I’m one of those people that is hesitant to start something if I can’t envision how I’m going to finish it. I am not a fan of failure, which means a lot of things on a lot of different levels. In the interest of this post, however, it meant I was pretty intimidated about the idea of regularly making kitchen staples like yogurt and bread from scratch. But the potential benefits outweighed my fear, so I jumped right in…and haven’t looked back! Finding the time to get both of these things made on a regular, consistent basis was actually far easier than I’d anticipated, it just took a little bit of planning.
I started with yogurt because the process is simpler and less involved – 15-30 minutes of hands-on time at the beginning, then all those little organisms take over and do the rest of the work! There are numerous recipes out there, but they are basically all variations on the same handful of steps.
1. Sterilize your milk. Microwave, stovetop, or even crockpot. (I do mine in the microwave.) The important thing is to get it to 180 degrees to kill any “bad” bacteria.
2. Cool your milk. I make an ice bath in the sink. The ideal temps for the bacteria to multiply is between 110 – 120.
3. Culture your milk. You can add storebought yogurt for the first time, and thereafter set aside a few tablespoons to use as a starter for next time (I use 1/2 cup starter for a 1/2 gallon of yogurt.)
4. Add any mix-ins. I add a tsp of homemade vanilla extract and a tablespoon of maple syrup per pint, just to give it a little bit of zing. You could also add honey, agave, or other extracts. Note: Fruits can affect the ph level, which can hinder the ability of the bacteria to do their thing, so it’s best to add fruit later!
5. Incubate your cultured milk. I use a small cooler filled with a few inches of 120 degree water. The incubation time is not an exact science – a shorter time produces sweeter, runnier yogurt, and a longer time produces, tangier, firmer yogurt. you’ll have to experiment with what you like best – for us that magic window is 8-9 hours.
6. Refrigerate, then enjoy!
Not too complicated, right? Especially once you memorize the recipe and can just make it on auto-pilot. The harder part is figuring out the logistics to keep the process going. Here’s some tips:
- Your yogurt will last up to two weeks, but the longer you go between batches, the weaker your starter will get. (You’ll know because your yogurt will start taking longer to get the same consistency.) But nobody wants to make yogurt every 3 days…so the key is to find that sweet spot amount that will allow you to make a new batch once a week or so. I started out making a quart at a time, but quickly learned that a half gallon was a better balance for our family.
- Multi-task. The first few times you make your yogurt, you’re going to need to pay careful attention to every step. But once you’ve done it a few times, you can easily make it while you’re doing other things, which will save time. For example, on yogurt day, I start the process in the morning while I’m fixing breakfast. I get all of my equipment and ingredients out and ready to go before we sit down, so that all I have to do is make sure the process stays moving every few minutes (ie, check temp of milk, turn microwave on, move milk to ice bath, check temp again.) I can usually finish the entire process before the kiddos are even done with breakfast, which means I can then just put my cooler on a shelf and forget about it until around dinnertime!
- Keep some storebought starters on hand in case you accidentally kill/eat yours. I freeze some in ice cube trays and keep a stash in the freezer. Just pop a few into the fridge the day before you intend to make your yogurt and voila! Instant starter! (I sometimes add a couple to my own starter to “beef it up” if it seems to be getting weak.)
I love that there are no weird, hard to pronounce ingredients, and nothing artifical. I personally find the taste to be 10 times more flavorful than the storebought kinds – so light and refreshing! I actually had storebought yogurt for the first time since I started making my own at Disney World last week one morning…and even though it was just regular old vanilla flavored, it tasted sickeningly sweet!
I also love how much money we are saving. Discounting any flavorings, the cost of your yogurt is equal to the cost of your milk. We use whole milk, and make it organic when it’s on sale. I have not tried any other kind, but apparently if you use anything less than 2% fat you’ll need to add some sort of thickeners (gelatin or milk powder.)
And speaking of things you can make from whole milk – if you haven’t ever made ricotta cheese (also known as farmer’s cheese), you are missing out! It tastes NOTHING like the cakey, pasty stuff in the tub at the grocery store. It’s way easier to make than yogurt too – here’s a recipe! It tastes great in savory italian dishes as well as sweet (I used it as well as homemade mascarpone to make a variation of this amazing cannoli dip at my hubby’s birthday party a few weeks ago!) It’s also yummy served with fruit and drizzled with smidge of honey…but now I’m getting side tracked (and hungry!)
Obviously every family has their own rhythms and routines. What works for me very well may not be the answer for you and your family. But I’m hoping that this glimpse of “how we do” will help out anybody that’s wanting to do something like this but not sure how to start. The next homestead topic will be on bread-making, which has been the most recent piece to our from-scratch puzzle (and also the most complicated!) So stay tuned!