As you all know from Episode 6 of the Podcast, I’m on a fermenting frenzy at the moment. After kicking most dairy out of my diet for a fairly substantial amount of time, I recently found myself craving yoghurt. Well, to be honest I’ve been craving a lot of fermented foods lately. I have no idea why really, but I’ve learned to respect my cravings. If I consistently crave something I’ll try to figure out why, and whether that food/beverage/activity is going to be beneficial. If it is beneficial, or at least isn’t massively detrimental, I’ll go ahead and Cave to the Crave, as I like to say. And so it is with my yoghurt jones.
I have nothing particular against commercially made organic yoghurts, but I do prefer my dairy products to be from pasture-raised cows and those can be hard to find here. What I can easily find is milk from pasture-raised cows, and with that milk and a little time and effort I can make yoghurt. Plus milk is less expensive to buy than yoghurt, so I’m making myself and my wallet happy.
You may be wondering if dairy fits in with my self-professed Primal lifestyle. My short answer is yes. But when have I ever given a short answer? Exactly. So let me elaborate.
Humans have been raising domesticated animals, starting with sheep and goats, since around the 9000-7000 BC mark. The nomadic tribes of what is now Iraq, used these animals as a source of food, as well as utilizing the skins and bones in making clothing, tools, shelter, jewelry, and weapons. I have no doubt they would have also drunk the milk of these animals at least on occasion. While these tribes are certainly not “cavemen” they are still well within what I would deem our early ancestry. Besides, I don’t consider Primal to be a “caveman” diet, but rather the term used to express eating a very whole-food, low-sugar, non-processed, protein rich diet. And yoghurt certainly fits that description. There, not too verbose, but still informational.
For those who eschew dairy due to lactose intolerance, Good News! You may well be able to enjoy yoghurt with no repercussions. You see, the very compound which vexes your digestion is what those good bacteria feed on in order to turn milk into creamy, tangy, delicious yoghurt. Fermentation is caused by bacteria digesting the natural (or added) sugars present in whatever food you are trying to ferment. Lactose is the sugar found in milk, Happy Bacteria eats the sugar, and the result is a tummy-friendly dairy product, packed with protein and probiotics! The best part about making your yoghurt at home is that YOU control the fermentation time, and thus the taste and consistency. A longer fermentation give us a thicker, tangier end product, while a shorter time gives us a thinner, sweeter result. You choose.
Before we get into the actual recipe I use, I wanted to go over a few tips and bits of useful information. First, please make sure everything you are using to make your yoghurt is clean, well rinsed and free from soap residue. While fermenting is an ancient and natural method of preserving foods, we want to be in control (as much as we can be) of which bacteria we are introducing into our process. There will always be wild yeasts and bacteria involved, but we want to minimize their influence in this instance. Second, when heating your milk do so slowly. The purpose of heating to 180°F is two-fold; by heating the milk to that temperature we kill off any bacteria already present which may inhibit the growth of our starter culture, and we also cause the proteins in the milk to unwind, resulting in a creamy, smooth yoghurt as opposed to a clumpy, lumpy, curdled looking yoghurt. If we rapidly heat the milk the proteins do not have time to fully relax and our yoghurt won’t have our desired texture. Third, I find it helpful to have my starter culture and milk at room temperature before I begin. We’re going to be heating the milk anyway, and if the yoghurt is already at room temperature it’s more awake, alive and ready to do its job when added to our warm milk. A quick note on our starter culture yoghurt: if this is your first time making yoghurt, you can use either a dried starter culture (available at many natural foods stores and online) or you can use a couple of tablespoons of commercially prepared yoghurt. If you go the commercially prepared route, which is what I’ve always done, just make sure that it contains LIVE cultures and no additives. It must be plain yoghurt, no fruit or honey, preferably no stabilizers, gums, or added sugars. I’ve successfully used both Skyr Icelandic and Stonyfield brands.
I strongly suggest you read through the entire recipe a few times, and gather and prepare all of your equipment and ingredients before you begin. This will enable you to move from step to step with less stress and more confidence. For some reason, confidence seems to be the secret ingredient for successful home-fermentation. Ready? Here we go!
Basic Yoghurt Recipe
2qt stainless steel/glass/ other non-reactive sauce-pan
Stainless Steel/wooden/other non-reactive spoon for stirring
Large Bowl filled with Ice and water (if using ice bath cooling method)
Non-reactive container for fermenting the yoghurt (must be at least 1.5 quarts in volume, or several smaller vessels totalling 1.5 quarts in volume
Heating Pad or Small Cooler and hot water bottles for fermenting
Kitchen or Bath Towel
1 quart Whole Milk preferably organic, from pasture-raised cows
2 Tbsp yoghurt either homemade or store bought
*some folks will tell you that you can’t use ultra-pasteurized milk to make yoghurt, however I have had no problem using the Organic Valley brand.
Pour the milk into your non-reactive sauce-pan and set the heat on low. If you have a gas range, adjust the flame to that magical point JUST BEFORE it goes out. You want to keep the heat low enough that you do not scald or burn the milk. Attach your kitchen thermometer to the pot if it has a clip allowing you to do so, otherwise periodically check the temperature by holding the thermometer in the milk. Stir the milk nearly continuously as it heats. This prevents sticking and the aforementioned burning. I like to stir in a traveling figure eight pattern (visualize drawing a flower made up of overlapping figure eights) to make sure I’m moving all of the milk around. Keep stirring until your milk reaches 180°F. As the milk approaches the 180 mark, you should see small bubbles forming around the edges of the pot and vapors rising from the surface of the milk. You will also be able to smell a change in the aroma as it takes on a thicker, sweeter scent, caused by the lactose being heated. This process can take up to 30 minutes or even a bit longer, depending on the starting temperature of your milk and how low you can keep your heat. Once you’ve achieved our target temperature carefully hold your milk at 180° for 10-15 minutes. Try not to let the temperature fluctuate more than a few degrees. Once you’ve reached 10-15 minutes, cool the milk to 115°F. This can be done by removing from the heat and allowing it to cool on it’s own, or more rapidly by immersing the saucepan in an ice water bath, and stirring to dissipate the heat. If using the ice bath method, remove the pan when the thermometer reads 125°F, as the milk will continue cooling in the pot. Once the milk has reached the 115°F mark, pour one cup into your fermenting vessel and stir in your starter yoghurt. Stir until smooth. Now pour the rest of the milk in and gently stir to incorporate. Cover the container with a tightly woven cloth or cling film. If using a heating pad during the fermenting set the heating pad to low, and place on one end of the bath towel to protect your counter from the direct heat. Fold the towel over the pad, place the fermenting vessel on top of the towel and heating pad, and then envelope the vessel in the towel to trap the heat and protect the mixture from curious humans and pets. Allow to ferment 6-12 hours. Check the consistency periodically until it is the way you prefer your yoghurt. When finished, simply store in the refrigerator and enjoy.
If you are using the insulated cooler method, first make sure your container will fit inside of it. If not, you will transfer your milk/starter yoghurt mixture into smaller containers. Clean mason jars work well, as do clean jelly jars. Cap (plastic screw caps are fine, we aren’t canning this) or cover with cling film. But BEFORE you start heating your milk, fill your cooler with hot water to preheat it! You can also preheat your smaller jars the same way. Once you are ready to begin fermenting, empty the jars and cooler. Fill the jars with the milk mixture. Place a clean kitchen or bath towel in the bottom of the cooler to help stabilize the jars/container. Put your container(s) in the cooler and place one or two filled hot water bottles in to maintain the heat. Close the cooler and carefully place it somewhere warm where it won’t be disturbed. Allow the yoghurt to ferment for 6-12 hours as with the heating pad method.
Once your yoghurt is finished, enjoy it however you like! Plain, with fruit, honey, or spices, as a dip or sauce, as an ingredient in other recipes, or strain it to make a soft yoghurt cheese. The possibilities are many. Your yoghurt will last 7-10 days properly refrigerated (though I doubt you’ll have any left after the first 3 days!). Save 2 tablespoons of this batch to start your next batch. Congratulations, you are now a fermenter!
Making Yoghurt is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to begin fermenting in your home. Give it a try and let me know how it turned out.