When my children were small, I struggled to find inexpensive snack foods that were both nutritious and appealing. Since we kept milk goats, I thought yogurt would be a great way to fill hungry bellies and use excess milk from the fridge.
Making yogurt for my children was easier than I thought. In fact, with hubby as taste tester, I quickly mastered it, and you can too.To make yogurt the easy way, either in a slow cooker or a cooler, just follow along.
Yogurt is a fermented dairy product made by introducing a Lactobacillus culture to milk. Fermented foods are full of probiotics which improve gut health, digestion, and nutrient absorption.
First, always begin with fresh milk. If you’re used to store-bought yogurt and worry how your family will receive a homemade variety, use whole milk, not skim or low-fat, and never ultra-pasteurized.
Also, consider adding a little gelatin or powdered milk to your start. They’re harmless thickeners that’ll help your family accept this new food in their lives.
You need a candy thermometer and a thick-bottomed stockpot to make yogurt. For the cooler method, collect sterile jars with lids and a cooler. A lunch-box size works well. For the slow cooker method, naturally, you need a slow cooker.
Both techniques are equally fool-proof. I use the cooler if I want individual containers of yogurt. For Greek-style yogurt, I use the slow cooker, but you’ll also need a colander and a square of muslin large enough to line it.
Finally, you’ll need a yogurt culture from a health food store or use yogurt from another batch. I successfully use plain Dannon yogurt as my starter.
For both methods, the first few steps are the same.
• If using raw milk, heat to 180 degrees in the stockpot to pasteurize. This kills any bacteria that compete with the Lactobacillus culture and changes the structure of the proteins to “set” rather than curdle.
• Remove from the heat and cool to 110 degrees. (If using store-bought milk, just heat to 110 degrees)
Preheat the slow cooker while heating the milk. Once the crock feels hot to the touch, turn it off and apply the lid to keep it warm.
• Pour the 110 degree milk into the crock, saving back a cup in a small mixing bowl.
• Add the starter culture to the milk in the mixing bowl. Mix, then add to the milk in the crock. For a full, 6-8 quart slow cooker, use about a cup of Dannon yogurt. If you use a commercial yogurt starter, follow package directions.
• Add sweetener and vanilla flavoring now, if desired—but not fruit.
• Place the lid on the crock and cover the entire slow cooker with a thick towel or small blanket. Unplug and leave for 10-12 hours.
For a thicker Greek-style yogurt, place your colander over a large bowl and line with muslin. Pour the finished yogurt from the crock into the colander to strain out the whey. This will reduce the amount of yogurt by about half. When done dripping, scrape it into containers and refrigerate.
The collected whey keeps in the refrigerator for six months. Use it to ferment vegetables or make ricotta cheese.
A cooler full of jars of yogurt and warm water is heavy. Before you begin, place it where it can stay, or have help to lift it.
• Put about ¼ cup of starter and flavorings in each jar. (Or follow package directions.) Don’t add fruit; wait until you serve it.
• Pour the warm milk in jars and stir to mix thoroughly. Use a wooden or plastic spoon to avoid breakage.
• Apply the lids and set the jars in the cooler. Fill the cooler with hot tap water to cover the shoulders of the jars. Shut the cooler lid and set undisturbed for 8-12 hours.
• To test for doneness, tip a jar on its side to see if the mixture is thick. Store in the fridge.