About a month ago, I started making my own yogurt. I usually eat yogurt every day, on granola or fruit for breakfast or dessert, and since making yogurt is not terribly labor-intensive, it seemed like something I could do on a regular basis.

To make yogurt, you need milk and live yogurt cultures. Yogurt cultures include Streptococcus salivarius; Lactobacillales (that's plural for Lactobacillus!) delbrueckii, acidophilus, and casei; and Bifidobacterium. Live, active, probiotic cultures are not the exclusive corporate property of Danon, thank goodness, and can be found in any non-pasteurized yogurt. To start yogurt at home, you can buy dry mixes of cultures, or just use plain, unsweetened yogurt with live cultures and no additives.

Heat your milk to just below boiling, in the neighborhood of 180 - 200 degrees, and then let is cool down to 110 degrees. The cultures, particularly Streptococcus, do best around this temperature, so the goal is to add the cultures and then keep everything at 110 degrees until it becomes yogurt. This is an annoying process that my mom used to do using the oven, a thermometer, and a lot of patience. Luckily, today you can buy an electric device that is both inexpensive and a lot more energy-efficient than your oven. You can also use an insulated container or water-bath, but considering that yogurt can take upwards of six hours to become firm, I recommend the appliance!

My yogurt maker holds four cups, and I use about a quarter-cup of yogurt as a starter. To add the starter, I gently mix about a half cup of the warm milk with it, and then combine it with the rest of the milk. Then I pour it all into the yogurt maker, and have fresh, tart yogurt ready for my breakfast the next day. I do this about once a week, and so far it's been great, except for one batch that turned out a little more like curds than yogurt, which I have since learned was probably from too much time in the yogurt-maker. Perfecting the process to be sure of not repeating that might take a little more practice, but the stakes for experimentation are not terribly high.

Practical Considerations

  • How much space does it need?
    A yogurt-maker is quite small, but doing this in a cooler could take quite a lot of space.
  • How much time does it take?
    About 30 minutes to heat and cool the milk and add the cultures, then 4-8 hours of inactive time.
  • Does it smell?
    No.
  • Does it look grody?
    It's lumpier than commercial yogurt, but otherwise, no.
  • Does it need special equipment?
    No, but it helps a lot. Luckily, the equipment is small and cheap.
  • Is it worth it to do this by hand?
    Maybe. It is easy and delicious, but it is not necessarily cheaper than grocery-store yogurt.

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