Some Stuff about Yogurt: A peek into the upcoming Dairy book.


Yogurt is milk soured and thickened by a special strain of bacterial cultures and goes through a process much like the one used for making buttermilk. The lactose is converted in the same manner into carbon dioxide and lactic acid and this makes it as healthy and a good choice for lactose-intolerants as kefir and buttermilk. Yogurt is a good source of protein, B vitamins, Calcium and live probiotics. You can use goat, cow and sheep milk to make yogurt, with each one having a different taste profile. 

Once you have made yogurt, it can be propagated from batch to batch by saving about 1/2 cup from the previous batch to inoculate the next one. As with any continued culture, it will begin to taste wild, but you can either keep it or start over, it is up to you. The yogurt you make at home may not taste like the mild yogurt you are used to, but a good rule of thumb when tasting your cultured foods and dairy is: Strong flavors are not bad flavors; they are just different flavors and they deserve your consideration.

Some people say that to make the best yogurt, you must pasteurize your milk to avoid the bacterial “war” between the beneficial yogurt cultures and the bad bacteria already present in raw milk. I have never done this and I like the yogurt I make, but it is up to you.

You can start yogurt a few ways
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With store-bought yogurt:

Buy 1 pint of plain, unflavored yogurt. Check the label to make sure that it contains live cultures. You will also need a quart of your own milk. Skim milk makes thinner yogurt, whole milk makes thicker yogurt. Your choice. Most people are used to the thick, deliciously gelatinous yogurt that we buy at the store, but thin yogurt is very useful, too! It can be used for soaking grains, drinking, making dressings, baking, and more. If you want yogurt as thick as you can make it, add cream to your milk before culturing your yogurt. But if you add a lot, know that at some point you are just making sour cream. Some people use rennet to thicken the yogurt and add it at the same time that they add the cultures. If you’d like to do this, just dilute 1 drop of rennet in 1/2 cup water, throw out 1/2 of that, leaving you with 1/4 cup of water with rennet. Now you add 1/8 cup of that water to each quart of milk right after you have added your starter culture. You can also whisk in dry milk in your milk before making yogurt with it for thickening purposes.

To make your yogurt:

1. Sterilize 2 glass quart canning jars with lids. 

2. Carefully heat milk to 105° F, stirring slowly but constantly to keep the milk from scorching.

3. Pour the warmed milk slowly into the sterile jars, filling up to 2 inches below the rim of the jar.

4. Add 2 tablespoons of the store-bought yogurt, stirring it in with impeccably clean wooden spoon. Cover with a loosely fitted lid or a coffee filter with a band.

5. Incubate until it is the desired thickness. You can use the incubation practices discussed in the buttermilk chapter.

6. Once it has reached the thickness you like, refrigerate until you are ready to use it.

If you are making yogurt from freeze-dried cultures, you will need to follow the manufacturer’s directions. It might take longer and be more involved, but it is also a more reliable form of yogurt culturing. You can also start yogurt with milk kefir and piima cultures, but we will discuss those methods in further chapters. 

Thickening Yogurt:

Thin yogurt can be thickened with cornstarch, but some people like this and some don’t. I like thickening my yogurt with cornstarch before I add flavoring, but my family says that they can taste it and they do not like it one bit. Commercial yogurt is thickened with cornstarch and I never heard them complain about it when they ate that stuff, but I digress. It is all personal preference. You can thicken yogurt with dry low-fat milk, too. Just be sure to add it slowly and stir it in well to avoid any clumps. If your yogurt isn’t as thick as you’d like it and you’d rather not add thickener then just add extra cream to the next batch before incubation. 

Flavoring and Sweetening Yogurt:

You can sweeten yogurt with practically anything. Honey, sugar, sucanat, molasses, fruit juice, maple syrup, stevia, anything. Just add it slowly and taste it as you stir, so as to not make it too sweet. If you do accidentally make it too sweet, just add the slightest bit of milk. This will make it thinner but edible or drinkable.

You can also flavor yogurt with anything. Jams, jellies, fresh fruit, extracts, juices. If you want an unsweetened yogurt for a quick meal, you can add cut up cucumbers, garlic, parsley, horseradish, tomatoes, onion or cubes of sharp cheese. You can make yogurt into dips and dressings, sauces and sides.

The lifespan of your yogurt is very hard to tell. It depends on milk cleanliness, the strength of the cultures within, and the temperature at which it is stored. All yogurt will begin to separate pretty quickly, usually after about 1 day. It is not bad, it is just changing. If you want, you can just stir it back together with a whisk and not worry about it, but you can also spoon off the whey (for other uses… don’t throw it out!), drain the solid in a draining sack made of cheesecloth or an old, cut up and boiled t-shirt until it stops dripping, and voila! Yogurt cheese. It is delicious, rich, creamy and thick and just the next step in the culturing process of yogurt. You can salt yogurt cheese add lots of things to it: Italian herbs, curry, garlic, celery and pepper, whatever you like. 

Troubleshooting:

· If your yogurt curdles than your milk was probably not the right temperature before the starter culture was added. Milk that is too hot can cause curdling. (Curdling is different than clabbering or separating: Curdling includes bubbles and horrible, weird smells and means that your milk has been won by bad bacteria and needs to be tossed out. Clabbering is just a calm separation of two forms, with a pleasantly sour smell instead of a dead one.)

· If your yogurt has an off taste, this can be due to milk which is too hot at the time of inoculation, but it can also be caused by over-incubation, accidental scorching during the heating period, or the containers and utensils which you used during the yogurt-making process may have been dirty or unsanitary.

· If your yogurt is thin and not very sour or cultured, you may have allowed the milk too cool too much before adding the cultures, the incubation period was too short or not warm enough, or your starter may have been weak or dead. If you used store-bought milk, the antibiotics given to the dairy cows or added to the milk may have inhibited healthy growth and reproduction of the lactobacilli and/or bifidobacterium, both of which are essential to the culturing process of your yogurt. Farm-fresh milk or simply milk from un-medicated cows would work much better. Check the labels for specifics.

Usually attentiveness during incubation will solve most problems, in my opinion, and the fresher the milk, the longer the yogurt seems to last.

*This is part of the yogurt chapter of the new book we are working on called Dairy: Your Beyond Off Grid Guide for Using Traditional Techniques to Produce and Use Dairy Products on Your Off Grid Homestead. Coming Soon!!!*

7 comments:

  1. Great stuff! So clear even a city-born kid can can follow. (Trust me, that is HUGE.) Really looking forward to the book!

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  2. What a great article. I feel like even I could make yogurt following these instructions. Looking forward to the book.

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  3. I used to make yogurt; haven't in a while, but I'm getting ready to start again. I never used any of the methods for thickening that you suggest, I filtered. Basically you take your finished yogurt (it is quite a bit thinner than store bought stuff) and pour it into a strainer lined with a coffee filter. I put that over a bowl and placed the whole apparatus in the fridge. Keep an eye on it, and when you reach the desired thickness remove the yogurt. You drain off a lot of liquid (whey?) and end up with thick yogurt. I only used nonfat or 1% milk and my finished product was Chobani thick. Of course, I used three quarts of milk to produce two quarts of yogurt, but it was worth it.

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  4. Why is michaels name on a book you are writing. Can he not allow others to get any credit by themselves? Just wondering.

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  5. But are you really just wondering? Really?

    I doubt it.

    But I will answer your loaded question nonetheless.

    When we first started talking about the book- (Dad and I. The book was Dad's idea. Point one.) We talked about whose name would be on the cover. He said he was fine with whatever I wanted and would let me decide what I wanted on the cover. He explained to me, if his name was on the cover, I would be subject to the crowd of buyers who would buy the book just because it has his name on it.

    Let me break it down for you in my own words:

    1. I am twenty years old, just barely. This is to say that I am young and unknown in the field I work in. I just got the job writing for Cultures for Health in December, so I am new to the game. I have know how, I know what I write about, but I have to get a feel for how to write it. Make sense?

    2. I keep a blog, but really this is a very unknown blog. My hits are very low unless somebody big picks it up, like PrepperWebsite or someone in the homesteading world. Which is to say that my own personal blog has a small crowd who come to read it just because I write it. Not many people know me.

    3. My Dad, however, has been doing this for a long time. He has a following, a platform. People know me because of him. My blog has seen a jump in hits because he has carried a few of my posts. I feel like if I write my FIRST BOOK with him, I will launch myself a bit more into the foodie-homesteading network, therefore making my name a bit known in those circles.

    5. I did not write the book on my own. I have help, I have advice, I have expansion, and I have editing. All done by -Michael Bunker.( I wonder why you have not asked this very question for the W1ck series. I don't actually wonder, I know why. )

    Do you really think I am not getting any credit? I am the one pushing the book, and when Dad mentions it, he does not leave me out of the discussion. My name is bigger than his, it does not say "with Tracy Bunker", does it? It is a decision reached mutually and really, if I am being honest, it is my business what I decide to do with my book. I approved the cover, I designed the outline, I put it in my own order, and I did the principal, unedited writing. In the end, it will be longer, more professional, and published, because of Michael Bunker.

    But thank you for your concern. I think I have shown myself to be able to look out for my own image, though, so in the future, maybe you can sign your name? But I think I know that, too.

    Tracy Bunker




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  6. Thank you for enlightening me. Also for setting it all out so it is more understandable. I pray that the LORD blesses you in your endeavor.

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