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Adventures in Fermentation: Yogurt For Beginners

I decided somewhat spontaneously to make my own yogurt after casually reading about the process and realizing how incredibly simple it is. After consulting a wide variety of sources - both print and electronic, like any good information professional would - I set to the task at hand.

Mise en place

  • A large stainless steel or aluminum saucepan
  • A large stainless steel, aluminum, unglazed ceramic, or heat-resistant glass bowl
  • A large wooden or stainless steel spoon
  • A kitchen thermometer
  • A heating pad
  • Towels
  • A ladle
  • Containers for storing the finished yogurt


  • 1 quart of high-quality, organic milk
  • 1 pint of organic heavy cream (if so desired)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup organic yogurt with live cultures (see below)

Some, but not all, of the directions that I read suggested that you sterilize all equipment before you begin making the yogurt by immersing it in boiling water. If you decide to do so, I would strongly suggest that you avoid using plastic containers to store the yogurt. I didn't sterilize my equipment and had no problem, but if you don't, you increase the risk of inoculating your new yogurt with both the desireable lactic acid bacteria as well as some extremely nasty kinds.

Pour the milk and cream (if using the latter) into the saucepan heat until the mixure reaches 185° Fahrenheit, which will sterilize it. As the milk reaches this temperature, remember to stir occasionally to prevent scorching. Bubbles will begin to form along the edges and a skin may begin to form on top of the milk. You can either remove the skin or stir it back into the liquid. Once the liquid reaches this temperature, allow it to cool to about 115°, then add the starter yogurt. I chose to use Erivan brand yogurt, which is allegedly the only yogurt produced in the United States cultured only using Lactobacillus acidophilus. Bear in mind that the specific culture that your starter yogurt contains will affect the end product. After trying Erivan yogurt on a whim (even before I'd decided to make yogurt) I found I really liked it; the tang was noticeable, but moderated by its light and smooth texture.

After you've added the starter, stir well and transfer the mixture to the bowl. Place the bowl on a heating pad, place the thermometer in the liquid so that it's somewhat easily readable, and cover with a lid or plate. Wrap the bowl with towels, and then wait. As you wait, resist the temptation to stir the mixture, as that will just impede the fermentation process. Remember to check the temperature on occasion, though; as long as it stays roughly betwen 100-120°, you should be fine. If it gets too warm, remove some of the towels or turn down the heating pad for a while. If it gets too cold, try moving it to a warmer place in your kitchen.

"But," you ask, "how long should I wait?" That'll vary somewhere between six and fifteen hours. Eight hours is a good time to start with, though. At that point, check the temperature and the smell. Even if you've never made yogurt before, you'll most likely be able to tell if your batch is spoiled. Ultimately, I let my yogurt ferment for just over ten hours before I packaged the yogurt and put it in the refrigerator.

If you want the end product to be richer, add the cream and proportionally more starter yogurt. I had a container of cream that needed to be used before imminent spoilage, and I ended up adding closer to 3/8 cup of yogurt. Your finished yogurt will probably be thinner than the kind to which you're accustomed, and it'll also probably be thinner than your starter yogurt. While the yogurt will thicken a little in the refrigerator, your yogurt will be thicker if you use more starter yogurt, but if you use too much the culture will grow too quickly and kill itself off. If you use to little you'll end up with "weak sauce" for a lack of a better way of putting it.

So what are you going to do with all this yogurt? Well, you could eat it by itself, or mix in some fresh fruit or jam. The way I've been enjoying it lately, though is by making blended yogurt drinks. Here are two simple recipes that I've been enjoying.

  • Minted yogurt: Blend two cups yogurt with a small handful of fresh mint leaves and a pinch of salt.
  • Sweet currant drink: Blend one cup yogurt with one cup one cup lowfat milk, 1/4 cup of fresh red currants, and a tablespoon of honey or agave nectar.

Enjoy the world of fermentation!