Greek yogurt has become a nearly daily staple for both myself and Drew (whose birthday is today!). If you haven’t yet discovered Greek yogurt, what makes it different from your standard yogurt is that it is strained which does a couple things - it thickens it making it taste richer and it raises the protein content. Greek yogurt boasts 8-11 g protein per 1/2 cup serving typically. Our favorite two brands are Chobani and Fage, but even in their large containers the cost can add up and neither is organic. With Drew’s experience in cheesemaking and the easy access to super fresh, local dairy he took the leap and made his first batch of yogurt for our Christmas parfait gifts and he has been keeping us in yogurt since, making a large batch every two weeks or so depending upon how much we share with others :-)
Now there are tons of blogs and other web sites out there that tell you how to make yogurt at home. Some with specialty machines which I need in our small kitchen like I need a hole in the head. Some use a crock pot. I believe Drew plans to try a crock pot method in the next batch. But the following is the process he has settled on for the stovetop.
1. The first step is to sterilize everything so only the good bugs grow! Since a hot water bath is used, he fills the smaller stock pot with its pasta insert in place with water and brings it to a boil for ten minutes. In the insert is a metal 1 cup measure, a spoon, the temperature probe (just the part that will be in contact with the milk/yogurt) and a straining ladle or slotted spoon. He then places the largest stock pot which will not come in contact with the milk or yogurt into the sink and pours the boiling water in it. Then he submerges the smaller stock pot and pushes down a bit to make sure he won’t overflow the outer pot once the milk is added and pours out just a little extra as insurance.
2. The hot water bath is transferred to the stove top with the lid on the inner pot and the burner turned to about medium heat. Bring the milk up to between 160-180° F. It needs to stay above 160° F for at least 10 minutes so Drew usually shoots for about 175° F, then shuts off the heat and lets it cool down to 110-130° F, again he tries to split the difference.
3. Now is when Drew adds powdered non-fat milk (you want the fine stuff, not the granular type). This optional, but helps boost protein content without added fat and thickens it a bit thus cutting the straining time. Our cheesemaking books call from 1 tsp - 1/4 cup per quart of milk. So far he’s been adding about a 1/2 cup to 1.5 gallons of milk. Stir it in well, this is where the handheld strainer or slotted spoon can come in handy. Make sure the powder is well incorporated. If the powder seems clumpy, run it through a sieve or sifter to ease the mixing.
4. Nexy, Drew adds the culture which is simply adding a yogurt you like the texture and flavor of that has active and live cultures in it. So far we’ve only cultured with Chobani (we buy non-fat which I like having some around for days when my calories are running tight and we make 2% fat) and we have been quite happy with it. He adds 1 cup to the 1.5 gallons of milk.
5. Now comes the tricky part - you need to hold the milk to a temp of about 116° F for 4-10 hrs (we’re usually at about 8, but this last batch was closer to 10 - it gets a little stronger flavored the longer you stay at this step). With the lid back in place he wraps it in a few thick bath towels. It is rigged in such a way that he can easily remove or flip up and well away from the burner the lower towel if he needs to kick a bit more heat into the pot from time to time to maintain the temp.
6. When the time is about up he removes the inner pot, then brings the water in the big pot back to a boil and adds the pasta insert, a long knife, the handheld strainer or slotted spoon and some cheese muslin (you can use a jelly straining bag or several layers of cheesecloth) and sterilizes those items. Then he pours out the hot water and lines the pasta insert with the muslin. The long knife is then used to cut the yogurt at an angle like when cutting cheese curd. This isn’t an essential step, but can hasten the process of transferring the yogurt into the cheese muslin by separating some of the whey out from the get go. Using the handheld strainer he starts transferring yogurt to the muslin. When much of it is transferred he pours the rest in slowly.
5. At the beginning a fair bit of whey is going to drain out of the muslin, so in 15 minutes or so he pulls the insert out and puts it back into the smaller pot and empties the whey from the big one. Every 30 minutes or so he repeats it moving form the small pot to the large pot or vice versa. Smaller batches you can hang in a jelly strainer bag or tie the muslin into a bundle and hang it from your kitchen faucets so it just drains down the sink. This size batch would be hard on the faucet though. You keep straining it until it reaches your desired consistency. For us it has been about 2-4 hours of straining. The outside is always a bit more strained than the inner. At the point we stop the outside is a little thicker than Greek yogurt - verging in the direction of cream cheese. If you want consistency across your whole batch give it a stir before transferring it to your storage container(s). Because I’m tracking my nutrition data we just put the middle into a separate container because it is closer to the Greek yogurt so I guesstimate the nutrition based on the Chobani 2% yogurt.
The unstrained yield i said to be roughly cup for cup. Yield of the strained verison will vary depending upon your desired level of straining.
That is all there is to it! It is a bit of drawn out process. You do have be around to babysit it, but it is not difficult. The babysitting is the only advantage we can see to getting a dedicated machine. Though the most readily available yogurt makers make multiple containers so it isn’t conducive to straining.
Our favorite way to enjoy the yogurt is with a bit of fresh fruit (peaches and raspberries were most popular this summer) or some preserves and homemade granola. But we top pancakes with it and sometimes use it as a sandwich spread or in place of mayo (Drew hates mayo). Thinned with some milk about 1/3 yogurt to 2/3 milk you can substitute it for buttermilk in a lot of recipes (including whole grain pancakes), or this week we’ve stirred some into curry. The uses are only constrained by your imagination!