Little… Tiny… Bugs: Turning Milk Into Yogurt


May 12, 2012 by lytlejoc

I am going to tell you a sad story. I never heard of anyone making their own yogurt until I was 20 years old and in my 3rd year of University.

Save your hankies. That’s not the sad part. Making your own yogurt is not that common, even though it is ridiculously easy, way tastier than store-bought and much, much cheaper. No, the sad part is that when I tasted that first batch of homemade yogurt, I was disappointed because I expected it to be sweet (Go ahead, break out the tissue). I had no idea yogurt was naturally just… sour. No idea. I grew up eating the sweetened variety; we never had plain yogurt in our house. Being raised in what was affectionately called “God’s Country” in the age of no internet and TFC (Two Frikken Channels, for those of you who are unaware), I had no exposure to “exotic menus”. Never heard of tzatziki or raita, or yogurt ranch dressings.

Boy, am I making up for lost time.

I recently rediscovered the world of homemade yogurt thanks to one of my favorite blogs, Crunchy Betty. The post that I initially took my instruction from was written for her site by a guest blogger and is informative and hilarious… you should go look. I have tweaked her method a little bit to suit me and so I will give you my instructions to homemade yogurt shortly.

But first, why should you make your own yogurt?

First and foremost, it’s SO much cheaper. At my grocery store, 650 g of plain organic yogurt costs $4.97. 1L of organic milk costs $3.39 (because I am a mathematical dunce, I shall not attempt to tell you what the difference is by gram or ounce. If you are smarter than me and want to figure out the per unit cost difference, I’m kinda interested to know your answer). And that’s all you need to make yogurt: just milk. Well, ok, initially you do need to buy a little bit of yogurt to use as a starter, but after that you can just keep using a bit of your new, homemade batch to start the next one. It’s never-ending cost savings! Bonus reason for making yogurt: you no longer have to recycle tons of plastic containers since you can just store your yogurt in the same jar over and over! (But uh… wash it between uses, ok?)

Secondly, it tastes miles better. It’s creamier and just… yum. Also, you know what goes into it. You can pick what kind of milk you want to use (or you can kick it up a notch and use half and half for a seriously decadent yogurt and other things which I will reveal at a later date) and can control how thick or how tart you want it to be. You can flavor it with anything edible under the sun. You might not want to use just anything, of course. For example, hamburger yogurt doesn’t sound terribly appetizing to me. But you can play around with your flavoring and have combinations of things that you just can’t buy in the stores. I made pear apple mango yogurt sweetened with a bit of honey and flavored with cinnamon the other day. Holy cats, was it good.

I remembered this comic when I was thinking about writing this post. While I was searching for it, I found an archive of all For Better Or For Worse strips and …well, let’s just say I started writing much later than I wanted to.

The last really good reason (though I’m sure there are more that I’m missing) is that yogurt is really, really good for you. Those little tiny bugs are lactobacteria and they promote a healthy belly which means that you get better at digesting. Yogurt packs a walloping punch of protein (10 to 14g per 8oz of yogurt, according to Dr. Sears) making it an excellent choice for anyone – but especially for people who might need to be creative about where they get their protein. It’s got tons of calcium, increases the bioavailability of other nutrients for better absorption, can boost immunity, can decrease yeast infections… need I say more? Frankly, I don’t think so. I think you’ve probably already bounded into your kitchen and are standing there with a carton of milk in your hand, ready and waiting to get your culture on.

So you’re ready to start? OK. Here’s what you need to make 1 L of your very own fresh, organic yogurt:

A pot capable of holding 1 L of milk which means, of course, that you need

1 L of homogenized milk (I like to get the organic stuff. You don’t have to use organic, but I’ve tried both kinds and I think the organic is creamier. You can also use lower fat, but full fat works best, consistency-wise.)

A small amount of PLAIN yogurt (for your starter)

1 or 2 clean jars with lids (again, enough to hold 1 L.)

An oven with a working light inside, a few tea towels, a baking pan, and a thermometer (the thermometer is optional. I’ll tell you how to gauge without it.)

So you’ve gathered all your supplies and made sure they are scrubbed nice and clean? (If you’re feeling zealous, it’s a good idea to sterilize all your equipment by boiling… but I am rarely zealous.) Good.

1. Put about a heaped tablespoon of plain yogurt in a safe spot where it can come to room temperature. (When I say safe spot, I mean don’t forget what it’s there for and rinse out the dish because you are a clean-as-you-goer. I am here to tell you, that will set you back in the process.)

2. Pour milk into pot and bring to 180F t0 190F. Do this slowly. If you don’t have a thermometer — and I should tell you that I use a meat thermometer — you will know that it’s about the right temperature when it starts to get a light skin on top and you can see a few bubbles, just before it boils.

3. HOLD the milk at this temperature for 15 or 20 minutes. This step is where the magic happens; it’s the difference between soupy yogurt and yogurt that has a consistency closer to store-bought. (THEY add pectin or gelatin to achieve that consistency.) Holding the milk at this temperature allows the milk to denature – or have it’s proteins broken down for easier bacterial consumption. This part can be tricky if you don’t have a thermometer, but the key is to not let it boil. That being said, if you LIKE soupy yogurt, skip this step altogether.

4. Let the milk cool to 110F. If you want this to happen quickly, you can pour your milk into a Pyrex measuring cup or even into the jars that you’re planning on using, submerge into an ice bath and pop it in the fridge. If you do that, you’ll only need to wait 30 minutes or so. For you no-mometer people, 110F is when you can stick your (clean) finger into the milk and hold it there comfortably for 10 seconds. If you have a crazy high pain threshold, this may not be the best test for you.

5.  Add your starter yogurt to the cooled milk. Mix it all up to let the cultures invade. According to a cheese-making site I found yogurt instructions on, you should only stir side to side and up and down… apparently you should do that whenever making cheese. I am not privy to the reasoning behind that one, but I listen anyway.

6. Pour the inoculated milk into jars, stand them in the baking tray, and snuggle them down under a couple of tea towels, uncapped. Turn the oven light on and tuck them in for the night. I say “for the night” because this step takes about 8.. 10… 15 hours. The longest I’ve left mine was 15 hours and the least was 10. The longer you let it incubate, the more tart it will be.

Anecdotal Interruption: The first time I made yogurt, I blissfully went to bed and dreamed about the lovely yogurt I would find in the morning. Upon rising, I discovered that Scott, who I am constantly following around the house so that I can turn off the lights he’s left on, saw that I left the oven light on and oh-so-helpfully turned it off. I almost had a heart attack. Luckily, my little culture buddies were tucked in nice and snuggly and managed to stay warm enough to multiply.

At this stage, all you need to do is cap your jars and refrigerate for about 4 hours, then you can fill your boots! Figuratively, I mean. But… if you literally want to use your yogurt to fill your boots, I suppose that’s your perogative.

I flavored my first batch with strawberries.

My very first bowl of yogurt awesomeness. Some are not convinced of its esthetic appeal, but I am

Because I could wax long and poetical about this subject, I will save the topic of flavoring your yogurt for my next post. In anticipation of that piece, however, I’d love to know: what is your favorite way to use plain yogurt?


12 thoughts on “Little… Tiny… Bugs: Turning Milk Into Yogurt

  1. tuckamoredew says:

    Your enthusiasm is almost enough to make me want to try yogurt.

  2. Tracky says:

    I like plain Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts or just mixed with berries, but I also use it instead of sour cream. I really need to make my own. I meant to save some of the last container of Greek yogurt I bought but I forgot and I ate it. 😛

    • lytlejoc says:

      Heehee! Next time you buy yogurt, take a big tablespoonful out and put it aside… that’s what I do! Good thing, too, because I forget and eat the whole jar every single time. :p

  3. Juniper says:

    It seems that the keeping-it-at-180 part might be a little too tricky for me. At the risk of sounding really dumb, do you have to keep adjusting the temperature to prevent it from eventually boiling?

    • lytlejoc says:

      Not dumb at all. That part is a little tricky, but not too tricky. I do keep adjusting the temperature – if I see it boiling up a little too much, I move the pot off the burner for a minute or so and turn the heat down, then when the rolling has subsided I bring the pot back to the burner. This is definitely where a thermometer comes in handy, but you CAN still do without it. It turns out that a watched pot WILL boil…so hovering for the 10 or 15 minutes that you hold it is necessary.

  4. […] Home Master of None Dabbling in the eclectic art of "homemade". « Little… Tiny… Bugs: Turning Milk Into Yogurt […]

  5. […] Home Master of None Dabbling in the eclectic art of "homemade". « Little… Tiny… Bugs: Turning Milk Into Yogurt […]

  6. Yes, as one comment stated, your enthusiasm. And humor. Yes, please, I’ll have my yogurt served with enthusiasm and topped with gobs of humor. Thank you very much.

  7. Drekfletch says:

    re: stirring. If you stir in a circle, you create a centrifuge. Denser/heavier particles will trend to the center, while lighter stuff will go to the outside. It’s a separating effect, not something you want with cheeses at their start.

    • lytlejoc says:

      Well, there you go. Thanks for the science!
      I love the internet.

      • Drekfletch says:

        Except seeing that again I see that it’s not a centrifuge (which pushes density away from the center). But the net separating effect of whatever it’s called when a whirlpool brings stuff to the center remains.

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