Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yogurt--Simplicity At It's Finest

I'm writing this post because I get funny looks when I tell people I make our family's yogurt. But really, it's ridiculously easy, and you CAN get it nice and thick like at the store, and it will taste good (especially topped with my home made jam...).

I make 4 quarts at a time, because it's silly for me to make less, considering yogurt keeps well in the fridge for awhile, and it can be used in place of sour cream many times. In fact, we have not purchased sour cream in quite some time. To begin I take a gallon of milk minus a half quart and put it in a stainless steel pot. I use whole pasteurized milk, only because I don't have the money right now for whole raw milk. This recipe isn't cheaper if you are buying organic, and please, if you are spending your money on organic milk please see the foot note to this post*. I'm not against buying organic, it just helps to know what you're getting.
Bring the milk to 112 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is raw milk, you will need to bring it to a boil and let it cool to 112 degrees. I don't use a thermometer. I stick my finger in. If I can still put my finger in, but it's not comfortable after about 20 seconds, it's just right. You can use a thermometer, if you want to.

In a small glass or stainless steel bowl, mix 1/2 C of already made yogurt (leftover from the last batch, or I like to purchase a single serving plain yogurt cup.) with a ladle full of the warm milk. Stir gently, then add the yogurt to the big pot. Stir well, but not briskly. A figure 8 stir pattern works well. NOTE: Plain is not the same as vanilla. Really. I don't add this to insult anyone's intelligence, it's just that there have been those that I've worked with on this that made this mistake. Please don't.
Pour this warm milk mixture into clean quart jars. You'll need 4 if you are using the whole gallon. Take those warm jars (that feel so good...warm glass in hand is kind of a pleasure, don't you think?)

Find a place to keep the milk warm for 4 to 8 hours. I use my dehydrator, kept at 112 degrees. If you don't have a big dehydrator like this one, you can use a cooler filled with hot water, or keep it in the oven with a pilot light on, preheat an electric oven to a low temp and turn it off, or wrap the milk container in a hot towel and set it on top of a radiator. There are many ways. The milk just needs to stay warm. After four hours, test for taste and thickness. The longer it incubates, the more tart it will be. If you want it REALLY thick, like Greek yogurt you can use
a handy tool like this one. It's a fine mesh sieve over a container. Cheese cloth lining a colander can also be used.Pour it in, let it sit for a few hours. The longer it sits, the thicker it'll get in the fridge. If it's kept cold, it won't become any more tart.

*Ahh, now for my footnote. You can ignore it if you wish, but let me make this argument given that my in-laws are dairy farmers who sell their milk to large milk\cheese companies, and my neighbor`s job was to test milk at farms on a regular basis, I feel I can make this statement with decent knowledge.

Organic milk has to meet three criteria: one, no RBGH is used. Did you know that ALL cows make their own RBGH and adding to their bodies doesn`t change what is coming out in the milk. You`re getting more milk out of the same cow with the same levels of rBGH. And Dale Bauman, a professor of animal science at Cornell University states that IGF-1 (an insulin-like growth factor that people are worried about being in milk of rBGH fed cattle) is slightly higher in rBGHtreated cows, but people make IGF-1 on a daily basis, and we would have to drink 95 quarts of milk a day to get the same amount of IGF-1 that is found in just one human`s saliva. And given that I had to take extra hormones in order to breast feed, and it didn`t change my milk quality enough to hurt my baby (it actually helped) I would say it is no biggie. The second criterion for milk to be branded organic is no antibiotics, but given that I have been there for testing of these cows, and dropped samples off to my neighbor`s lab from other large producing dairies, I know that one thing that is being tested for is antibiotics in the milk, and most farmers will not leave a cow on their production line who is sick enough to be taking antibiotics in such an amount that it would come through their milk. My father-in-law in specific takes that cow and milks her separately until she is better, and then puts her back in the line-up after her milk no longer tests for antibiotics. Many, if not most, farmers do this. There might be a few that don`t. Keep in mind, my father-in-law cannot be branded organic because he EVER gave his cow antibiotics. In essence, if you ever treat a cow with a medicine to help the cow, that cow has to be sold to a non-organic farmer or killed. Did you organic buyers know that? Third, grazing time. Many people assume that because the cows on the organic farm have access to a pasture that that is what they are eating, but it is not the case. If you really want grass fed cows milk (which really is better for you, a whole other post, but it has to do with vitamins and a special type of fat that fights cancers) you should be looking for raw, grass-fed cows milk, not organic at the grocery store. As soon as my budget allows, that is what we hope to be drinking, given we can find a dairy farmer who will sell to us under the FDA radar.

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