Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Home made yogurt- is this ambrosia?

In a recent post on Local Forage, Carla gives a "thump on the head" to Stonyfield Farm for joining other dairy operators in lobbying the USDA to NOT require the Organic Standards Board recommendation that organic cows receive 30% of their feed from pasture.

I was dismayed by this, because I have been buying Stonyfield's yogurt for the past year or so. I like it, and the inulin fiber they add, purportedly to boost calcium absorption, gives the yogurt a really nice smooth texture. But it also started me thinking. Stonyfield isn't in my foodshed- in fact it's almost 500 miles to Londonderry, NH.

Here in S. Central PA, dairy farming is important. In fact, we are here because of the dairy industry- my husband worked for a cream cheese company that moved us here. Around my house, fields are speckled with black and white Holsteins and Belted Galloways, creamy brown Jerseys providing contrast. Our friend Ashley was Dairy Princess last year, a duty that entailed promoting milk and dairy products at various functions. The dairy farms run the gamut from 300 cow automated operations, with indoor cows who seldom see the out of doors, to small family herds of pastured cows, milked by mom and dad and any siblings old enough. With this tremendous bovine presence, I began to wonder why I was not getting local yogurt.

Well, the answer to that is, "Because there isn't any." I can get local milk and ice cream, lots of cheese, but as far as I know, no one is marketing local yogurt. I have no idea why that is.

As a wedding present, we were given a Salton Yogurt maker, an odd little machine that made between 4 and 6 single servings of yogurt (I don't remember how many now- that was 30 years ago!) I used it a lot, but it never made enough for me- I love quantity. So I learned to make yogurt without a machine (What a concept!) I always used non fat dry milk, but I quit when I realized I didn't know where the milk came from, or how the cows were treated and fed.

Obviously, the answer to my yogurt dilemma was to make my own, using local milk. The first batch I made used 2% milk. Wow- was it ever terrific! Tonight, my friend EunJee, visiting us for her spring break from SUNY helped me, and we used just under a half gallon (1.9 L) of 2% and a full half gallon (1.9 L) of non-fat. This netted us about 9 pints (4.25 L) of yogurt.

You will need
Containers for the yogurt- pint or quart sized ( .5 or 1 L) canning jars work well, or plastic yogurt containers.

An ice chest or cooler, with a lid, that is big enough to hold the containers.

A pot large enough to hold the milk you will be using, and still leave at least 2 inches (5 cm) head space and a stirring utensil that will reach the bottom of the pan.

A thermometer that will measure temperature of the milk up to 180 degrees F (83 degrees C)

1/4-1/2 cup (118-236 ML) plain commercial yogurt with live cultures- Dannon works best, in my opinion. You can use your home made yogurt to culture the next 2 batches, but you should go back to a commercial yogurt every 3rd batch. This makes sure your bacteria haven't mutated or become weak.

Milk- 1/2 to 1 gallon (1.75- 3.5 L) More would be difficult to deal with, less wouldn't be worth the time.

Make sure everything is impeccably clean. We are going to be encouraging a bacteria to ferment milk by inoculating the milk with the bacteria we want growing there. If everything isn't scrupulously clean, we could introduce a wild bacteria into the mix that might not have the same pleasing end product!

Based on how much milk you are using, decide how many containers you will need for your end product, and then add 1 more, just in case. I used pint canning jars and lids. Spread a clean kitchen towel, or several paper towels out on the counter top.

Step 1-
Wash containers in hot, soapy water, rinse in the hottest water you can. (Jars straight out of the dishwasher can also be used) Invert the clean jars on the towel- this keeps airborne bacteria or dirt from falling in your clean jars. Fill a mixing bowl with the hottest water you can. Wash lids, rinse and then submerge lids in the bowl of hot water to keep them sterile. Wash pot and whatever you are going to stir with. I repeat- Wash everything!
Step 2-
Pour the milk into your pot. Heat the milk to 180 degrees F (83 degrees C), stirring constantly, all the way to the bottom of the pan. This step is very important if you are using raw milk, probably less so if you are using pasteurized milk, but better to be safe than sorry. Don't boil, though, because that alters the taste of the milk. This picture is from a batch of yogurt I made using "cream line", or non-homogenized, milk- the yellow is butter fat floating on top of the milk.

Step 3-
Cool the milk to 120 degrees F (49 degrees C). I usually fill the sink with cold water to cut the time this takes, and put the pot in the sink. In the summer I even use ice water.
Step 4-
Stir the commercial yogurt into the cooled milk. Make sure it is all dispersed through out the yogurt. Step 5-
Ladle the milk into the containers, and put the lids on. (Sometimes I put a teaspoon of yogurt into each jar, just to make sure there are plenty of bacteria in there.) Place the containers in the ice chest. Step 6-
Put enough hot water (about 130 degrees F- 54 degrees C) in the ice chest so that it comes about half way up the jars or containers. Put the lid on the chest, and walk away for 8-12 hours. I usually make the yogurt after supper and leave it until the next morning. Longer fermentation means tangy-er yogurt. I love to combine yogurt, fruit and a little honey or Sucanat in a bowl, then freeze for a couple of hours. It's almost as good as ice cream! Bananas work especially well in this, so did the apricot/raspberry mixture left over from my fried pies.

Now it's time to move onto making tofu!


cookiecrumb said...

This is brilliant. So very well explained. I love how you and I both blogged about yogurt at the same time.
(I also love how you do it DIY, without a yogurt maker. Know what? I had that funky Salton machine a million years ago too.)

Willa said...

Thanks, Cookie! Although I was thinking, as I looked at the jars of yogurt in the cooler, I could have stuck with the Salton thing- it just seemed like it wasn't enough yogurt!

Elisa said...

is there any trick [other than draining it] to making the yoghurt super thick? i made some with unhomogenised milk and it tastes super tangy and is watery :(


Willa said...

I have had a lot of trouble making yogurt from the raw milk I get from my farmer friend. He tells me that the raw milk is also more unreliable for his soft cheese making. I hate to say it, but I have gone back to pastuerizing because I was just losing too many batches.