I have seen my mother do this so often, infact almost daily. Each night one of the last things she did before going to bed, was warm the day’s left over milk on the stove, dip her index and middle finger in curd (a.k.a yogurt) and transfer barely a drop of it into the warm milk and mix with her fingers briefly. Cover with a lid and set it aside. Viola! Come next morning we had fresh homemade yogurt.
Traditionally yogurt, buttermilk, butter and ghee were all made fresh at home with fresh cow or buffalo milk. I still remember the evenings when the neighboring cowherd brought his buffalo along to my home and milked the cow right in front of us. Those days are long gone. Replaced by milk bought in cartons in bulk. Yogurt, butter and ghee are also available in abundance in convenient packages. There are many varieties and many options such as conventional varieties (Lucerne) or organic (Horizon) or grass fed milk or lactaid free or non dairy and so many more. Each variety to satisfy a particular customer group.
While it is easy to choose a brand of milk that works for my needs, finding a yogurt has always been challenging. I have gone through various phases of trying out Dannon, Lucerne, Organic and others. I even ventured so far as try to make my own. Although preliminary efforts to make home yogurt were less than satisfactory. I eventually gave up. That is, until last year.
What changed since last year is that I obtained the perfect yogurt culture (from my home country ofcourse :-)) and refined my techniques by combining ideas from different people such as friends and family members on how best to make fresh yogurt at home. Over the last year I have evolved my technique to such an extent that now making yogurt is routine and most importantly it is satisfying and tasty.
Here’s what works for me:
Warm 1/4 gallon of milk (which ever you please — conventional, organic or grass fed). I usually microwave mine for 6 minutes. This brings the milk to a boil and creates a layer (which is essential if eventually you want to make butter or ghee) of fat on top. I try to use 1% or 2% milk . You can of course also use whole milk.
Cool the milk for approximately 10 minutes. Stick a finger in the milk to make sure it is warm enough. The milk should be warm to touch but not too hot. Also if it gets lukewarm, the yogurt wont set.
Then add 3 tbsp of yogurt culture and mix well with a spoon. Cover with a lid and set aside. I usually do this in the night before going to sleep. By morning it is set. Transfer to the refrigerator and use as needed.
Some tricks and tips I have heard/used:
- If in the morning it is not set, this can usually happen if the milk was not warm enough when the yogurt culture was added. I find this is mostly the case in winter time as well.
- Bring water to boil. Transfer to a large wide vessel. Large enough to sink the bowl you are making the yogurt. Place the yogurt bowl in that vessel. This is essentially a way to warm the milk without actually putting it on the stove. You might need to repeat this step a few times sometimes i.e. replace the hot water. If the culture was enough, this should set the yogurt. If the milk does not set with this attempt it might be necessary to add more yogurt culture.
- Winter times when temperatures outside are below freezing it is always a little more challenging to make yogurt.
- One technique that might work is to pre heat the oven to 375 degrees. Turn it off and after a while place you yogurt bowl in the oven, overnight so it is in a warm atmosphere. Beware of putting it in the oven too soon, it will result in the milk boiling which is not necessary.
Most important of all is to preserve the yogurt culture so you can continue to make the next batch of yogurt!
In some countries it is still a tradition to make butter and ghee at home. Remember the fat layer I talked about? Once the yogurt is set, there is a thick layer of condensed fat on the top. If adventurous, this can be used to make butter and eventually ghee and what’s left over is buttermilk. The butter can be separated from the buttermilk by churning the yogurt with a hand churner. And the butter can be heated and clarified on the stove to make ghee.
How do you make your yogurt? Drop me a line with your tips and tricks!