Yogurt: A Love Story

Today I did something I love to do: I made my own yogurt.

If you’re sitting there wondering why on earth anyone would want to go to the trouble to make their own yogurt when there are already entire grocery sections devoted to the stuff, you clearly lack a sense of adventure don’t know me very well. I could go on a little rant about artificial flavors and sweeteners, fillers and gelatins and preservatives, or I could tell you that there’s something really wholesome and comforting about the process… but instead I’m going to tell you a little story.

When I was a kid, I hated yogurt, Hated it. It was goppy and gloopy and swirled with blobs of unnaturally bright fruit syrups or topped with unappetizing crunchy things. I was particularly annoyed by the little containers that boasted flavors like “key lime pie”, “strawberry cheesecake”, “caramel” or “coffee”, but which in fact much more closely resembled a chalky, bland sludge than any of those wonderful and delicious things. (I still shudder a little when I see the word “chocolate” on a yogurt label.)

I promptly registered a complaint, along with a plea that these little beasties stop appearing in my lunchbox. That request — along with similar ones regarding Bosc pears and the unwelcome appearance of American cheese in my then-favorite iceberg-and-mayo-on-white-bread sandwich — was generally ignored…. But as soon as I was old enough to oversee my own lunches, I immediately rectified the gluey yogurt situation.

Then a few years ago I found myself in New York City on a hot July day, ravenous after a job interview. I wandered into Whole Foods and headed straight for the refrigerator section, looking for something cold and filling to go with my 3-for-$1 bananas. I found myself drawn to a lovely little container of Brown Cow creamline maple yogurt, and in a moment of rare (and in retrospect, totally puzzling) decisiveness, I bought it, grabbed a plastic spoon, and made my way over to a shady corner of Union Square… where my world was turned upside down.

This was not the yogurt I remembered: it was creamy and delicious and so very rich, the maple sweetness balanced by just the slightest hint of tart. I wanted more. I discovered Stonyfield. Ronnybrook. Siggis. I was delighted with the tastes and textures and short list of ingredients… but try as I might, I could not bring myself to like yogurt plain. I suspected it could (and should) be quite good, but consistently found it too sour to be palatable. Even my beloved Brown Cow could not produce a plain yogurt that won me over.

Then I made my own, and… wow. Just, wow. It was tart without being sour, tangy and so fresh tasting that I ate a whole bowl of it — plain — before I realized what I’d done.

I haven’t looked back since.

How to Make Your Own Yogurt

  • Choose your milk: I highly recommend whole or at least 2%, as lower fat milks will create looser, thinner yogurts and may not hold together as well. Obviously, the fresher the milk, the better the yogurt.
  • Chose your yogurt starter: you want something with lots of live active cultures. Specialty yogurts often make for finicky starters, and most recipes I’ve read recommend something generic, stabilizers and sweeteners and all. Stonyfield and Brown Cow have always worked well for me.
  • Heat milk on stovetop over a medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until milk is steaming and just barely starting to form the tiniest bubbles — you do not want it to reach a boil. (I was told this temperature was about 180 degrees, but mine was just 160 degrees and it came out great.)
  • Remove milk from heat, stir, and allow to cool (about 5-8 minutes) until the milk is somewhere between very warm and hot. You want to be able to tolerate dipping your finger in without burning yourself. While your milk is cooling, ladle a small amount (loosely 1/3 cup) into a mug or cup and use a spoon to blend in a few heaping tablespoons of your chosen yogurt. This will help loosen the thicker yogurt up and allow it to blend with the rest of your milk without leaving clumps.
  • Once your milk reaches the almost-hot temperature, add in your yogurt/milk mixture and stir well to blend. Then pour into a jar (or jars), swaddle in clean dish towels, and keep somewhere warm (a warm water bath works well, as does keeping it in a warm oven) for 4-6 hours until it sets. Once it’s set, screw on a lid and put it in the fridge.

Voila! Your very own yogurt!

If you want thicker “Greek style” yogurt, you can pour your yogurt into a colander lined with some cheese cloth (or a double layer of paper towels), set it over a pot or bowl, and place it in the fridge for a few hours to drain out some of the liquid whey.

This is exactly what I’m doing with half of my yogurt right now. Tomorrow, once it’s adequately thickened, I will introduce it to my ice-cream maker for my first-ever attempt at homemade frozen yogurt.

Pinkberry, watch out.

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One Comment to “Yogurt: A Love Story”

  1. I am so glad to find this blog. Glad you are writing, and more glad you are eating with pleasure. You have found a fellow fan of the incredible edible egg (do I have to pay royalties?).

    Some things you might have not known. The egg was a compact sustainable source of food in a desert (israel) where pigs were unpopular (Jews and Muslims alike) although the British might have grown some for their pleasure. Chickens, however, were readily smuggled in, didn’t need much land and easy enough to feed from the scrawny trees and produce that were first being planted. Even a two year old could feed them (and I did) and a small incubator assured my parents that I would probably survive childhood (I had already given them a scare or two).

    But eggs were also an important, practically sacred, food. Can you imagine a golden pillowy braided challah without eggs? The mainstay for a sabbath meal, this secret protein source could sustain when even small animals (yes, pidgeons) were not guaranteed and the occasional unsuspecting old hen ( I think that is me now) would find it’s way headless, featherless, salted in a pot of boiling water faster than you can say “shabbat shalom”, a peaceful sabbath.

    An Eastern European potaote salad with dill, peas, some chopped pickles and smashed cooked eggs assured that chickens were a gift that could keep on giving and even constant squawking and poops would be forgiven. We had food and food is not just love, it is life.

    Lastly, egg yolks, raw, quickly beaten with a bit of sugar, usually made in the middle of the night, became the elixir to quiet a burning sore throat and help a crying toddler go back to sleep. With few medical resources, once again eggs were the go to food for all things life.

    I experienced deep despair when eggs went on the you will die if you eat them list of foods, unhealthy and unsafe, the Cylons attacking us with cholesterol. I stood by their side, proudly loyal to the whites, having secret encounters with my yolks.

    Keep on writing, sandy

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