I wanted chickens but all I got was tzatziki (or something like it) and a rockin’ compost pile (part 2)

Yes. A yogurt tutorial, or, Welcome to science in the kitchen!

Let me begin by saying that most of my cooking is somewhat laissez faire… I’m pretty good with precision when necessary, but for the most part, I’ll use what I have on hand to get somewhere close to what I want in the end.

(This method has resulted in mostly edible food, a number of really great clothing articles through sewing, and my first knitting experience, a pair of bright pink mittens, knit on dpns, in the round. i like a challenge.)

A great book

So when Urban Homesteading suggested that making yogurt would be a great use for milk-on-the-verge, i JUMPED on the opportunity! After all, tzatziki is just cucumbers without the yogurt, right?

I know there are a lot of recipes for yogurt out there, and I’m pretty sure we used some sort of ratio when we made yogurt when I was young, but it’s a simple enough (and mostly-fool-proof) project that it can be done with any combination of your basic ingredients, milk and yogurt with ‘live, active cultures.’

sidebar: is there any yogurt out there WITHOUT ‘live, active cultures?’ I know there are a number of yogurt-makin’ bacteria out there, but, aside from whippin’ out the frozen yogurt, i guess, there’re really few options out there that won’t work to get this puppy going. As long as you’ve got something growing that you’re putting into your pasteurized milk, you’ll be golden.

sidebar #1: I guess I haven’t really noticed whether my fro-yo is labeled as having ‘live, active cultures’. if it does, you KNOW i’m going to give it a try.

sidebar #2: I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t buy that $5 ice-cream maker at Saver’s back a few months ago You know how much money I’d’ve saved if I could make my own frozen yogurt from milk-on-the-verge? That’s like a whole $4 a month! the thing would’ve paid for itself in weeks! and enough. back to the ‘tutorial’

So I start out with my milk-on-the-verge (usually 3-5 days after the ‘sell-by date’ on the top. that means what it says, by the way – it’s a SELL by date, so you’ll still be ok drinking this stuff up to and beyond 7 days after that date. Just don’t drink milk that smells bad or has turned yellow, and I’m pretty sure you’ll be ok!) and a bit of yogurt.

Step 1. Put your milk in a pan on the stove. you’re going to pasteurize it quickly to kill (most of) the stuff that’d be growing in your milk (that was already pasteurized and homogenized before purchasing)

step 1

I have about 2/3-3/4 of a gallon of 1% milk in that pot, and I’ve also stuck an instant-read thermometer (from my espresso machine set…) in there. We’re going to heat this to 180º F, stirring occasionally.

handy tip: I use a small binder clip on the side of the pot to keep my thermometer in place. I’ve also seen some great clothes-pin-related setups out there as well!

180 degrees

The milk will bubble a little bit when it is 180º. I think it is beautiful!


Step 2: Quick cooling. I do this by setting the pot (thermometer and all) in a sink of ice-water.

(all my ice has melted here.)

Stirring helps this step go quicker. I usually use one spoon to stir the milk and another to stir the ice-water.

120 degrees

cool it to between 110 and 120º F. Any warmer and you’ll kill a lot of your ‘live, active cultures’. Any cooler and you won’t give those little buggers a good head-start. I usually cool to about 120ºF and then figure that it cools a bit more when I put the milk into the final “yogurtization” vessel (in this case, a large tupperware also lovingly used for the production of Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day. That’s another amazing book. Changed my life. No, really. It did.)

Here’s where a recipe would normally tell you “add this exact amount of x to this exact amount of y, stir to combine, etc. etc.” I will tell it to you this way.

Dump your milk into a big, very clean bowl. Take a measuring cup and dip out a bunch of your pasteurized milk and mix it with a bit of yougurt with ‘live, active cultures’ in another very clean bowl (or, in my case, the container in which I purchased the yogurt). In this case, I used somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 of a cup of starter yogurt. I think.


The benefit of this mixing step is that it makes the starter yogurt much easier to stir into the pasteurized milk. I’m not sure it makes much of a difference, but i like to think it creates fewer lumps.

Right. yogurt doesn’t get lumps. This step is pure neuroticism, folks.

Anyhow, Step 4 is the incubation step. If you live in a warm climate (Like Minnesota in July), you can often just leave the yogurt out on your counter (provided you don’t air-condition your counter). If you live in a cool climate (like Minnesota in October through April) and are like me and prefer to keep the house cool, you’ll probably need to create your own incubator. I’ve used a gas oven before – the pilot light is sufficient to keep the oven interior warm without needing to actually turn the oven on. I also have tried using a heating pad to create my own version of a warming blanket. Also works well.

But since my house doesn’t have a gas stove, my roommate took her heating pad with her when she moved out, and I don’t have a ‘proofing’ setting on my oven, like my friend Colleen, I have found that the best method is this.

microwave proofing oven

Put a cup or two of water in a microwave-safe vessel and put that in the microwave. Heat that water (and ONLY that water) for 1-4 minutes or until hot. THEN (and only then! Don’t microwave your yogurt! you will create ‘dead, inactive cultures’ swimming in a nice, warm milk bath!) put your covered yogurt bowl into the nice warm microwave and shut the door to keep it warm. This has worked wonderfully for me in the past – one good microwave blast of 2-3 minutes and 2-ish cups of water here was sufficient to keep my microwave warm (think body temperature, about 95-98º F) for the entire incubation.

After about 6 hours of incubation, I usually check on my yogurt. If it’s not yogurt (you’ll be able to tell the difference between your starter milk and yogurt, I promise), I leave it for another 2-6 hours. Depending on the temperature of your incubation, you can leave it out overnight. I’ve done that in the summer before with great results.

Look at that creamy goodness!

And see? This was after about eight-and-a-half hours in my microwave incubator. The yogurt is ready to eat at this point, so you can just toss it in the fridge and use it as is right now, if that’s your thing.

But we want the good, creamy greek-style yogurt. Be prepared to wait another 3-6 hours. You’ve gotta strain that stuff.

Greek yogurt is basically just regular yogurt with a lot of the liquid removed. Like when you open up a container of yogurt that has a bit of the yellow-ish clear stuff on top. that’s the stuff we’re removing in this step.

makin' greek yogurt

I line my colander (or salad spinner basket, in this case) with a linen napkin or some cheesecloth or a few coffee filters and use a very clean measuring cup to transfer the fresh yogurt to the lined basket. I put over a bowl it in the fridge, and every hour or so, I remove the liquid in the bowl until the yogurt is as thick as I want it, usually about 2-3 hours, though again, I’ve gone overnight without any problems. (this is also how you make ‘yogurt cheese’, though I’ve never gone that far with the liquid removal.)

And there you have it! Greek yogurt! once it’s reached your desired consistency, transfer it to a very clean storage container and put it in your fridge. I’ve like using mason or Weck jars for storage.

and making tzatziki?
well, for THAT recipe, you’ll just have to go google it yourself.


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