
The Cowgirl Gourmet combined many approaches to come up with this recipe

Print recipe

While it may seem like this takes a lot of time, it's not active time but rather waiting. I made the yogurt at night and let it sit in the oven with the light on while I slept, so there was great anticipation when I woke the next morning! You can do this however you want but it really only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish to make homemade yogurt. And the taste, well, amazing. Not too tangy, but just right.

Makes 1 quart (this recipe can easily be doubled or tripled)

4 cups organic whole milk
2 Tablespoons Fage yogurt

Tools you'll need:
Candy thermometer
Large glass jar (Mason or Ball jars with lids work perfectly)
Cheese cloth

In a heavy saucepan, heat the milk to 185 degrees. This should take about five minutes. While it is heating up, stir the milk occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.

Once the temperature reaches 185, remove the pan from the cook top and pour into a glass dish or jar. Allow milk to cool, uncovered, to 100 degrees. Depending on the season, this can take about 2-3 hours. Alternatively, you could quicken the cooling process by setting the glass dish or jar in a bowl of ice water--making sure not to allow any water into the milk.

As the milk is nearing 120 degrees, turn on the light to the oven so it warms up a bit.

Once the milk reaches 100 degrees, remove 2 Tablespoons of the cooling milk and place it in a bowl.

Then add 2 Tablespoons yogurt to the cooling milk and stir well to combine. Add milk and yogurt mixture back into the cooling milk and stir gently to combine. Cover with plastic wrap, wrap dish or jar in an old towel and carefully place it in the oven with the light on.

Wrap the jar or dish in an old towel to keep it warm.
Close the oven and leave it alone for 8-12 hours. Be sure the oven light remains on as this is a key step in turning the milk to yogurt.

After 12 hours, using a spoon, check and see what the texture of the yogurt looks and feels like. And smell it, too. Depending on how you like your yogurt, you may think the thinner texture is just right.

If you prefer a tangier, thicker yogurt, go ahead and leave it in the oven with the light on, wrapped in a towel for 2-4 more hours or even longer if you choose.

This is the second batch of yogurt I made
and let it sit in the oven with the light on overnight.
Look how the spatula just stands at attention!
Then I let it sit another few hours just for some extra tang
for a total of about 15-16 hours.
Once it looks and smells good, place it in the refrigerator to chill for 4 hours. It will thicken even more in the fridge.

Take it out of the fridge and put some yogurt in a bowl to test the flavor and texture.

If you prefer a Greek-style yogurt, you can drain the yogurt and remove the whey.

To make Greek yogurt, get a big bowl and line a colander or sieve with cheese cloth. Place the lined colander or sieve in the bowl and pour the yogurt in and let sit in the refrigerator for 4 hours until all of the whey has drained. You may want to investigate the benefits of whey and keep it to add to lemonade or tea.

Now you have Greek yogurt!

  • Add a bit of honey to the yogurt, stir and then spoon Cowgirl Granola over it.
  • Spoon it on top of baked potatoes.
  • Add a dollop to make a creamy salad dressing.
  • Add some sugar substitute, honey or fruit spread and top with fresh fruit.
The options are limitless. Store in the refrigerator and enjoy.

To make more yogurt, reserve enough that will get you started on your next batch.
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