My Adventures in Making Yogurt

I have made yogurt about four times since my first attempt earlier this year. It’s definitely been a learning experience, and I’m happy to say I’m progressing each time I make it. Each successive batch has come a little closer in texture to what I consider to be the perfect yogurt. I just made another batch on Friday of last week and I think I’m almost there.

These are notes from my adventures of all the yogurt I’ve made thus far, and the results from each batch. All yogurt batches I have made were using certified organic raw milk from pasture-raised Jersey and Guernsey cows. My starter has been plain, organic, whole-milk yogurt from grass-fed cows (whatever store brand I was buying at the time – the first three batches were Nancy’s Yogurt, the last batch was Stonyfield Farm).

First batch

The first time I attempted to make yogurt, I found some random recipes on the Internet and sort of pieced the techniques together. I put my raw milk in a pan on the stove and added the yogurt before heating – don’t ask me why I did this. Most instructions I’ve seen for yogurt making instruct the preparer to add the starter after heating and achieve a certain temperature (which varies according to recipe).

Even though many recipes advised me to do so, I was never willing to heat my milk up to 180 degrees because doing so would destroy good bacteria. And in that defeats the purpose of making homemade yogurt in the first place. So I only allowed the milk to reach just above 100 degrees before adding the yogurt starter before turning it down and placing it in the jars to sit overnight.

The pouring process was difficult and I made a mess. I poured the milk from the pan into a funnel sitting on top of my jar. I disliked this part of  yogurt-making the most because I had a great deal of milk to clean up afterward.

This batch was left in a glass jar on the counter overnight. The results were adequate, and my son really like the taste (which is most important to my efforts), and my husband thought it was pretty good. But I had a hard time eating it because it seemed a little too watery to me. Unfortunately, even I am influenced to some extent by commercial yogurts and their perfectly uniform texture. The taste was just a bit too sour for me as well.

Second batch

I have definitely had some valuable learning experiences from yogurt-making, and one of them was learning how best to pour the milk from the pan into the jar. I made a big mess again, just like the first time because I tried pouring the milk from the pan into a funnel sitting on top of the jar. And even though it was in the sink, a lot of milk spilled anyway.

This time I decided to place the jars in a cooler and wrap it in a heating pad. I didn’t have much experience with the proper heat levels in making yogurt, but I knew it shouldn’t get too warm or it would destroy the bacteria. Well, that effort was a complete flop. When I checked it later, the yogurt had become hard and rubbery. So I had to throw it out and start again.

Third batch

The third time I used a yogurt-maker we had recently purchased (it was only about $50), because a friend had told me she used one and achieved perfect results. Of course, I didn’t take into account that there are many types of yogurt makers and I think that makes a difference in the way the yogurt turns out. My friend’s yogurt maker is one that makes the batch all at once in one big container.

The type I bought, a brand called Donvier, seemed very easy to use and comes with 8 little cups. But I found that when it came time to pour the milk into the cups, it was really difficult to keep the milk from spilling everywhere – even though I was using a soup ladle to pour it into the cups. And the amount of milk I had heated on the stove was more than I could fit in the cups, and I had to use additional jars anyway, which I placed in my oven this time and let sit with the oven light on for about 15 hours.

My results with the third batch were as follows:

The yogurt in jars in my oven turned out pretty good, better than my first two batches.  It was fairly thick and it definitely passed the family test. But the yogurt in the jars that were in the yogurt-maker, surprisingly enough, turned out very watery and was much too sour. Although my family thought it was okay, I really didn’t care for it and ended up throwing out half of it later. I should have saved the whey for something else like lacto-fermented vegetables or homemade condiments, but I was sort of running out of patience at that point and just wanted to start over again.

Here are my other thoughts about the yogurt maker: I didn’t like how little the amount of yogurt there was in each jar serving. I’d always have to get more from another jar to make it enough for one person. Also, the jar lids were exceedingly difficult to remove, and cleaning the jars and lids was not very easy. I had to thoroughly rinse out each individual jar and lid as the yogurt sticks to the containers quite stubbornly. My theory is that since the jars are plastic, this somehow affects the yogurt’s ability to stick to it even more than it would to glass.

Which leads me to yet another dislike of the jars – that they are plastic and are subjected to heat during the yogurt-making process. Although the heat is not high, it’s still heat, and plastic is not supposed to heated in the first place  due to leeching – especially when it contains food. I’m not sure if these cups are made with BPA or not, but it still concerns me. I’ve made a concerted effort to remove a lot of plastic from my home, so I was definitely not pleased when the yogurt maker arrived and I discovered the entire unit is made of plastic. So, overall, I’m giving this particular yogurt maker a grade of ‘F’.

Fourth batch

In our area, most cows are not producing a lot of milk this time of year until early spring because the weather is usually cold and most grass-fed cows are now either on alfalfa exclusively, or only graze on grass weather permitting. So we made arrangements with  Saint John’s Organic Farm in Emmett, Idaho where we get our milk to pick up a larger amount of milk to freeze for over the winter.

We had just received one of our pouches of raw milk (the third week of December). The first pouch we froze, and then thawed out. It tasted really sweet and my son didn’t like it. My husband and I weren’t crazy about the globules in the milk from the cream which froze, but still wanted to use the milk anyway. We talked to the farm about it, and the only thing Susan (the owner) could come up with was that since the cows were now eating alfalfa exclusively due to poor weather conditions, perhaps this had some effect on the taste.

I also believe the freezing process had some effect as well. But I’m still perplexed because before we started buying milk from Saint John’s Organic Farm, we were getting Organic Pastures milk shipped to us about every six weeks for over a year. We always froze it because we’d buy about 6 half gallons at a time.  Although we never had any taste issues from freezing their milk, there were the globules present from the cream.

At any rate, I figured it was time to make yogurt again, so we used most of our thawed out  2.5 gallon pouch for yogurt.

This time, we filled our big stockpot with milk to make yogurt and a smaller sauce pan with milk for kefir. I used the basic recipe for kefir-making from The Nourished Life’s kefir recipe. Besides the fact that I had a lot of milk sitting around that my son wouldn’t drink due to its over-sweetness, it was this post that motivated me to make kefir for the first time and make yogurt once again.

Here are the steps I used for my yogurt:

  1. I heated the milk up to approximately 100 degrees – I just tested it with my finger and it felt warm but not too hot. As Elizabeth from The Nourished Life says, some people may not think it’s sanitary, but I agree that it seemed to work.
  2. After the milk was warm enough, I added about 3 tablespoons of the Stonyfield plain, organic, whole milk yogurt to the milk and stirred it gently until mixed in.
  3. Then I ladled the milk-yogurt mixture into three different sized jars from my cupboard for the yogurt, and the milk-kefir grain mixture into one quart-sized container from Traderspoint Creamery yogurt (I just LOVE their jars, and their yogurt is out-of-this world!). Two of my jars were wide-mouthed, and this helped a great deal with keeping the mess to a minimum. One of the jars is small-mouthed, and that made a bit of a spill on the counter, but overall, I am much happier with the results of using a ladle for this process rather than a funnel.
  4. I placed the jars in my oven with no heat and just the oven light turned on. It’s quite amazing how much heat you can get just from the oven light, and it’s not hot, but it’s just enough for the yogurt to receive what it needs to culture.

Kefir

  1. I used kefir grains from Donna Gates’ Body Ecology web site. The directions say to stir it in, but my jar has a really narrow neck so, I gently shook the jar until it appeared to be mixed in.
  2. Next, I placed the kefir jar on top of my refrigerator to sit overnight. The longer you leave kefir or yogurt, the more cultures it produces. It depends on whether you want less casein and lactose, which is broken down by friendly bacteria during the culturing process. Then I placed all three of my yogurt jars in my oven and just turned the light on.
  3. I checked all jars periodically, but left the yogurt jars in the oven for at least 10 hours before opening it up to see how things were going. The yogurt needed to be in the oven longer, as it appeared to be still too liquidy for good yogurt texture. I took care not to jostle the jars, but very carefully examined the quality of the liquid by turning it very slowly around to look for liquid movement inside.

At the time I checked the yogurt, it was about just before midnight and I had placed the jars in the oven around nine a.m. that same day. I was unsure about leaving it in the oven overnight, but didn’t really want to have to get up just to check it again, especially if it still wasn’t ready. But I was too tired to worry too much, so I just figured the next time I woke up I’d see how things were progressing.

Final results

I woke up around 5:20 a.m. and went into the kitchen to peer at the yogurt. I gently turned one of the jars, and it seemed like it was doing well and solidifying nicely. So I removed all three jars from the oven and placed them in the refrigerator. About 7 hours later I checked one of the jars by opening it and tasting the yogurt. It was delicious!

I gave some to my son with some sliced bananas, and he absolutely loved it. The type of yogurt starter I used made a definite difference in the taste from the previous times. This time I used the Stonyfield Farms yogurt (which is delectable), and my yogurt turned out very similar in taste and texture to this brand.

My kefir turned out great too. I just opened it today and made fruit smoothies out of it for myself and my son, and it was tasty and tangy. I also used Bio Chem Greens and Whey protein powder – it has certified organic greens like chlorella, barley grass, alfalfa juice leaf powder, spirulina, broccoli sprout, kamut, coconut oil, and whey protein (99% undenatured).

www.mypicshares.com

Want more information about probiotics and friendly bacteria? Here’s a detailed article about those topics.

What are your experiences making yogurt and kefir? I’d love to hear from everyone about their experiences, both good and bad, and what worked and what didn’t.

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11 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    motherhen68 said,

    It’s so good to hear of other’s issues with yogurt making. I use the crockpot method as I don’t have access to raw milk. The first few times I made yogurt, everything went great. I had one batch fail, but I put it in the oven with the light overnight (after the whole crockpot time) and it solidified and tasted great. Then we got busy and I didn’t make yogurt all summer.

    I bought an ice cream maker for my husband’s birthday and wanted to make some frozen Greek style yogurt. The first batch I made went well. The second time, let’s just say, not a success. It was just runny. I ended up using it as yogurt and made frozen yogurt from it, but it didn’t have the thickness for the Greek style since I couldn’t drain the whey.

    I think my problem was my house was cold. We live in SW Louisiana, so typically it’s not that cold. We’ve had an unusually cold early winter and my house stays about 65 during the day and down into the 50’s at night. Leaving that yogurt in a crock pot that wasn’t turned on wasn’t enough heat (IMO) to culture it. Next time I make yogurt, I think I”m going to try it with the glass jars in the oven with the light on.

    As for milk kefir, I never have a problem with this. I’m the only one drinking it, so I leave a jar of milk on my counter for 12 hours and then I put it in the fridge with the grains still in the milk till I’m ready to drink it, usually 3-4 days. When it was so cold last week, I placed the jars between my fridge & microwave oven which seems to be pretty warm. It’s actually a convenient location to culture things as my compost bin sits in front of it and sorta hides the jars. I had to LOL @ my sister when she came over and wanted to know why in world would I have jars of spoiled milk sitting on my counter LOL.

  2. 2

    AS said,

    It’s interesting how different climates, appliances, and types of milk used affect the end result of making yogurt and kefir. We live in Boise and it’s always cold here in the winter, temperate in spring and fall, and quite hot in the summer. I was afraid my kefir wouldn’t turn out because it might not be warm enough on top of my fridge, and during the winter, but it seemed to be fine.

    Something that differs with my kefir grains (from Body Ecology) from everyone else’s experience that I’ve read about is that I don’t have to remove the grains to consume the kefir. I was puzzled about this because my results are so different than others where you have to strain them out, that I went back and re-read my instructions from the box where my kefir grains came, and it doesn’t say anywhere about straining the grains. My son and I both drank our smoothies yesterday with no ill effects, so this must be just fine.

    It seems like the most consistent results for myself and others are using the closed oven with the light on. But then again, I’m sure there could be some differences for some people depending on how hot the oven light makes the environment in the oven, what type of milk you are using, and the preparation of the milk and starter prior to insertion in the oven. Someone else asked me if I had done the oven procedure every time I made yogurt, probably because I think everyone pretty much has a bit of inconsistencies in their turnout with yogurt making, unless they are a really seasoned yogurt maker who has made it many times (not me, yet!). I think the key is persistence and willingness to experiment and try different things. So far, none of the experimentation has caused anything bad to happen, and it has taught me a lot! 🙂

  3. 3

    nourishedlife said,

    I’m glad to hear my posts about yogurt and kefir were helpful! You know, I haven’t tried Stonyfield as a starter and I think I will next time. This time I tried Fage (a Greek yogurt) and it turned out with a very mild, smooth taste – I liked it, but I just enjoy experimenting and seeing the different results. The great thing is you can’t really botch a batch of yogurt (try saying that 10 times fast, lol) – it always makes great smoothies!

  4. 4

    AS said,

    Elizabeth – I have heard the Greek type yogurts are great for starters, and I will definitely have to try it on one of my next batches. I tend to like the sour taste of yogurt, but for some reason if it’s too sour in my homemade batches, I don’t like it quite as much as the Stonyfileld plain whole milk yogurt, or even the Brown Cow brand. This time I was lucky and it turned out really good. I think maybe it’s because the starter was from Stonyfield, and I absolutely love the taste and texture of that particular yogurt. It’s true, yogurt and kefir are so versatile, and like raw milk – you can use them even if they go “sour” or don’t turn out just as you’d hoped. The last thing I used my yogurt in besides just for breakfast or smoothies was in my beef stroganoff (in place of sour cream). It was really good! I had heard of recipes that use yogurt instead of sour cream like that, and I was definitely not disappointed. Thanks for your posts about yogurt and kefir – I really appreciate them! 🙂

  5. 5

    motherhen68 said,

    I just wanted to give you an update. I did a mix and match between your version and the crockpot version. I heated the milk in the crockpot, let it sit covered for 3 hours, added the starter, put into glass jars and put in the oven w/the light on. It worked, and I was very happy.

  6. 6

    AS said,

    motherhen68 – that’s great to hear! I often read tips about making yogurt or cooking something and try to add my own touch to it, and I think that’s just fine. Sometimes it’s out of necessity because I lack a certain type of equipment or ingredient, but ultimately most of my experiments like that turn out pretty okay. We have been eating our yogurt from the batch we just made, and it’s really good, but I’ve noticed that as it sits in the refrigerator it tends to become more runny as time goes on. The taste is still great, it’s just the consistency that seems to change as the days go by. How long did you leave it in the oven, by the way? And, what temperature do you put the crockpot on?

  7. 7

    Bill said,

    I started my website on yogurt-making in the belief that most methods of making yogurt treat it as an event and not as an integral part of family life.

    My suggestion – check the website: http://mryogurt.info/

    I have been very successful in incubating Activia and other cultures… thick and cream with not too much tang and little or no “leakage” from sitting in the fridge.

    Also, when I use no-fat milk, I add a cup of dry, powdered milk for each quart of milk I use.

    My yogurt maker is a Waring Pro and with a slight modification (throwing a towel over the top) it will make as much as 5 quarts of yogurt at once.

    Good luck!

  8. 8

    Alex Parker said,

    We love the cooler method when making kefir. We’ve stopped using any kind of heating pads and just use hot water. We let the jars sit in submerged hot water within the cooler and it works great every time. The love the combination of kefir and yogurt mixed together. They seem to balance each other out well.

  9. 9

    Steve said,

    Hi,
    I am Steve and very interested in making yogurt, cottage cheese and yogurt cheese. This web page is very interesting and packed full of great info. I am currently looking to make some Fage and looking forward in developing a yogurt cheese from it.
    Thanks again for all the great info and hope to share some of my own ideas as I learn from all you experts.
    Regards,
    Steve

  10. 10

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  11. 11

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