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General · 8th October 2011
Francesca Gesualdi
There are a few simple and persuasive reasons to make your own yogurt from scratch; without a yogurt maker, thank you, (the machine spoils the beauty of it all for me). Our Foodwisdom Chef, Antonietta, began making her own yogurt because she wanted to stem the unsustainable flow of plastic yogurt tubs trickling their way into her kitchen. She is on a one woman mission to reduce the 100 million tons of plastic that are produced each year, 10 % of which wind up in the sea, killing about one million sea birds a year and about one hundred thousand marine mammals each year, who ingest the material mistaking it for prey. She is leading by example.

I make my own yogurt because I believe I have a responsibility to carry forward ancient, whole-food traditions that have nurtured us for millennia into the next generation, and making yogurt is a rewarding step in that direction. It is our most successful workshop, in that a huge range of participants, some as young as 6 years old, others in their 70’s, convert their entire households into home-made-yogurt zones after making it with us for the first time.

Some of the most compelling reasons come from our workshop participants themselves.
“You know exactly what’s in it,” quipped one third grader. Indeed, many commercial yogurts marketed as “healthy” have added sweeteners, stabilizers, emulsifiers and even artificial flavors. I have seen some home made yogurt recipes which suggest adding skim milk powder to obtain a thicker result. This is a popular additive in many commercial yogurts for that very same reason. However, beware. Powdered skim milk is a highly processed compound which contains harmful elements considered to be powerful carcinogens. I personally do not buy anything that contains skim milk powder.

Nor do I buy anything that contains “modified milk ingredients,” simply because I can never be sure what these “ingredients” are or how and why they have been “modified.” Being the conspiracy theorist that I am, I believe that this term is a Trojan horse for all manner of compounds that my mother never fed me when I was a kid. One ingredient that can legally call itself a modified milk ingredient is actually something called butter oil. Butter oil is 51% sugar, according to a CBC Marketplace report.

One thing you actually do put back into your yogurt when you make it at home is all the helpful bacteria that have been destroyed during the processing that milk undergoes to make it to the supermarket shelf as commercial yogurt. These enzymes are immensely beneficial to our digestive system, a system highly stressed by our modern western diet, a diet low in enzymes and high in indigestible refined sugars, flours and edible oil products.

“Home made yogurt costs a lot less,” offered another young woman. Yes, considerably less. What you save on yogurt now may help you pay for an early retirement, or at least a post-secondary degree in Economics.

So shall we make yogurt then? Here’s the beauty of it. No devout home made enthusiast makes it in exactly the same way. You can make the recipe truly your own, though there are a few absolutes.

The Absolutes:
1- start with spotlessly clean containers and equipment (Our Chef insists on treating them with boiling water)
2- stir steadily while heating your milk, stay with it (the lactose - natural milk sugar - will stick to the bottom otherwise)
3- mix your tablespoons of yogurt culture evenly throughout when adding them to your warm milk. Bacteria are sensitive creatures; they like to have their space when they are multiplying.
4- love your yogurt as you nurse it along!

You will need:

• A whisk
• A sauce pan
• A glass container for your yogurt
• A food thermometer if you have one, but don’t rush out to buy one if you don’t.
• 4 cups of milk – I use goat’s milk (needs a goat yogurt starter). Our Chef uses cow’s milk. Some people report using cream (I have done this) and even natural coconut milk (I am curious to try this). We get asked often in class if one can use 1%, or 2%. Milk. This is like trying to make yogurt with yesterday’s rainwater. We do not recommend it.
• 3 tablespoons of natural yogurt with live bacteria culture.
• A constant, steady source of low heat.

You will have to buy a commercial yogurt to get your first batch started – after that, just set aside some of your own yogurt to make the next batch. Choose one with as little in the ingredients lists possible, and a fat content of at least 3%. Organic is best, but not mandatory. For cow milk yogurt I found an excellent yogurt on the shelves at the HB Store on Quadra (Thanks Annette for your tireless help in negotiating the aisles). I usually stay away from recommending specific brands, but Saugeen Country Yogurt has only two ingredients: non-homogenized whole milk (4%, which gives it the necessary fat content) and live cultures. Try finding a 4% yogurt with non-homogenized milk and nothing else in it besides the precious cultures. It has a heavy environmental footprint because it comes from Ontario, which is unfortunate, but I am impressed with their vision.

1-Heat the milk, while stirring consistently. Stay vigilant. The temperature you are going to heat it up to is a matter of custom, and we will leave it up to you to find the custom that best works in your household.
I heat it up until it reaches a consistently even high heat throughout: hot enough for it to steam, but long before it approaches boiling point. Chef heats hers up to the boiling point (approx 180F) and removes it quickly from the burner. Some people just bring it up to a tepid temperature and leave it at that, but I have never tried this.
2- Let the milk cool down to approx. 110F, or the temperature at which it feels neutral on the inside of your wrist. But again, be vigilant. If the temperature is too hot, the bacteria will fry. If it is too cold, it will not multiply. It must be tepid. Chef heartily recommends a kitchen thermometer for this, as it provides reliable results every time and takes the guesswork out of temperature gauging for beginners.
3- Add three tablespoons, (Chef only uses two) of your commercial yogurt starter and stir to an even consistency.
4- Set on a constant source of low heat for 7- 8 hours. Here is where you can really get creative. Chef sets hers on the stove with the oven light on, on the burner where the oven heat escapes, and covers it in clean tea towels. She leaves hers in the pan, and her results are impeccable. For some reason, I am not able to duplicate her results with this method. I pour my milk into a glass container and set it over a heating pad designated specifically and only for this use. My heating pad is covered with a special removable slipcover, which I wash regularly. I have used the top of my water heater as a source of heat, but this did not prove consistent, so I switched to a heating pad. Let us know what you come up with as a source of heat.
5- After 7-8 hours the fermentation should be completed. Chef transfers hers to a glass container and puts it in the fridge to set for 4 hours. Mine is already in a glass container, so I just put it in the fridge after I put about ˝ cup aside for use as my starter the next time I make yogurt. You will need about double of your home made yogurt as a starter than you did of the commercial yogurt.
You can strain your yogurt through a cheese cloth after it has set in the fridge if you want to have a thicker consistency, or if you want to make sour cream. Do not throw away the nutritious whey. Keep the whey that strains out and use it in lieu of buttermilk for baking scones or making pancakes.
Your yogurt will make your fruit smoothies sublime, your white cream sauces saucier and your baked goods richer, more complex in their flavor profile, as well as healthier.

Copyright, Francesca Gesualdi, 2011

Send me your yogurt stories or recipes, and maybe we will be able to post some....
Like this article and recipe? Then check out more feisty offerings in the coming weeks in the 'boots newest section, 'Pen 'n' Pantry'!