My husband loves his yogurt. He loves it so much that he makes it himself and eats nearly a quart each day at work. Yes, a quart. He credits it with curing his persistent toothaches and with boosting his immune system. I’m not sure if others have similar results, but he has definitely noticed an improvement. Today I am going to walk you through how we make raw milk yogurt in the dehydrator. It is only one of many ways, but it works very well for us.
Yogurt is such a simple food. It is just cultured milk. All you really need, therefore, is milk and a culture. We make single serving sizes (he eats four each day) using half-pint mason jars. One gallon of milk nets us 17 jars of yogurt. We make 18 jars, but one is always reserved for the next batch, so the net is 17. For equipment, we use 18 jars, 18 mayonnaise lids, a 2-quart pitcher (for easy pouring), a random spoon from the silverware drawer, and our Excalibur dehydrator.
You can see in the picture above that I included a box of yogourmet culture. Our experience has been that commercial yogurts don’t have longevity. The first batch comes out okay, but subsequent generations are utter failures for us. The yogourmet culture, on the other hand, has lasted hundreds generations now. The expiration date on this box is April 2016, and I think we bought it about three years prior. We used the culture to start our first batch and have just used the yogurt it made to propagate each following generation. The box came with three envelopes, and we still have one. We don’t have two because once we forgot to set aside a jar for the next generation and had to start over again.
Just like sourdough starter, your yogurt will adapt to your environment and the milk you use. Over time, you may notice a subtle change in the flavor. Or you may not. We noticed when we had to start over that it tasted different, but we didn’t notice the slight change with each generation. And just like sourdough starter, yogurt culture can be shared with friends.
As I said, we make a gallon at a time. I set out 18 half-pint canning jars in a nice easy array. You can see all the lids waiting behind the cutting board that serves as my primary work space. Those are all lids that I have collected from mayonnaise jars over the years. They make great lids for refrigerator or dry storage.
Next I take my spoon and put one spoon of yogurt in the bottom of each yogurt cup. Whatever is left I try to divide evenly among them. In theory, each jar should get 2.5 teaspoons of yogurt. In practice, each one gets 1 1/2 slightly heaping spoons. This is because the yogurt is somewhat chunky and doesn’t measure easily.
Alternatively, you could put half your jar of yogurt into the milk in the pitcher and stir it up like crazy, then pour it into the jars.
Now we pour the milk into the pitcher to make it easier to pour into the little jars, but maybe you are more skilled than we are. Pour the milk into the jars until they are almost full. Each half gallon of milk should fill 9 jars.
I like to start at the outside edges of my array so that I don’t bump into jars with the bottom of the pitcher as I pour. By the time I get to the inner jars, I can tip the pitcher up high enough to avoid bumping. If you have a long enough counter, you could just line them up single file. Or you can pick each one up and move it to fill it. A high school math teacher once asked me why I always did things the hard way. I guess I still do.
If you are curious about the math, here is how it works. We know that there are 16 cups in a gallon, and yet, we fill 18 jars. First, we added the yogurt to begin with, which gives us an extra cup, bringing us to 17. Then that little bit of headroom gives us another cup. Or maybe our farmer overfills the jugs we buy. Come to think of it, I have never measured exactly how much is in each bottle. That might account for some of the extra cup. But not all of it.
Into the dehydrator
Now screw lids on all these jars. It’s fun to give them a good shake to mix them up, though really, it isn’t necessary. They make great pretend maracas. Once the lids are on, we arrange them in the bottom of our dehydrator. We have an Excalibur, which is box shaped and makes for easy loading for exactly 18 jars. I have seen dehydrators that are round, and others that have a smaller footpring, so you will need to find the quantity and arrangement that works best for your machine. I load mine in a 4-3-4-3-4 pattern. This fits them all in there and allows for air flow amongst the jars.
If you have other foods you want to dehydrate, you can put your drying trays in there and exploit the heat that you’re using. Or use it to dry your child’s wet boots or mittens. Or homework that got wet.
Time and temperature
Set the temperature to 105-110F and let it do its magic for a few hours. Most recipes I have seen say to let it sit for 4-12 hours. The longer it goes, the more sour and acidic it gets. My husband likes to let it go for 12-14 hours. I have noticed that it gets even more sour after it goes in the refrigerator. I like to eat it fresh out the dehydrator when it is still warm, and I stir a spoon of honey into it. When it is warm, the honey melts right in instead of clumping up like when it is cold. Perfect breakfast.
When the time is up, transfer the jars to the refrigerator. They will thicken up more once they get cold. Warm yogurt is still a bit runny, so don’t be dismayed thinking that it will look like store bought yogurt. It won’t. Even after it gets cold, it won’t be as smooth as store yogurt, either. It will be slightly chunky.
There are, of course, many other ways to make yogurt. There are appliances dedicated solely to yogurt. The instant pot has a yogurt setting. I have seen instructions that tell you to wrap it with a towel and put in a picnic cooler with a hot water bottle. Since we have the dehydrator already, we use it. Use what works for you. Experiment with times, but do be careful of your temperature. As I understand, heat in excess of 115 can damage your culture.
Most recipes will tell you to scald the milk before culturing it. I hear that it sets up better. Supposedly the natural organisms in raw milk will compete with the yogurt organisms, so killing them off will give the yogurt culture more room to do its thing, I guess. My experience does not bear that out, however. Ours has the same consistency whether we scald it or not. Not scalding it preserves all the live organisms that make raw milk so good for you to begin with. It also saves time. We used to use a double boiler to heat the milk, then let it sit until it cooled. It took about ten minutes to heat up, then 2 hours to cool down again. Then it had that film over the top that I don’t like, and we had to make sure the kitty didn’t drink it.
Other recipes for raw milk yogurt suggest adding gelatin to help it set up nicely. I tried it once, and I didn’t notice a difference. It could be that the extreme length of time that we keep it warm contributes to the extra firmness. I have never experimented with that. If you do add gelatin, be sure to use grass fed gelatin. Milk is up near the top of the food chain, and so is more likely to accumulate things we probably don’t want to ingest.
You can also make your yogurt in other size jars, too. We use the half-pint size because that is a convenient amount for my husband to eat on his breaks at work. One jar per break. Because he eats so much, we make it about twice a week.
1 gallon of raw milk costs us $4.50 at our local farm. We net 17 cups of yogurt from this, yielding $0.26 / 7.5 oz cup. The least expensive yogurt of any kind that I can find at any store is $0.39 per 6 oz cup at Aldi. I know we get a really good deal on our raw milk, so your cost per serving will most likely be different. A quart tub of Stonyfield Farms plain organic whole milk yogurt costs $3.99 at my local supermarket, and it is an excellent second best to homemade. From what I can see, the single serving cups of yogurt are all low fat or fat free, and they cost $0.89 each for a 6 oz cup. So Stonyfield Farms yogurt at Hannaford costs 3-4x our homemade, and Aldi’s yogurt is 1.5-2x our cost.
Have you made yogurt? How did it turn out? What method did you use?