The Long Story Of How I Learned To Make Yogurt (Plus An Easy Recipe)

how to make yogurt

I first learned how to make yogurt during my first trip to Italy. Days after graduating from college I headed to Southern Italy to celebrate my big accomplishment. It was there in the seaside town of Calabria that my friend’s mother, a lovely lady by the name of Leyda (who happened to be a Puerto Rican married to an Italian) casually showed me how she transformed a small cup of milk into yogurt on a daily basis. At the time I was fascinated by the concept and quickly scribbled down the method. However, between my outings to the beach and traveling across the Atlantic I managed to misplace the recipe. I tried to replicate the steps from memory once I got home but something was always off.

My passion for homemade yogurt was refueled a decade later when I found myself in rural India visiting my soon-to-be in laws. Every day my mother-in-law rises at 4 am to milk a buffalo affectionally refer to as Priyanka. From this fresh milk she makes butter and yogurt every single day. The result is a butter so creamy it tastes like cheese and yogurt so rich it could be used in dessert.

Butter is made in the morning but it’s in the evenings when yogurt is made. She pours some milk in a pot and scalds it then lets it cool until lukewarm before pouring into a terra cotta pot with remnants of yesterdays yogurt. The pot is then covered with a lid and wrapped in a shawl then stored in a warm place overnight. In the morning you have yogurt…it’s pretty amazing.

Of course, you can replicate this process (sans buffalo and terra cotta pots) in the comfort of your kitchen. Here’s how:

Easy Yogurt Recipe

Ingredients
2 cups of milk (preferably whole and organic)
1 tablespoon of plain yogurt (preferably full fat and organic)

Heat two cups of milk over medium heat until the milk is scalded. It’s important the milk doesn’t come to a simmer or boil. You simply want the sides to form the tiniest bubbles then you’ll turn off the heat and place the pot on a cool burner.

This is the most important step: let the milk cool until it is warm to the touch (you should be able to dip your finger in it for 10 seconds without burning).

Transfer the lukewarm milk to a glass or metal container then proceed to add a tablespoon of plain yogurt. Mix to incorporate. Cover and wrap in a kitchen towel. Place somewhere warm and keep it there overnight.

Uncover in the morning and you’ll find you have thick and creamy yogurt. Refrigerate it and consume as desired.

Tips

The microwave is a great place to keep the milk-yogurt combo. It is cozy and just warm enough to provide a good environment for yogurt making. The oven or a countertop near the refrigerator are also good spots.

The yogurt can be made with whole or low fat milk. I prefer whole milk, as the yogurt will be richer. Low fat milk will yield a yogurt that is more gel like. Choose organic when possible.

It is important to choose a good quality plain yogurt containing just milk and healthy bacteria. Please avoid yogurts containing pectin, gelatin, starches and emulsifiers such as xanthan gum. These ingredients are fillers added to commercial yogurts to improve texture. They are not found in natural yogurt nor are they beneficial to your health.

Fresh yogurt has a much sweeter taste than the commercial variety and gets sour with time. So if you won’t be eating much yogurt make small batches.

Troubleshooting

If your yogurt has turned to curds it means the milk was too hot. Make sure the milk is cooler (yet still lukewarm) next time you make yogurt.

If your yogurt hasn’t set at all it means the milk was too cold. Next time you are waiting for the milk to cool and it gets too cold just put the pot back on the flame for just a few minutes to bring it back to temperature before adding it the yogurt.

Header image courtesy Liliana Fuchs/Flickr.

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