Yogurt is surprisingly easy to make yourself—even easier if you have a crockpot or a yogurt maker. I have both, but I tell you I prefer the crockpot. For one, my yogurt maker has just eight tiny cups that I can make yogurt in, whereas the crockpot can make a lot more yogurt, making it more worth my while.
I’m lucky here in Costa Rica because we have our own dairy cows. Grass fed, no added hormones and all that. I’m even luckier because I don’t have to milk them (ha!). Unfortunately the only kind of yogurt I can find in the stores is the sickeningly sweet kind or low-fat plain yogurt. I am a big fan of plain yogurt but I like the full fat variety. Bring on the protein and the extra creaminess! Here’s how I make my own yogurt in the crockpot:
-- 1 gallon of milk, whole fat is best
-- 2 Tbsp plain yogurt OR a package of freeze-dried yogurt starter. You can find this in most health food stores and I think it makes better yogurt than using yogurt as a starter
-- a candy thermometer
-- a bath towel
-- muslin or cheesecloth (optional and only if you want to make Greek-style yogurt)
The crockpot method of making yogurt is foolproof but it is time consuming and it is a science. Make sure you will be home all day when you set out to do this. One of the benefits of a yogurt maker is it will regulate the temperature for you and sound a little alarm when it’s time for you to do something.
Pour your milk into the crockpot and turn the crockpot on low. Heat the milk to between 180 and 190 degrees. This will take a few hours and it sterilizes the milk so that only the good bacteria of the yogurt will grow.
After you reach the ideal temperature (any hotter and you may scald the milk) let the milk cool back to 110 degrees. This will also take a few hours but 110 degrees is the ideal temperature for the bacteria. Be sure to remove an skin that may form on your yogurt—it will create hard nasty chunks in your final product.
Once your yogurt reaches 110 degrees remove one cup and put it in small bowl. Add the yogurt starter to the bowl of yogurt and whisk with a fork.
Add the inoculated yogurt back into the crockpot and whisk it in using a side-to-side motion. Whisking in circles is a no-no. I don’t know why, just because the science gods said so and you’ll have seven years of bad luck.
Carefully lift the crockpot out of its base and put it in a cool oven. Cover it with a towel and let it sit overnight or for 10-12 hours.
After 10 or 12 hours your yogurt should have a nice layer of whey on top. You can mix this whey into your yogurt and enjoy or you can proceed to the next step and drain the whey for a thicker Greek-style yogurt.
Line a colander with muslin or several layers of cheesecloth. Put the lined colander over a large pot and pour the yogurt into the colander. Let the yogurt strain for two or three hours or until it is at your desired consistency and enjoy!
You can use the leftover whey for all sorts of things or feed it to your pets (I like to blend it up in smoothies).
Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.