You may have been told that there is no such thing as raw yogurt, that you need to initially heat the milk to a high enough temperature so that the yogurt culture does not have to compete with the microorganisms already present in unpasteurized milk. It turns out you can make a very nice yogurt without heating your milk so much that you’re killing valuable beneficial enzymes and microbes. You help the yogurt culture compete by culturing the milk at a temperature that favors the yogurt bacteria over the bacteria naturally present in milk.
The final product has a different consistency than what you typically buy at the store. While it does curdle, the overall consistency is more liquid, so if you mix it up a little, you can drink it. The taste is about the same, or perhaps better. Best of all, it’s easy to make.
You can certainly start with a yogurt culture that ordered from a cheese supplier. However, it’s a lot easier to just buy your favorite live culture yogurt from the store and use it as your inoculant. I’ve used Brown Cow Cream Top plain yogurt with excellent results. I have also used raw yogurt from the raw milk dairy. You can freeze your purchased yogurt in ice cube trays so that it’s available when you need it. Once you’ve made your first batch of yogurt, you can then use some of that batch to start your second batch, and so on until you’ve made four batches. At that point, it’s best to start again with your original starter, as the yogurt, though still perfectly edible, starts to taste funny.
Pour milk into pint or quart sized mason jars, and place the mason jars into a pan. Once the pan is full, add cold water until the jars are at least three quarters of the way under water. Turn the burner to a medium setting. It can take from thirty minutes to an hour to bring the milk to the right temperature. Every ten minutes or so, stir the milk in each jar, and measure the temperature with a candy thermometer. You want to slowly bring the milk up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s OK to overshoot it up to 110 degrees; however, if you pass 117 degrees, you risk killing many of the valuable enzymes and microorganisms which make raw milk products so special, and you will need to let it cool before adding your starter yogurt.
Once the milk reaches 100 degrees, turn the burner off and take the jars out of the pan. You should be able to do this with your bare hands. Add a generous tablespoon of your starter yogurt to each jar and stir it in. Close each jar tightly and place in a dehydrator set at 95 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours. At the end of eight hours, label your jars and put them in the refrigerator. It’s helpful to include in your label how far removed that particular batch is from your original culture. The batch inoculated with purchased yogurt should be assigned a “1,” the batch inoculated with batch number 1 should be labeled “2” and so forth until you reach number 4. If you do start yogurt with an actual bacterial culture, then the batch you make from it should be labeled “0.”
I have found a dehydrator to be a great incubator for yogurt, but if you don’t have one, the important thing is to have your yogurt culturing at 95 degrees for eight hours. One possibility is to wrap your warmed up jars in towels and place them in a well-insulated pick-nick cooler for eight hours. Another possibility is to put the jars back in the pan, cover the pan, and occasionally turn on the burner to keep the water at 95 degrees. You will have to experiment to find what works best for you.
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