In Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries, I've read that the diets include much more yogurt than do our typical American diets. But it's not generally the sweetened flavored yogurts to which we in America are accustomed. It is used as an accompaniment, condiment, or topping, similar to how we might use sour cream. In some areas, they even use it as a beverage.
I've read that in these regions, they just stir starter into milk and let it sit. They use the product at whatever stage it's at. Sometimes more cultured, sometimes less; sometimes tangier, or thicker or thinner. Besides from cows' milk, it can be made from the milk of goats, sheep, yaks and even camels and water buffalo.
So, if you want to try it, don't be too stressed out by the process. It's very forgiving. Just go ahead and try it.
There is a basic process. But the basic process is easy.
- In America, where we are used to thick yogurt, heat the milk to 170-200F. Some instructions say to maintain that temp for 20 minutes. Allegedly, the higher the temp and the longer it's maintained, the thicker the yogurt.
- Let it cool to 110F.
- Stir in your culture, about 1 c starter to 1/2 gallon final product. Any store bought yogurt that says it has live or active cultures will work for starter; I use Dannon Plain when I need fresh starter. Once you make yogurt, you can just use your own yogurt for the starter. Starter can be frozen and used later.
- Maintain the temp at 110F for six to eight hours.
That's the "correct" way to make yogurt. For my easiest yogurt yet method, you'll have to read on, through all my tips and mistakes, etc. It's waaaaay at the end.
Before I had a yogurt maker, I used quart jars in a gas oven, using the heat from the pilot light to keep it warm. Then we moved and I had an electric stove, so lost my pilot light.
There are many recommended alternatives to an "official" yogurt maker. Warm water in a beverage cooler, with a quart jar within; setting your container on a heating pad, and wrapping it with towels; using a crock pot to heat the milk, and after it cools and you've added your culture, just wrap the entire thing in a baby quilt...I'm sure there are many other methods.
I eventually got a very nice yogurt maker as a gift. And I used it faithfully. As the family continued to grow, I bought another at a second hand store and used them both faithfully. But eventually our yogurt needs outpaced the little jars. We use a significant amount of yogurt, so it's just easier to have it in bigger containers.
I go through stages during which I just buy it, always in the big quart sized containers of plain yogurt. Usually three or four of them at a time. Only for a vacation treat or when I have to pack lunches for the kids during our church's VBS, do I buy the sweet, flavored stuff. I know, I'm a hard Mama. "We never get anything good," my kids tell me. So be it. "You'll thank me for it someday."
One time, however, when I was still using the little jars and the "official" yogurt maker, I had warmed about a quart too much milk. So I poured the extra into a jar and figured we'd use it for a Yo-J type drink if it didn't thicken. But guess what. It thickened just as well as the stuff in the little jars at the "official" 110 degrees for six to eight hours.
Eventually memory of that accident led to my current yogurt making system. We prefer our yogurt thick, so I generally heat the milk first. But that's about the only "rule" I follow.
- I usually fill up my dutch oven, so I suppose that's 5 quarts of milk, or so. But I don't get too particular about amounts or the the heating process.
- I set it on low and after it gets a little foamy I turn it off. With the volume of milk and heat setting I use, it probably takes an hour or so to get the frothy look .
- After it cools to blood warm, I stir a ladleful of milk into 1-2 cups of starter culture.
- Then I wisk the starter/milk mix into the milk in the dutch oven. Sometimes I run the immersion blender through it if it doesn't seem to want to mix in well.
- I put the lid on and let it sit until I feel like dealing with it. Sometimes it's overnight. Sometimes it's a couple of days.
In case anyone wants to try not heating the milk first, I've also gone through stages of skipping that step. This also makes a tasty yogurt, but not thick. It's about the consistency of heavy whipping cream, but tastes like yogurt. It has the same pro-biotic properties as yogurt. We drink it from a juice glass or pour it over oatmeal or other cereal. But it's definitely a pouring product. It is a bit clotty, so if that turns you off, you can whip it with an immersion or regular blender. This will result in a silky smooth beverage or topping.
So, in short, don't be intimidated by the process. It's very forgiving. There are as many right ways to make yogurt as there are people who make it.