How Making Yogurt Has Made Me Happier
I don’t know how you’re feeling right now, but you’d probably feel better if you’d just made some yogurt. Out of all of my kitchen projects, yogurt undoubtedly gives me the most satisfaction. Yogurt and granola is the best breakfast there is. I’ll tell you that while I’m on my second bowl and showing no signs of slowing down. But it has to be thick. The fattier, the better. Greek yogurt can be used in about a million applications, and that’s just what I’ve been finding out lately.
I wasn’t always so keen on yogurt, though. For most of my life, I just bought whatever shit had fruit swirled through it. Even better if it had the word farm on the label — natural as fuck. I’d pound a whole tub within two days and inevitably spend another third of my paycheck on more top-notch yoges. To no surprise, my digestion was unbeatable.
Making yogurt wasn’t the first time I’d fermented something. I used to work as a brewer, and I was always fascinated by the biological processes. There’s nothing quite like having 4000 litres of pale ale at stake to make you pay attention to the little details. It’s like caring for a plant, except the plant is worth a few thousand dollars. Brewing is tough, and there was a fuckton to learn in a short amount of time when I started. Still, I learned, and taking something as seemingly uninteresting as barley and turning it into something delicious is about as rewarding as it gets.
Fermenting anything is a uncomfortable thought for some because it goes against everything we’re taught and believe is “normal”. Letting food that should otherwise be refrigerated sit at room temperature to allow bacteria to have their way with it opposes what they’re used to.
But it’s in letting go of what you think you know that makes fermenting something as simple as yogurt rewarding. I don’t even like milk, and I was able to take it and turn it into something that I can’t get enough of. Turning nothing (outside of yogurt, milk is basically useless to me) into something will always feel good, no matter how many times you do it. Because small wins are still wins, and they make us feel accomplished and motivated. I wouldn’t mind waking up to a million dollars, but I’ll happily take fresh yogurt.
The entire process can become somewhat meditative. I’m forced to slow down, even for a moment, to pay attention to something other than myself. I’m inclined to be meticulously clean and organized or risk wasting a gallon of milk. That organization trickles into other parts of my life. Fermentation has helped solidify the habit of regularly “checking in” on things that need attention. Try fermenting something a few times, and you’ll probably find you’re more interested in checking on your plants, doing stocktake on your fridge, and organizing your kitchen space. And saving money is always a bonus.
But it’s in letting go of what you think you know that makes fermenting something as simple as yogurt rewarding.
Making yogurt leads to a seemingly limitless array of ferments that are made faster with the addition of whey. Whey is full of lactobacillus, and a few tablespoons will kickstart any Lacto-fermentation, inevitably saving a day or two.
Anything with sugar content can be Lacto-fermented. Fruits, vegetables (carbs get converted to simple sugars), honey, grains, the list goes on.
Up until now, my preferred use for whey is making sodas. Any fruit can be turned into a delicious, fizzy drink with just a half cup of whey, some sugar, and water. It’s probiotic and, despite calling for sugar, ends with very little of the stuff since lactobacillus feeds off it. It’s a great way to use up fruit that’s seen its last days, and I’ve found that it even helps me drink less. I’ll often reach for a soda before a beer these days.
I’m not saying yogurt has drastically changed my life, or that’ll change yours, but it’ll definitely make you feel good. And isn’t that what’s important? Feeling good now, not later? Making your own food from scratch puts the power back into your hands and lets you decide what you consume. I fucking love that feeling — it’s empowering.
Exploring yogurt will undoubtedly lead you onto other ferments, which may improve your cooking overall. It may show you that you’re more creative than you thought or that you actually like spending your downtime cooking and didn’t even realize. It’ll even teach you a thing or two about microbiology, and you know what they say, knowledge is power.
Greek yogurt recipe
The ‘greek’ part is totally subjective. No definition exists. I try to mimic Chobani and that works for me.
I typically end up with 1.5 litres of finished yogurt from a gallon (3.8L) of milk. Your yield will depend on how you strain it.
What you’ll need
- A gallon of milk (you’ll lose about half the volume so go with a gallon or the biggest bottle your supermarket has)
- Starter yogurt (this is your heirloom starter or yogurt from the store with live bacterias — Chobani is good)
- Large colander (that fits a gallon)
- A bowl to sit the colander in to catch the whey
- Diluted vinegar or some type of sanitiser
- Clean everything and spray with diluted vinegar or sanitiser. The pot, your thermometer, the spoon, the colander, everything. A clean ferment is a good ferment.
- Heat milk in a large pot until it reaches 180F (80C) and hold it for 15 minutes. This helps to denature (or “crack”) the protein, which helps separate it from the whey, so you don’t end up with weird sticky yogurt.
- Cool to 110F (43C), add your starter yogurt and mix well.
- Cover with a lid and close any holes on the lid with tape. We don’t want any rogue bacteria entering the pot.
- Ferment at the same temp — 110F (43C) — for 8–12 hours. The time depends on your ambient temperature. If your room isn’t warm enough, use whatever you’ve got — warm water bath, towels, heat pad, etc — to keep it warm.
- When it’s ready, it should be solid and wobbly like jelly and taste slightly tangy, like yogurt you’re used to.
- Place a small bowl, or something that acts as a false bottom, into a larger bowl/container and dump the yogurt into the cheesecloth-lined colander. The false bottom keeps the colander from being submerged in whey and restricting runoff. It won’t strain if there is no gravity.
- Once it’s strained to typical greek yogurt consistency, it’ll come out of the cheesecloth almost perfectly, without leaving too much behind. Store in a well-sealed container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Yogurt is sticky
Usually, because it wasn’t held at 180F (80C) for long enough or because it’s infected. Some also blame UHT milk but others claim it works fine.
Use your starter until you can’t
A lot of sources say 3–4 times per starter but fuck that. Use it until you can’t. Why complicate it by reading conflicting information online? Do what works for you. I’ve used my starter nearly 10 times before I fucked up and infected it.
The aftertaste is a little cheesy
Two scenarios. It’s infected or you strained too much and it’s approaching Labneh — a cheese dip made from ultra-strained yogurt.