In the last week I've wasted a gallon of milk and several packages of yogurt cultures. You heard me right, a gallon of milk. I'm actually pretty annoyed with myself. Super frugal right?
Turns out the organic whole milk I've been buying for the last year and half went from being just pasteurized to being ultra-pasteurized. Pasteurized milk makes yogurt just fine. Ultra-pasteurized yogurt does not. I knew this but totally failed to miss that one little word they added to the container that looked, in all other ways, just the same as it did two weeks ago. It took me two failed tries to figure it out. Ugh.
Nonetheless, we're still making yogurt.
Over a year ago I wrote about how I'd started making our own yogurt in the crock-pot. The crock-pot worked really well for a while--no milk wasted (except that one time I tried to make yogurt at my mom's house and discovered that her crock-pot doesn't cook at the same temperatures that mine does). I'm by no means a yogurt making expert but, as I got more comfortable making yogurt, I was frustrated by my inability to closely control the temperature in the crock-pot.
I was also really good at putting the milk in the crock-pot and forgetting to turn it down two and half hours later. And sometimes I would forget to mix in the starter on time. Or I'd forget to save enough yogurt from our previous batch to use for starter. I was getting more distracted and having a harder time making good yogurt. Making yogurt was taking longer and longer. I wanted thicker yogurt and I didn't want to wait around all day.
Consequently, I talked to some of my friends back home who make their own yogurt and decided to try making yogurt without the crock-pot. I also started using a freeze-dried starter. All of this had seemed too intimidating for me a year ago but it's really not as difficult as I thought.
Every single person I know who makes yogurt, makes it differently. Seriously, there are a million ways to do it. In case you want to give it a try, this is what is currently working best for us:
1 big heavy bottom pot
Canning rack (or something similar) to keep the jars off the bottom of the pan*
2 quart wide mouth canning jars with lids (you need canning jars to they can handle the heat)
1 half gallon whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
Freeze dried yogurt starter (we use Yogourmet)
Whisk for stirring
Bath towel and cooler for incubating
Fill the pot about half way with tap water. Pour the milk into your quart canning jars. (I know that two quarts equal a half gallon but I can't fit a full half gallon of milk in my jars. Just one of those quirky things I suppose.) Anyhow, fill the jars up but not so full that you can't stir them with the whisk without spilling.
Put the jars of milk into the pot of water on the rack and turn the heat on high.* Occasionally stir the milk with the whisk and check the temperature. I use a small instant read thermometer (kind of like this one). For a nice thick yogurt, allow the milk to heat up to 180 degrees F. On my stove this takes about 30 minutes.
When the milk is nearing 180 degrees, fill the kitchen sink with cold water. When the milk hits 180 degrees carefully transfer the jars of milk from the boiling water to the cold water (I use a big over mitten to pick them up. They're hot!). Once they're in the cold water, stir them fairly frequently and check the temperature. You can add ice cubes to the water to speed up the cooling if you like.
Please note that you don't want to go from hot to cold too quickly or the jars will break. I say I move my jars from boiling water to cold water but my "cold" tap water is really pretty warm. We're way down south, remember? Move the jars to luke warm water in the sink and then add ice to make it cool faster but gradually.
When the milk has cooled to about 115-118 degrees take the jars out of the cold water. I take them out at this point because they'll cool a little more while you're mixing in starter and you don't want the temperature to drop below about 110 before you incubate.
Once the milk has cooled, as discussed above, whisk in the recommended amount of yogurt starter to each jar. I've heard starters are all a little different. We use one little packet per quart. Put the lids tightly on the jars. Then, set the jars in the cooler, wrap them completely in the bath towel (I set the jars on the towel and then fold it around them), close the lid, and leave it to incubate. I found the cooler keeps the temperature consistent during the incubation period.
We leave our yogurt for about 5 hours but check the instructions on your starter as it might vary. After the yogurt has sat long enough, move it to the fridge where it will set up a little more.
Happy yogurt making!
* 6/22/12--I've been happily making yogurt without the rack for the last six months but this week it failed. Again, I wasted a gallon of milk as jar after jar broke while I was heating them up. Lesson learned. I suppose that's why you use a rack when canning. I can only assume that my jars gave out after so many months of being heated directly on the bottom of the pan.
Editor's Note: This post is part of the Country Homemaker Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, Frugal Friday, Fight Back Friday, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.