Story and photo by Barbara Nombalais
Washington’s recent Stay Home, Stay Healthy mandate reinforced the value of self-reliance and doing what you can to stay healthy. Making your own yogurt is a step toward satisfying both objectives.
That said, there are plenty other reasons making yogurt should be a part of your household routine. You’ll save money — roughly a third of the cost of the store-bought stuff — and help the environment by reducing plastic waste.
Most importantly, you’ll have a steady supply of a yogurt that is better than anything you can buy in a store.
You can customize it anyway that suits you — adjust the thickness or tang, add flavorings, use different types of milk, such as sheep, goat, or non-dairy products like coconut or almond milk.
I confess that I never change things up. About twice a month for the last 12 years, I’ve been making the same thing — plain, unsweetened, whole milk yogurt. Strained lightly then whisked, it has the texture of a thick, luxurious custard.
I love the versatility of plain yogurt. It’s our morning go-to with a dollop of jam or fresh fruit and a scoop of cereal grains.
It’s a workhorse in savory applications too. I’ll often make a quick sauce of yogurt flavored with harissa or fresh herbs and garlic to serve with grilled vegetables or proteins.
And as part of a summer appetizer board, I’ll make labneh, which is a yogurt cheese. I’ll add a little salt and some minced soft herbs from the garden — maybe chives, mint or dill — and strain the yogurt overnight. Super easy and delicious.
EquipmentYogurt making requires no specialized equipment. That said, a food thermometer is helpful, as is a very fine mesh strainer. I use a chinois, a French bouillon strainer, but any strainer lined with cheesecloth will do. If you don’t have a good set up, Greek yogurt strainers can be purchased online for about $24.
The trickiest part of making yogurt is keeping it warm (95–110 F) during the incubation period — the five to 10 hours during which the yogurt thickens and develops its characteristic tang. If you have a proof setting on your oven, that can work well, but even an oven light can do the trick, especially if you wrap the pot in a towel to insulate it.
Or you can make yogurt in a dedicated yogurt maker or slow cooker, but they involve multiple containers, heated in water baths.
For ease and efficiency, I prefer the bulk approach: One pot, large enough to hold two quarts or a gallon of milk, in which you can heat, cool, and incubate the yogurt.
IngredientsPlain yogurt requires just two ingredients: milk and starter. Initially, any commercially made plain yogurt containing live, active cultures can serve as the starter.
You can save a small portion of your first batch of yogurt to inoculate subsequent batches. However, the effectiveness of starters from commercial products will eventually peter out.
If you want to make yogurt an ongoing practice, you’ll want to seek out an heirloom culture which can be propagated indefinitely. My personal pick is a Bulgarian culture called bacillus bulgaricus, which can be purchased online.