PaR Cooked

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Sour Milk

Hi, come on in.

Don’t mind the banging coming from upstairs, Mette is working on making me something.  Leave your boots by the door, hang jackets and hats anywhere you can find a spot.  It’s cold outside, warm up in the kitchen.

I have everything all ready to make a batch of yogurt.  Warm, tangy, delicious yogurt.  The same yogurt that when the professor saw how I made it was shocked.  “Really, that’s all you do?!”  Surely there should be something more to it than that.  And, there isn’t.  When making yogurt I think you need to remember this.  People first started making yogurt by mistake, in hot climates.  Less is more.  If you research recipes for how to make yogurt you will find countless methods, numerous temperatures and times to adhere to.  They are all right.   The process I am sharing here is my method.  I have found that it produces predictable results which, most importantly, my small folk devour.  That being said, feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.

The steps are basic.  Basic enough that you can have time to work on your curlers.

Mette trying out her new curlers.

Mette trying out her new curlers.

There is also plenty of down time, so feel free to organize a few cabinets while you are at it.

sometimes you just have to start a new project.

sometimes you just have to start a new project.

When making anything, clean equipment is a really good idea.  I make our yogurt in large Ball wide mouth canning jars.  I have tons of them, they are easy to clean and they store well.  Use what you like best.  Because today I was showing friends my “sour milk secrets” I used a whole gallon of milk, but usually I make one half gallon every week or so.  I use local raw whole milk that I get delivered to my house by the farmer.  It is lovely and grassy, but you can use any whole milk.  Pasteurized is even fine.  I am a big believer in the good fat in milk, especially local and grass fed milk, and I prefer raw or low temp pasteurized, but that is a whole other can of worms for another post.  The other key ingredient you need besides milk to make yogurt, is yogurt.  You need a small amount of yogurt to get you going.  Once you have made your first batch you can reserve a small portion of that to make you next batch.  It’s kind of like a sour dough starter.  The golden ratio to remember is 1/4 cup yogurt for every 4 cups of milk.  So to make a gallon of milk into  yogurt I needed one cup of yogurt from my last batch.  Amazingly enough I managed not to scrape the jar empty the night before and saved enough!  whew!  Can’t begin to tell you how many times I have done that.  In a pinch you can use store bought yogurt to get you going.  Or, if you are lucky and happen to have a Rachel down the street, you can call her and see if she has any homemade yogurt you can have.  But, not everyone is lucky enough to have a Rachel down the street.  Though wouldn’t it be great if we did.

So here is all my gear ready to go:

Yogurt making equipment all neatly gathered, ready to go.

Yogurt making equipment all neatly gathered, ready to go.

There are four large wide mouth jars with plastic tops, two pint glass canning jars I fill with boiling water (more on that later), a large iSi flexible measuring cup, measuring spoon, cast iron pot, polder thermometer, rice pack, milk and a cooler.


Homemade Yogurt

4 cups whole milk

1/4 yogurt

Heat milk to 185F.  Let cool to 115F.  Stir in starter yogurt.  Let yogurt sit undisturbed for 6 hours in a nice warm spot.  Enjoy.


Basically, when making yogurt you heat the milk, really you are pasteurizing it, let it cool, add the yogurt starter and then let it sit in warm snuggly place for 6 or so hours.  The times and temperatures in other recipes may vary, but they are all doing about the same thing.  It takes about 30 minutes to and hour to heat and cool the milk depending on how much milk you are using and how fast your stove is.  Then it needs to sit for about 6 hours.  Because of this timing, I find it best to make the yogurt just before lunch, let it sit until dinner and then when I am cleaning up after dinner I take it out and put it in the fridge.  If I do it any later in the day I am too tired to remember to go down and put it in the fridge.  I know from experience.  I can also say, that even if you do happen to forget about it until the next morning, you will still have yogurt.  But it might be a bit (a lot bit) tangy and you will need to add more honey to appease the small folk.  Best to stick to the earlier time!

I heat the milk to 185F first.  Normally I use a cast iron pot so it heats as evenly as possible, but one gallon of milk was more than my pot could handle so here you see an big ole stock pot doing the hard work.

milk heating to 185F

milk heating to 185F

At the same time I am heating the milk I put the tea kettle on to boil.  Not because I want tea, though I do, because as soon as I finish my coffee in the morning I start thinking about when I can have tea, but because I use canning jars filled with boiling water to make a funky old cooler my “warm snuggly spot” for the yogurt to relax in.  Some people set their oven on low, some put it near a wood stove, these are all good options but they don’t work for me.  I don’t have a wood stove and my oven is from 1912 and while awesome, it doesn’t do LOW, well.  Or at all.  So, I make a cooler all warm and toasty with two jars filled with boiling water and for some extra ambiance I have an old rice pack for sore necks that I microwave and wrap around the bottles.  My kitchen can be drafty and this way everything stays nice and warm.  I do have a radiant heat floor and I put the cooler on a warm spot, but I don’t know how much that really helps.  The water for the jars boils before the milk is up to temp so I fill the jars and put them in the cooler ahead of time. That way when the yogurt goes in the cooler it is already nice and warm.

watching the milk's temp

watching the milk’s temp

I have this awesome polder thermometer that I use for everything.  It has a prong on a long flexible cord so you can stick it in something and have a digital read out of the internal temp..  I would have to pare down my kitchen gadgets REALLY far before this was cut from the group.  You can see here the milk it at 55F, once it gets to 185F I take it off the stove and put it in the sink to cool.  Using the thermometer again you want to cool it to around 115F.  At that point you add in your starter.  I often use a whisk for that to make sure there aren’t any big clumps of yogurt.

milk cooling in the sink

milk cooling in the sink

Once you mix the starter in try to get it the jars quickly.  You don’t want it to cool off too much more.  When the jars are filled put them in your warm snuggly spot.  With any luck, in six hours you will have your first batch of homemade yogurt.

stick a spoon in it, it's done!

stick a spoon in it, it’s done!

From here you can do so many things.  Eat it with honey, which is Mette’s favorite.  Add granola for my favorite.  Make a smoothie, everyone’s favorite….  the possibilites are endless.

Aside from knowing that you aren’t feeding your family tons of sugar and things you can’t pronounce there is a certain magical quality to making yogurt.  You fill jars with what looks like regular milk and a few hours later they are filled with thick creamy yogurt.  Anytime you can do something that feels like magic, I am all for it.


After all, it’s the little things in life that mean so much.  This is one little thing that makes me happy every time I do it.


Try it.  Let me know how it turns out.