Much of homesteading is about every day transformations. For some, this means turning a suburban lot into a vibrant vegetable garden, for others it could be spinning wool into yarn, watching chicks grow into laying hens, or letting go of processed foods and choosing to eat locally grown.
Living in an urban apartment, I don’t have a place to plant seeds in the ground or raise animals so I embrace the transformations that happen in my kitchen. I use fruits and vegetables to fill jars of homemade salsa, jam, preserves and pickles. I stir flour and water together and watch yeast and the heat of the oven turn in into bread.
One of my favorite transformations is making milk into thick tangy yogurt, a pantry staple that I make year round and eat every day.
Humans’ use of milk from other mammals is an ancient practice. Depending on the region, people milk cows, goats, sheep, water buffalo, camels and even horses. Before the convenience of refrigeration, this milk was usually consumed as soured, cultured or fermented. What we call yogurt today has been eaten by people all over the world in various forms for thousands of years. I appreciate the connection that this process gives me to food traditions around the world and the way that making it myself deepens my appreciation for the taste, texture and versatility of homemade yogurt.
There are several great reasons for making yogurt in your own kitchen. With glass bottles of milk from a local farm, I don’t have to figure out how to keep a cow in the courtyard behind my apartment and I know that my yogurt comes from animals that graze on pasture and live relatively nearby.
I return the milk bottles to the co-op when I’m ready to make my next batch.
Making yogurt in my own kitchen helps saves resources and space (no plastic containers piling up) and money since I can make two quarts of yogurt from local organic milk for the price of one quart of yogurt from the store. It doesn’t take a lot of effort or special equipment to make yogurt at home since the cultures do most of the work. Thermophilic, or heat loving, bacteria is added to warmed milk and in a matter of hours the bacteria turns it into something tangy and spoonable.
When it comes to culturing yogurt at home, try to find milk without added ingredients or stabilizers and avoid anything ultrapasteurized.
Homemade yogurt is often soft, sometimes almost pourable, unlike the stiff sweet product that comes in a plastic tub.
Making yogurt is easy:
Begin by heating milk in a pot on the stove. If you have a thermometer you can use it to figure out the precise moment the milk reaches 180 degrees F, but you can also watch until the milk is steaming and foamy but not boiling. When it reaches this temperature (or even if it accidentally goes beyond) turn off the heat and let the milk cool to 120 degrees F, or until warm but not hot.
Whisk in 2 tablespoons of yogurt for each quart of milk and make sure that the starter yogurt is completely incorporated.
Pour the liquid into glass jars, cover, and place them together in a warm, draft free spot. Ideally the yogurt should be kept at around 100 degrees F while it is culturing. Covering the jars with several tea towels will keep the yogurt warm enough. Let the cultures to do their work for several hours.
In years of yogurt making, I’ve never had a batch that didn’t set using this method. If you feel nervous about the success of something so low-tech, there are other ways to incubate the yogurt.
Yogurt makers, a crock pot or an oven warmed by the pilot light all help to keep the yogurt at a constant temperature while fermenting.
You can also fill a small cooler with warm water and close the jars inside while culturing. After 4-6 hours (or up to 12 hours for an increasingly sour flavor), the milk should be mostly solidified, surrounded by the watery whey.
Place the jars in the refrigerator and, once cooled, enjoy.
Each batch of yogurt becomes the starter for another. Save a bit to inoculate your next pot of heated milk and soon it will be a staple of your kitchen.
A supply of plain yogurt gives you many options. Add fresh or frozen fruit, jam, preserves, honey or maple syrup for sweetness. Use it in smoothies, with granola, on pancakes, or in baked goods.
If Greek-style yogurt is your favorite, place a couple of layers of cheese cloth or a clean tea towel in a sieve or colander and let the yogurt strain until it reaches the desired consistency. You can continue to drain the yogurt until it is as thick as cream cheese, lightly salt it and use it for sweet or savory purposes. The thin, watery part that drains out of the yogurt, called whey, can be saved and used for the liquid in making bread, smoothies or soups.
Yogurt is an incredibly useful kitchen staple which can provide sustenance and satisfaction in many ways. Making yogurt at home is a simple ritual of transformation that adds to the connection we have with the food we eat and keeps us well provisioned for all kinds of meals.