Saturday, June 27, 2009

M. Y. O. Y. (Make Your Own Yogurt)

Yogurt is pretty cool. It's a very, very old food that I'm pretty sure was discovered entirely by accident. Somewhere along the line, someone left the milk out. For a couple of weeks. The resulting bacteria-infused dairy treat, with that characteristic tang, was likely born in central/western Asia, where it would be a boon to have fermented milk -- lasts much longer than fresh milk.

An added benefit of the fermentation process is the conversion of lactose into lactic acid, making yogurt infinitely more digestible than milk. This is great news for about 80% of the globe. It was really us caucasians who made the domestication of cattle and the production of their resultant dairy products part of our way of life. If you think about it, we really weren't designed to drink milk in any quantities after, you know, the breast. Only because we in the West are encouraged to down gallon after gallon from a young age--for a couple of centuries now--have we adapted. So fear not, Lactose Unsteady. Make some yogurt.

So why make your own? I really have no good reason. Because you can, I guess. I was thinking about this the other day--why, when you have to go to the store to get the milk anyway, do you need to make the yogurt at home? When there are perfectly delicious organic yogurts by the case?

My only possible answer is this: practice, practice, practice for when you secure that great source of local, raw and/or organic milk, and become your own dairy maid. You'll have it down pat by then. In any case, here's a method that works for me. Really, it's a basic formula. You'll need a thermometer, a sealable container, and a big towel.

Homemade Yogurt
(5-8 hours, depending on how tangy you want your yogurt to be)

4 cups milk (any fat content is fine, I use 1%)
1/4 cup yogurt (must have active cultures; that's your starter)
1/4 cup (scant) powdered milk

  1. Place milk in a saucepan and clip a thermometer on. Over medium heat, bring the milk to 180º. DO NOT BOIL You're trying to kill some things but not others, I forget what exactly. Take off heat and let cool to about 110º. Meanwhile, turn your oven to "warm."
  2. Once the milk is cooled, whisk in the yogurt and dry milk. Pour immediately into your container, seal it, and wrap in a bath towel. Stow in the oven for at least 4 hours, preferably 6 or 8. The longer it sits, the thicker and tangier it will become.
  3. When you feel comfortable with the yogurt's consistency, put it in the fridge to cool.
Here's some things to know:
  • You'll need a store-bought yogurt starter (i.e., a small cup of plain yogurt). Once you've got the process down, just make sure you save a few tablespoons of each batch to start the next.
  • The ratio that works for me is this: 1 cup milk + 1 Tbsp yogurt + 1 Tbsp dry milk. Do as much or as little as you want; but since it takes several hours each time, I air on the much side.
  • I've only done 1% milk, but I hear tell that if you use whole or even 2%, you don't need the dry milk. Try it out.
  • Like I said, the longer you let it ferment, the thicker and tangier it will get; adjust your wait time according to how you like your yogurt. If you're uncomfortable (like I am) leaving a towel in your functioning gas oven for many unsupervised hours, just turn the thing on warm for a bit then turn it off. The oven will retain heat for a while. Do this a couple of times over the course of the fermenting.
  • If you want, set your yogurt in a sieve with a coffee filter over a bowl and stash it in the fridge for a few hours. Voila! Greek-style strained yogurt. Overnight: lebneh or yogurt cheese!

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