After college, I traveled abroad, landing in the little-known Mediterranean capital of Tirana, Albania. There, I lived with a lovely, tiny woman who cooked all the time — in a kitchen the size of a closet, with electrical power that was spotty at best.
And yet, her food was wonderful — layers of phyllo dough, rich scratch-made cheeses and a thick, creamy yogurt the likes of which I had never tasted at that time in my life. (This was years before Greek yogurt would become a US grocery store staple.) When I ate it, I was struck by how much more dense it was than the yogurt I’d grown up with. And how much less sweet.
Fast forward a decade or two and I’m a mom to three kids living in Roanoke, Va., challenging myself to make as many foods as I can from scratch, to feed my kids as healthily as I can and to combat the pervasive presence of sugar in nearly all commercially prepared foods. It occurs to me that I can make my own yogurt, which dovetails nicely with these goals. I think back to my traveling days and I wonder — can I make yogurt that tastes as amazing as my Albanian mom, Drita, made for me all those years ago?
A bit of research, a few weeks of experimenting and I’m there — marveling at the amazing process that transforms my local, full-fat milk into the thicker-than-pudding yogurt I remember from Albania. It has the same creaminess. The same tang.
And honestly, there has been a jar of homemade yogurt in my fridge ever since.
There are many reputable recipes for how to make your own yogurt from the likes of The New York Times, The Kitchn, Epicurious, Martha Stewart. Most of them have you mix whole milk with a couple tablespoons of commercial yogurt (it’s important it’s made with live cultures), then find a warm place for your jar of milk and cultures (some people place it in their crockpot) and leave it to set for 6-12 hours.
I did not have good luck with this (perhaps the temperature of my house is not consistent enough?). In the end I purchased a (not very expensive) yogurt maker. I also purchase packets of shelf-stable yogurt cultures from my local Co-op. For me, this makes a process that’s a bit more touchy-feely than most recipes let on, a little more uniform. The yogurt maker comes with a large class container (some have single-serve glass containers, as well). We typically finish one batch, wash the jar and start a new batch the same day.
On occasion, we will mix vanilla, honey or jam into our yogurt, but always after it’s been scooped into a bowl. I’ve never made, say, a whole batch of vanilla yogurt. It’s just too good plain. This yogurt works perfectly in smoothies and can be a lovely topping for soups or Indian. But again, we mostly just eat big spoonfuls of it stirred around with a little fruit and homemade granola.
I’ll include the recipe that comes with our yogurt culture below. Whatever method you use to make your own yogurt, I wish you great success. Because once you’ve got it, I promise you’ll be hooked. And breakfast will never be the same again.
Plain Homemade Yogurt
Recipe from Cultures for Health
- Slowly heat milk in stainless steel or enamel pot (no aluminum) until it reaches 180°F (you’ll want an instant read thermometer). Turn off the heat and let the milk cool to 115°F.
- Pour the milk into a glass jar. Add a packet of yogurt starter and mix thoroughly.
- Cover and culture at 105°F to 112°F for 7-8 hours. (This is what your yogurt maker does for you.)
- Once the yogurt has set, cover it and allow it to cool for 2 hours at room temperature. After 2 hours, refrigerate yogurt for at least 6 hours before eating. (I often keep mine in the yogurt maker for more like 8-9 hours; let it cool on the counter for only a half-hour or so, then stick it in the fridge. That has worked for me. You can tell the yogurt is set when it appears thick and pulls away from the side of the jar. I often shift the jar a bit to see if it seems solid enough; if too liquidy, I give it more time in the yogurt maker.)
- After its time in the fridge, your yogurt is ready to be eaten or used in recipes.