Your Milk's Got a Little Machine

I’ve always really enjoyed Alton Brown’s Food Network TV show Good Eats. One of the things I enjoy the most about him is his raise-the-black-flag-and-start-slitting-throats attitude towards kitchen equipment. Specifically, if a device could only be used to make one thing, he hated it.

Recently, I’ve been eating a lot of this froufrou Greek yogurt, “Total.” It’s very nice, but fairly expensive. So I’ve taken to using my overpriced cups of Total to culture my own yogurt, using Alton’s method for making yogurt without a yogurt maker. Here’s how to do it. You will need:

(1) A stockpot. (2) A spoon. (3) A saucepan. (4) A pitcher. (5) A little bit of plain active-culture yogurt of a brand you enjoy, to use as a starter. The fresher the better. Stonyfield Farms or Total both work fine. (6) An ordinary heating pad, like you might use for an aching back.

A probe thermometer with an alarm is a recommended addition.

Pour however much milk you’re using in to the saucepan; I’d recommend making no more than a quart the first time. Turn the saucepan on medium low and heat to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. When it reaches 180, take it off the heat and let it cool in the saucepan. You won’t touch it again until the temperature is down to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Homemade yogurt machine

Homemade yogurt make

While you’re waiting for the milk to heat, take your heating pad and remove the fuzzy safety cover. Stuff it in to the stockpot (see photo), and plug it in. Take the pitcher and snuggle it down into the pad in the stockpot. Don’t worry if the pad doesn’t come very far up the pitcher. You’re just looking for low and steady radiant heat. Turn on the heating pad, and put a tablespoon or two of yogurt into the pitcher. (You may need to experiment to find the right setting on your heating pad. I just use the top setting and don’t worry about it.)

When the temperature of the milk is down to about 110 degrees, pour it in to the pitcher. Stir vigorously with a clean spoon. Cover with tinfoil and ignore it for about 8 hours. Because I’m lazy, I tend to start the process in the evenings and then just leave it overnight. It’s OK if this “cooks” for more than 8 hours. You may end up with more whey, but it firms up somewhat in the refrigerator afterwards, and the whey doesn’t bother me. Don’t stir up the yogurt in the middle of the process to check on it. As with homebrewed beer, worrying makes the yogurt taste bad. When you’ve decided it’s done, put it in the refrigerator to cool (you can eat it hot, but the texture improves after it cools).

This will end up being much cheaper than buying yogurt in the store, even if you use organic milk. The yogurt will be fresher, taste better, and be healthier for you. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll have the pride of having created something delicious by yourself instead of having just purchased it. Enjoy!

Next week on Tea Leaves: slaughtering your own veal.

Additional Resources

Paul, writing about yogurt, titled a chapter of his story “The Good Machine”. And I wish I had thought of that title first. So instead I mixed his title with that of a Pixies song. Everything is better when mixed with the Pixies.