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DIY Kitchen: yogurt

April 2, 2012

I know that everyone who’s ever hung a cloth diaper on the backyard clothesline while a chicken scrabbles around their feet makes their own yogurt. It’s like the gateway drug to homeschooling and growing out your leg hair, or, I don’t know, blogging about homeschooling and leg hair. But, if you think making yogurt is a complicated chemistry project, I want to assure you that it’s crazy easy and the money you save on foregoing store-bought yogurt and razors will be enough to start your own blog!

all the players you’ll need (large pot, one gallon milk, 1 cup plain yogurt, empty quart jars)

I make a gallon of yogurt a week, which might sound like the national dairy council has been to our house with their persuasive footmen lecturing about the dangers of rickets. But, it’s more that it’s just as easy to make one cup as one gallon, and those bone-growing children, who request a “bedtime snack” 5 minutes after dinner’s over, will always accept a bowl of yogurt. Also, I bake with yogurt a lot, we eat a lot of smoothies, and want to make sure I always have 1 1/2 cups of yogurt around for this amazing salad dressing.

Yogurt is the most well known and loved cultured (fermented) food in America. It’s long been touted as a health food—as it should be: hello calcium and probiotics!–but most commercially available, flavored yogurts have almost as much sugar ounce for ounce as Coca Cola. But most compelling about making my own yogurt is bypassing the stackable plastic containers that once towered sheepishly in my cupboard, like a tribute to petroleum-products and the landfill they’ll be hanging out in for the next, um 1000 years.

I’m not sure if my children’s passion for yogurt is due to the scarcity of food items in our house that you can just shake out of a package and onto a plate, rather than soak overnight and then simmer for six hours. Or maybe it’s the delicious, cold creaminess that you can practically drink, ensuring a swift return to the Lego pile. Or perhaps it’s the way I’m inclined to bury a scoop of peanut butter or a dollop of applesauce in the kids’ yogurt, but even I, will never suggest that a vegetable be whisked into the smooth white folds.

smoothie! (or “smoolie” as Rose calls them because that “th” sound is hard)


There are many recipes for yogurt making, and after years of experimenting, I’ve found this to be easiest.

Heat one gallon of milk to 160F. Let cool to between 115F and 120F. Pour milk into 4 quart glass jars. Add 2 tbsp plain yogurt  (either from a previous batch or from a brand that advertises live cultures) to each jar. Cap jars and place in oven with oven light on. The light should provide enough heat to keep the culturing yogurt between 95F and 120F. (this is the ideal temperature range for the cultures to multiply. Too hot and they die, too cold and they go to sleep). I always wrap the jars in a towel for extra warmth. If it gets too cold in your oven, you can turn the heat on the lowest setting for 2 minutes. Leave jars for 6 hours, or overnight, then transfer to fridge.

oh, you’ll need a food thermometer

and a high tolerance for spills (adding the milk to the quart jars)

Be vewy vewy quiet now for the next 6 hours

oh, the thickness (uh oh, this statement’s going to bring all the porn-Googlers my way)

Random tips

*Use the cream if you’re buying raw milk. It comes out, well, creamier. If your milk is homogenized, the cream is already mixed into full fat milk.

*Add fruit or honey after your yogurt is done.

*Don’t jostle yogurt jars as they’re culturing.

*You can use store bought milk with great success.

*If you want to keep your milk raw, you can heat the milk just to 115F, and then add the yogurt starter right away. Because you’re not starting with a sterilized product and there will be unknown and prolific bacteria present, you may have less consistent (read: runny) results with yogurt, or not. Give it a try.

If you’re already a yogurt-maker, what’s your method?

DIY Kitchen is a new series that will appear on most Mondays, mostly.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. Michele permalink
    April 2, 2012 7:45 am

    Your tower of yogurt containers looming in the cabinet sounds a lot like what’s going on around here. Thanks for inspiring me to try and make my own (my Mom has been trying for years ;)). Our kids are so much alike. The comment about them asking for a bedtime snack 5 minutes after dinner made me laugh. After my kids have been offered a home cooked, well balanced meal that they push around on their plate stalling as long as possible, they will shove said plate aside and wail “but I’m hunnnnngryyyyyy”. Thank goodness they all love a yogurt parfait!

  2. April 2, 2012 8:43 am

    Beautiful! Love it Rachel! Thanks for the step by step. xo

  3. April 2, 2012 9:40 am

    The beginning of this post made me laugh out loud. Gateway drug indeed. So that’s why I stopped shaving my legs! (Actually, that came first). I use low fat milk with nonfat dried milk added for thickness. Per quart of yogurt:1/4 cup of plain yogurt with active cultures, 3/4 cup instant nonfat dry milk, 1 quart 2% milk. I follow your procedure, but I use one of those small blue and white coolers, which I fill with 110 degree water, put ready quart jars of yogurt into them with lids on, add lid to cooler, and let sit overnight with a towel or blanket over it for extra insulation. Thanks for posting the dressing recipe. Always looking for new ones. Cheers.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    April 2, 2012 10:21 am

    I did my last couple of batches raw and it did come out a little runny but I strained it with cleeseclothe for Greek-style and the result was divine.

  5. Katie B. permalink
    April 2, 2012 10:23 am

    Oops, forgot to add my name on the last post.

  6. April 2, 2012 10:58 am

    You know what? I have never made yogurt. This is puzzling to me and I’m going to do something about it. Thank you for the kick in the shorts. I’ll use raw milk and want it thick, so i might strain it a little? could i make kefir with the liquid? oh wait, i’ll use the liquid to soak my oats in…see, i’m working it all out myself. thanks for the inspiration, my dear!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 2, 2012 2:11 pm

      Ivey, I’ve had yogurt come out varying degrees of thickness, sometimes *very* thick, but straining it through a coffee filter makes it like greek yogurt. Let me know how it goes. xo

  7. Yogurt disaster permalink
    April 2, 2012 11:55 am

    I have tried yogurt with a gallon of horizon’s organic whole milk with 0 success. Has anyone used that milk for home made yogurt? I’m hoping that I just did it wrong…

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 2, 2012 2:16 pm

      Tell us what happens and we’ll try and troubleshoot with you :)

    • April 2, 2012 4:18 pm

      it can be a problem if milk is “ultrapasteurized” though quite frankly i have used organic valley milk (which is UP) and had it turn out fine… but the experts say to avoid UP milk.

  8. April 2, 2012 12:09 pm

    Ah-ha moment. OK, so just started making my yogurt with raw milk (after many years with pasteurized) and thought I was losing my touch. RUNNY yogurt, every time. I’ll try straining it. Thanks so much bloggers!

  9. April 2, 2012 1:55 pm

    I make our yogurt for better and for worse. I have forgotten so many pots of milk left to simmer on the stove while I get distracted, which makes a fine yogurt it turns out. Extra thick. I have a question–do you use your own yogurt as the starter for ever and ever? I find that after six or so batches it gets kind of sour sweet in a non lacto bacilli kind of way, and start over. But maybe I should be braver?

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 2, 2012 2:20 pm

      Hmm, yes. I do use our yogurt as starter for ever and ever (unless I forget to protectively rope off our last cup and Dan eats it). xo

    • April 2, 2012 4:20 pm

      mine does the same thing after 5 or 6 batches, if i use what’s in the fridge from the previous batch. but i find i can go more indefinitely if i reserve a little and freeze it just after i make one batch, and get it out to thaw just before the next batch i make.

      • Rachel Turiel permalink*
        April 2, 2012 8:30 pm

        curious about this rotating batch thing. wondering if maybe I’m not *noticing* my yogurt getting funky (because 90% of it goes down the kids’ gullets?). What exactly happens to your forever-same-batch yogurt? And mb, thanks for being the sleuth and fount o wisdom that you are. xo

  10. April 2, 2012 2:05 pm

    I wanted you to know I’ve tried to comment and I get booted out to a page that says I have to log in to WordPress. Even though I fill in my info. You have a great community at your place. I don’t know if you’ve tightened security because you were getting too many spammers or what… just wanted to let you know that I get kicked out. I’m not taking it personally though.

    I LOVE yogurt. I used to make it. I used to do a lot of things. Now my focus seems to be elsewhere. (perhaps I’m spending too much time shaving!)

    I’ve been listening to lots of “eating” people. The food combining people say “No” to fruit and yogurt. The ayurvedic folks say no to dairy almost exclusively. I’d love to hear you extol the virtues of feeding your family dairy as it relates to these other voices. If that interests you.

    • April 2, 2012 2:38 pm

      Rebecca (and others who are getting kicked off)…

      Maybe try commenting without leaving an e-mail address?

  11. April 2, 2012 2:36 pm

    love the opening paragraph. its perfect. havent let my leg hair grow yet, at least not on purpose.

  12. April 2, 2012 4:17 pm

    you contradicted yourself about mixing yogurt and veggies by posting that salad dressing recipe, it’s my favorite base for creamy salad dressings as well. ;) when feeling lazy i just add ranch seasoning, and mix well. i have been on a little vacation from making my own yogurt, since my raw goat milk source dried up over the winter. any day now i’ll be back on the wagon. although store bought milk would have worked fine, i have just been buying nancy’s, as i’d rather support them than the huge national mega organic milk companies. nancys may be mega now but they’re still local to me. anyhoo… i make it in little glass jars in a “yogurt maker” because i was given one and it was a nice gift. it keeps it just the right temp. but i’d like to get the yogurt-therm from ricki the cheese queen and use that so i’m not using electricity. i have incubators at my work (lab) that i’ve debated using, but since i work around chemicals i’ve decided against that. ;) and really, i’m with you, between the yogurt and the razors i’m not buying, i feel like a millionaire. oh, and i do the thing you said where i don’t pasteurize my raw goat milk, i just heat to 112 and it comes out nice and thick. if it didn’t, i would add some diluted rennet. just in case that helps anyone out there, with either the raw factor or the goat factor. oh and one more thing, i like the yogurt cups for plant starts. as a way to reuse… i actually am creating a negative footprint, by collecting them from people at work for my starts since i don’t buy yogurt in the little cups (nancy’s comes in big tubs that are way easy to reuse for leftovers). also there is a company who recycles them into toothbrushes, i think they’re called preserve. so you can ship them off to the toothbrush people if you can’t think of a better way to use them. :)

  13. Melissa permalink
    April 2, 2012 11:18 pm

    okay, i have no more excuses as I have been talking about doing this for awhile–except that i still need a food thermometer!

    i ran the idea by Avi tonight (he of the stonyfields yokids indivdual packs in his lunch daily, there, i confess!) and he was into it. of course his bffs have their own mom-made yogurt! he claims it is a strange color with seeds in it–blackberry? i’ll have to check with their mom but at least the boy will also have kale in his lunch tomorrow. his nutrition is on my mind bc he eats an ass-load of pasta and not much else these days.

    this is my long way of saying thanks for the tutorial! and that if my bedtime snack were homemade yogurt instead of ben n jerry’s, I’d be better off, too!

  14. April 3, 2012 9:04 pm

    Rach, can i just have some of yours?

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 5, 2012 7:31 pm

      hells yeah. I owe you at least 10 gallons for all you do for me.

  15. Ken permalink
    April 4, 2012 12:16 pm

    Rachel –
    I make 2 gallons at a time, one gallon whole milk, one skim milk minus 8 ounces (to leave room for the starter yogurt added later). CAREFULLY bring that to a boil which at my elevation is just over 190 degrees and immediately remove from the burner BEFORE it boils over. This seems to kill off the bad bacteria that cause runny yogurt. Put the pot in a sink of cold water and cool to 120 to 130 degrees before pulling it out.

    Put 8 ounces of the starter yogurt in a 32 ounce measuring cup, add 16 oz (or so) of the hot milk, stir until the mixture is uniform, then stir it into the pot of milk. I don’t add powdered milk. Pour the milk into the quart jars and put the lids on. I sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water before hand but maybe this isn’t necessary if you have a good dishwasher.

    I put the jars in an old plastic cooler that just holds 8 quarts, add about a gallon of 120-130 degree water on the bottom, and let it sit for 6 to 8 hours. In our house 8 jars of yogurt lasts about 3 weeks.

    STARTER YOGURT I use a brand (can’t remember the name) that contains 4 live cultures. Like mb, I found that reusing the homemade yogurt eventually leads to runny yogurt, but I’m going to try freezing it to see if that’s any better.

    GREEK YOGURT Put cheesecloth in a colander, pour in the yogurt, and leave for four to six hours – longer if you want yogurt cheese. Use the whey for making bread. yum.

  16. April 4, 2012 4:26 pm

    I heat my milk, cool my milk, mix the starter yogurt (usually use Fage)… and then I put my crockpot (without the heating mechanism) on my heating pad covered by a towel… then wrap the towel around the pot and keep the heating pad on low overnight. It’s come out every time. I tried that oven thing and don’t think I was keeping it consistant enough temp. It’s nice and thick but I still strain mine because I like it really thick!!!

    • April 4, 2012 4:27 pm

      And I should add… I tried just using the crockpot as the heater, but even on low it was too high, I think. It came out runny!

  17. Sarah permalink
    April 4, 2012 11:36 pm

    I don’t like plain yogurt. Have you tried making vanilla flavored yogurt? If so, how do you do it. I would love to start making my own yogurt. I make everything else myself, why not yogurt! :)

    • April 5, 2012 9:58 am

      typically flavors are added after making the yogurt. You could try:
      1) putting a vanilla bean in your culturing yogurt and see if some of the heat extracts the flavor. And then adding sweetener after yogurt is done.
      2) Making a separate “vanilla flavor” (vanilla bean, sugar, alcohol? Google a recipe) and then adding after yogurt is done.

  18. Anonymous permalink
    April 5, 2012 7:31 am

    It is my bed snack… ice cream. A bowl of creamy yogurt with some frozen unsweetened berries on top. If you just have to have a bit more sweet add a dollop of honey. Since Ben and Jerrys never gets in my house I dont have to chose.

    • Anonymous permalink
      April 12, 2012 4:41 pm

      That’s one of my favorite snacks, too :)

  19. April 6, 2012 10:41 pm

    Okay, so if my oven doesn’t have a light, I should turn the oven on the lowest setting for two minutes, then turn it OFF and put the jars in for six hours…right?

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 7, 2012 6:26 pm

      Yes, and maybe turn the oven to lowest setting for two minutes once every hour for 6-8 hours. Also, insulate jars with mega towels.


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