Homemade Yogurt (Plain & Greek Style)
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I’ve known that homemade yogurt was “a thing” for a long time. I always considered making it myself, but it was never really at the top of my list of skills to learn, for a few reasons.
Number one: we don’t have a dairy cow or even goats yet. They’re definitely on the dream list for when we get a bigger property someday, but for now all we have are a few laying hens, some pet rabbits, and a couple of freeloading cats.
Number two: I figured you would need raw milk to make yogurt (which is illegal where I live) and I figured even if I could get it, it probably wouldn’t be cheaper than buying it from the grocery store, so I figured, why bother?
But when I started putting the latest issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine together (all about Home Dairy) I figured I needed to at least give homemade yogurt a try.
I quickly learned that you don’t need your own dairy animal or even a raw milk source in order to make your own homemade yogurt. I also learned that it’s possible to make it with the best quality, whole, local, non-homogenized milk, and still have it come out cheaper than it would cost for me to buy a comparable quality and quantity of yogurt at the grocery store.
While this is a bit more expensive than just using regular store-bought milk (about $3.50/litre for the whole milk vs. about $2/litre for regular store-bought milk), I’ve evolved in my thinking about food over the years, and I’m now willing to spend a little bit more for a superior product (ie. whole, non-homogenized milk from a local dairy where the cows are grass fed and are raised out on pasture).
Your choice will depend on what your goals are with making yogurt at home. If your ultimate goal is to save as much money as possible, you might just want to use regular milk from the store.
If you do opt for regular store-bought milk, my suggestion would be to go with the highest fat milk you can (in Canada, regular homogenized milk, aka. “homo milk,” is probably your best option). While I’ve seen a few recipes for yogurt made with cream, usually there’s some type of lower fat milk added as well, presumably because the cream is a little too thick on its own.
Ideally, whole milk is what you want. Again, here in Canada, the closest thing we have to whole milk at most grocery stores is homogenized milk, although it’s still got a slightly lower milk fat percentage compared to whole milk. Try to avoid using ultra-pasteurized or ultra-heat-treated milk (aka. “UHT”); while it’s possible to make yogurt from UHT milk, you can’t always guarantee a good set or consistent results.
If you do happen to live nearby here on Vancouver Island, I get my whole milk from Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. I really love their cheese and fresh milk, and I love that I can get refills in my Mason jars from my Local Refillery, which also helps me cut down on waste. (I used to buy 4 litre plastic milk jugs from the grocery store and hated the amount of plastic waste, so being able to refill my jars with fresh milk is another reason I’ve made the switch).
Another benefit to making my own yogurt is that I can control what’s in it. I usually do a pretty good job of reading labels at the grocery store and avoiding fillers, additives and excess sugar, but every now and then something gets by me.
As my knowledge of food and my understanding of the relationship between our health what we eat evolves, I find myself making more and more food at home in order to avoid unhealthy additives and use the healthiest and highest quality ingredients I can find.
Plus, with homemade yogurt, you’re also getting a whole bunch of healthy probiotics that will support your gut health and microbiome, which is a pillar of good overall health.
Again, you can purchase good quality yogurt from the store with live bacterial cultures, but it usually costs more and you really do have to be diligent about reading labels to ensure you’re getting something that’s actually healthy, and not just something that looks healthy.
Anyway, I’ll step off my soapbox now. Like I said earlier, the choices you make will depend on your own unique goals and what’s important to you. Now back to making yogurt…
So as it turns out, it’s really easy to make homemade yogurt at home, especially with good ol’ whole milk. Here’s what you do…
How to Make Homemade Yogurt From Scratch
Heat your milk up in a saucepan over medium-low heat until it reaches 180ºF. (A kitchen thermometer is definitely helpful here). It can take up to around 15 to 20 minutes for the milk to come to temperature. Stir it every few minutes to distribute heat evenly and prevent a thick skin from forming on top (I usually just form any skin that forms during the heating process right back into the milk).
Once the milk reaches 180ºF, turn the heat off. You can either take it off the heat right away or let it sit on the burner and slowly let the temperature some down to 110ºF.
Once the milk is at 110ºF, it’s time to mix in your culture.
You’ll need a starter culture (ie. yogurt with active bacterial cultures) in order to start your first batch of homemade yogurt. You can purchase a yogurt starter culture or use plain yogurt from the store, just make sure it has no added ingredients, fruit, sugar, etc., and that it has live bacterial cultures. Or you can purchase a starter culture.
Add your starter culture to a a clean, sterilized Mason jar. I add one tablespoon of starter for every cup of milk (usually I do 1/4 cup of starter yogurt to 4 cups of milk).
Add your milk. You may want to skim off any skin that has developed on top of the milk at this point before you add it the Mason jar.
Give everything a stir and then place a lid on the jar. I just use old Mason jar lids that I keep, or you can use plastic lids for your Mason jars. I don’t use new canning lids as I like to save those for my canning projects in the summer.
From here, you’ll need to keep the yogurt incubating at around 110ºF to 115ºF for about 6 to 8 hours. There are a few ways to do this. I like to use my dehydrator.
I have an Excalibur dehydrator that comes with a built-in yogurt setting at 115ºF. I simply place my Mason jar on a rack on the very bottom of the dehydrator and turn it on the yogurt setting. If you have an Instant Pot, it also has a yogurt function. I do have an Instant Pot that I love, but since I can make my yogurt right in the jar and pop it in my dehydrator without having to dirty another pot, I prefer this method.
If you don’t have a dehydrator or an Instant Pot, you can put your jar in the oven with the light on. You can also keep your yogurt warm in a slow cooker. Just fill the slow cooker halfway with warm water and put your jar(s) of yogurt in. Turn the slow cooker to low and keep the lid off.
After 6 to 8 hours, your yogurt should be thickened. You may have a layer of whey on top (thin, yellow-is liquid). You can either leave this or stir it in.
* If after 6 to 8 hours your yogurt is still quite runny, keep it warm for a bit longer (you can even let it incubate for up to 10 to 12 hours, or even longer. The longer it incubates at that 110ºF temperature, the thicker it will become, but the tangier it will become too. So this depends on your tastes.
For a thicker, Greek-style yogurt, strain your yogurt through a fine mesh strainer lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth until all of the excess whey drains out and the yogurt reaches your desired consistency.
Once you’re satisfied with the consistency of your yogurt, place it in the fridge to cool and enjoy. Well, actually, before you enjoy it all, remember to reserve a bit of it to start your next batch of yogurt!
I reserve about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of of my homemade yogurt so that I can start a new batch without having to buy it from the store. I just pop it in the freezer if I’m not going to use it within a week or so. Then when I’m ready, I bring it out and let it defrost and then use it to start a new batch.
Enjoy your homemade yogurt plain (it’s full of tons of probiotics, so it’s a fantastic health food to enjoy all on its own!), or add it to smoothies, serve it with some fresh or frozen fruit or even mix in a little honey, maple syrup or homemade jam to sweeten it up. Top it with granola, hemp hearts, almonds, etc. Ok, you get it… Enjoy it like you would any other yogurt:)
Your yogurt should store in the fridge for around one to two weeks. If you leave it too long, you’ll see mold growing on top. At this point, discard and start a new batch. You can also freeze your yogurt and then defrost and mix well to enjoy at a later date.
Remember to reserve at least 1/4 cup to start your next batch!
If you follow all the directions carefully and your yogurt still won’t set or is still too thin for your liking, you may either need to use a milk with a higher fat content, or you may need to keep your yogurt warmer while it’s incubating. If you’ve been incubating it in the oven with the light on, try turning the oven on to the lowest setting and then turn the heat off and put your jar in the oven with the light on and the door closed.
You shouldn’t have a problem with temperature if you use an Instant Pot, a dehydrator or a slow cooker.
Otherwise there’s really not all that much that can go wrong with homemade yogurt (not that I’ve come across anyway), which is why it’s such an easy skill to learn and to add to your arsenal of homestead kitchen skills!
Whether you have a dairy cow (or goats or sheep, etc.) of your own or you’re using regular ol’ grocery store milk, I can now officially assure you that learning how to make your own homemade yogurt is definitely worth the small bit of time and effort that it takes, for more reasons than one:)
* This recipe originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine. You can click here to subscribe for free and get this issue delivered straight to your inbox until the end of March. Or you can click here to become a member and get full access to all current and past issues, including this one!