Monday, October 26, 2009

Better-than-Store-Bought Yogurt

As I wrote in a post a couple of weeks ago, I recently attended a cheesemaking workshop with "cheese queen" Ricki Carroll. While I have a zeal for dairy products, especially sour cream and cheese, I've never really liked yogurt much. What I didn't know until that class is that you can make yogurt with a multitude of different flavors and consistencies, and by flavors I don't mean vanilla or strawberry. The type of bacteria culture that you use radically changes the taste, from sweet to tangy to downright sour. In Ricki's class we sampled about four different yogurts, and I was delighted to find that I love, I crave, Bulgarian yogurt, which has a flavor akin to sour cream.

I have two books on how to make cheese and dairy products,
both from Storey, of course: Ricki Carroll's
Home Cheese Making
and Kathy Farrell-Kingsley's
The Home Creamery.
Photo by Susie Cushner

Ricki cited Bulgaria as being the home of the first yogurt. In doing a spot of research for this post, I found a lot of conflicting information. Some Bulgarians will stake their lives on the fact that they invented the stuff, but a lot of sources credit Turkey with the discovery. In any case, a lot of cultures in Eastern Europe and Western Asia have their own varieties (some as thick as curds) and have different names for it, of course, in their own languages. In the English language we've adopted the Turkish name "yogurt," so maybe that's the source of confusion. But it's just an offhanded theory; I'm definitely not taking sides.

Yogurt is incredibly easy to make and a great place to start if you have an interest in making your own dairy products. I've made my own sour cream, which is even easier, but the taste isn't so remarkably different or better than what you buy off the shelf, so I haven't been motivated to keep it up. To make my batch of yogurt, I bought a Yogotherm (available at, which is basically a small airtight pail that can fit into a foam-insulated caddy while you're waiting for bacteria cultures to turn your milk into yogurt. As my base, I bought a half-gallon of raw milk (meaning unpasteurized and unhomogenized) from a local farm, though you can use supermarket milk as well.

Basically, all I did was heat the milk to 180 degrees (which meant I also needed a dairy thermometer), then put the pot in a sink of cold water until it cooled to 110 degrees. Next, I stirred in my starter, which is a sanitized name for bacteria. I used Bulgarian starter that came dried in a packet, but you can stir in already-made yogurt instead. Storey editor Sarah Guare recommends Stonyfield Farms, as they change their starter regularly so it doesn't lose its strength. If you go that route, use a half cup of yogurt to two quarts of milk. I poured the mixture into my Yogotherm and waited five or six hours, and it was done and ready to store in the refrigerator! I've been eating it every day for breakfast, mixed with ginger-flavored granola and raisins. I've also had it as a snack, mixing it with a teaspoon or two of jam.

Yogurt is regularly listed as a superfood in health articles. It's nutrient dense, packing high levels of protein and calcium into small quantities. It's easy to digest. Even lactose-intolerant people can often eat yogurt with no side effects, since the live active cultures contain lactase, the enzyme that lactose-intolerant people lack. Yogurt literally acts as medicine for yeast infections and gastrointestinal problems because it contains probiotics, beneficial bacteria that promote and protect your health. Some studies indicate that yogurt can lower your cholesterol, and the low-fat and nonfat varieties may promote weight loss.

Making something myself that I could have bought in a store gives me a sense of accomplishment, but making something myself that I couldn't have bought in a store brings satisfaction to a whole new level. Bulgarian yogurt = delicious, nutritious, and attainable (for me) only at home.

Alethea Morrison, Creative Director


Amy Greeman said...

I actually hate store-bought yogurt, but I feel guilty for not eating any kind of natural calcium; this gives me hope that I can fool around and make yogurt that I actually like!

brendamod said...

I had no idea making yogurt is so easy. I wonder if the process would be different for goat milk yogurt. I'd like to try.