Homemade Yogurt

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Difficulty level Moderate

Accidentally discovered by Middle Eastern nomads thousands of years ago, according to legend, yogurt (or yoghurt, yoghourt or yogourt, depending on how like to spell it) is produced by bacterial fermentation of milk. Lactose, the milk sugar, ferments to produce lactic acid, which acts on milk protein to give the dairy delight its smooth texture and characteristic tang. And it's surprisingly easy to make yourself.

One great thing about whipping up homemade versions of foods like yogurt, aside from the (usually) better-than-store-bought taste you can achieve, and the self-satisfaction from making it yourself, is that you control all (or almost all) of the variables and tastes. Want it sweeter? Add some honey or maple syrup. Like it thicker? Use milk with higher milkfat. The choices are all yours.

Because you're in charge, those choices can be as green as you want them to be. You can use hormone- and antibiotic-free organic milk from a local dairy to ensure great taste and sustainable production, or buy straight from a local farmer at your local farmer's market; alternately, you can use soy milk to cut animals out of the equation altogether.Once you've decided where your milk (or other base; milk from goats and sheep can be a tasty alternative as well), you'll need just a few other things. Yogurt is alive, as it is home to several live cultures with myriad health benefits, so you can either get a good yogurt you like that's made with "live cultures" (it'd say on the tub) or a yogurt starter like Yogourmet, which is usually in powder form.

These starters are what jump-start the bacteria-growth process and ultimately help turn your milk into yogurt. If you've got powdered milk (which is optional) and an instant-read or candy thermometer (not optional), you're ready to go. Here's the recipe:

INGREDIENTS

4 cups milk (1 quart)
1/2 cup powdered milk (optional)
1/2 cup "live culture" yogurt or other dried starter (it'll tell you how much to use)

PREPARATION:

  1. Stirring slowly, heat the milk (and powdered milk, if you like thick yogurt) in a double-boiler or (very carefully, so as not to scorch) on your stove, to 180°F for one minute; remove from heat and cool to 115°F. To cool more quickly, place the boiler/pan you're using in a bath of cool water and stir.
  2. Once down to 115°F, add the live cultures or starter, as well as the sweetener, if you desire, and give it a good stir and pour the mixture into smaller containers; mason jars work well for this.
  3. Now comes the tricky part: you need to keep the mixture at 110°F for the next 4-to-6 hours; drop much below that, and the bacteria won't be warm enough to do their job, anywhere higher than about 110°F will kill them, and leave you with not much more than boiled milk.
  4. This can be done several ways: in your oven, on the very lowest setting, in a bath of warm water (to help the heat from varying too much)-and some people report being able to achieve 110°F with just the warm bath and the oven light on-or in a very well-insulated cooler.
  5. Pour hot water (115°F) into a cooler, put your jars of almost-yogurt in there, and shut the lid, checking every now and then that the internal temperature is still 110°F or so, and replace the warm water as necessary. No matter which method you choose, take care to keep the temperature as close to 110°F as possible.
  6. Your yogurt is done when it's firmed up (though it'll come together a bit more as it cools). Once done, refrigerate your new yogurt and enjoy, ad nauseum. Add fresh fruit just before you eat it, for maximum freshness, and rejoice that you'll never have to buy yogurt at the store again.

    Since variety is the spice of life, try a different recipe, if you'd like, and learn more about yogurt from Wikipedia.

This recipe appears in: Snacks

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