Yogurt

Tips, Tricks, and Best Practices for Making Yogurt at Home

March  8, 2016

If you want to learn a craft, you go to the source: Woodcarvers seek woodcarvers; glassblowers, glassblowers; yogis, yogis; yogurt-makers, yogurt-makers.

Which is why, if you have questions about making your own yogurt, you should ask Homa Dashtaki, the founder of The White Moustache, a yogurt company out of Brooklyn that makes thick, dreamy Persian- and Greek-style yogurts.

"I think EVERYONE should make yogurt at home," she wrote in an email. "It's a miracle." And it is: Boil milk, let it cool, whisk in a tablespoon or two of yogurt you already have (the "culture") to kickstart the next batch, and then wait—you'll have a batch of yogurt in about 12 hours. (You don't even need a yogurt machine!) If you've never tried making your own, or simply want to improve your DIY yogurt game, borrow Homa's tips for working the miracle yourself:

1. Choose a good culture.

Making a batch of yogurt at home involves introducing active cultures from a yogurt you already have into milk. For your first batch, you can use a plain store-bought yogurt (Homa doesn't recommend a powdered starter—yogurt will do just fine, and you can taste it before you add it); and then for your next batch, a few spoonfuls saved from your first batch will do the trick. The second batch, made with culture from the yogurt you made, is always even better than the first batch, she says.

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Start with a store-bought yogurt you like the taste of (Homa recommends Fage). As the culture for your homemade yogurt, it will affect the flavor of the final result as much as the milk you use. Therefore...

2. Choose your milk carefully.

A lucky few might have access to raw milk, unhomogenized milk, or unpasteurized milk, and making yogurt with milk like this, says Homa, "is a dream." Any milk will do, however, as long as it is not ultra-pasteurized! Unfortunately, in many states, organic milk must be ultra-pasteurized (while conventional milk doesn't have to be ultra-pasteurized)—so you probably will not be able to make your yogurt with organic milk. Full-fat milk will always yield the best yogurt.

The ceramic bowls (and pizza-tray covers) Homa likes to use for making yogurt. Photo by Homa Dashtaki

3. Choose a good vessel for your yogurt.

That is, one that will help the yogurt retain heat during its rest. If you don't have access to an 30-gallon vat like the one in Homa's production space, she recommends large ceramic bowls or crocks (to cover, use small pizza pans, or even small pot lids). Glass or metal bowls won't retain the heat as well, which could prevent your yogurt from setting up.

Yogurt that's set up properly. Yogurt won't set if it gets too cold overnight—or if the culture is added too early or too late. Photo by Homa Dashtaki

4. Get your milk to the right temperature(s).

There are three major steps in yogurt-making: boiling the milk, adding the culture, and letting the yogurt rest. At each of these steps, the milk or yogurt needs to be at the right temperature.

That said, Homa advises against using a thermometer in yogurt-making. Doing it without a thermometer "helps convey the magic of the whole process—and helps you bruild trust. You're cooking with milk, this cow mother's milk. It's such a special product. I like to honor that," she says. These are her helpful guidelines:

  • For boiling the milk: It should really come to a full boil. This kills any bacteria in the milk that would compete with the live cultures you'll add to it.
  • For adding the culture: Add the culture too soon and the hot milk will kill it; too late, and the milk will be too cool for the cultures to activate. Homa advises the "pinky test": "Put your pinky in the milk, and if it's comfortable in there for 3 seconds, you're good to go. It should feel like you'd bathe a baby in it."
  • For resting the yogurt: After you add the culture to the milk, it needs to rest for about 12 hours (overnight)—and it needs to be warm. Using a container that will hold the heat will help this, but it also should be swaddled! Put a blanket down, put the covered bowl of yogurt on top, and wrap it up well in the blanket. The milk should still be a little warm when you check on it the next morning.
From left: Regular full-fat yogurt, Greek yogurt, skyr, and labneh. Photo by James Ransom

5. If you want thicker yogurt, strain it!

But don't add powdered milk. "I have very strong feelings about this," Homa says. "I would not add anything—I like the milk to be as unadulterated as possible." If you want a thicker, Greek-style yogurt, pour your yogurt into a fine-mesh cheesecloth set over a bowl and wait until it's the consistency you want it to be. Then you can save the whey to drink, like Homa does, or use it to cook with.

Ready, set, go!

Have you ever made yogurt at home? Share your tips—or your questions—in the comments.

23 Comments

CHRISTINE B. May 1, 2018
I make yogurt once a month. What I use for an "oven" is a styrofoam cooler. It holds the heat in really well. I also put in the cooler 2 quart jars of very hot water in their jars, of course. I only keep it in there for 7-8 hours. That does the trick and it does not get too tart. I stir it and put it in the back of the fridge to get good and cold.Best yogurt ever when you make it yourself and it is easy once you get the hang of it.
 
Pat I. March 5, 2018
I make yogurt a couple of times a week. I hope I won’t be drummed out of the corp for not being quite so esoteric about this “magical” process but I use a thermometer and just put 2% milk in the largest bowl that will fit in my yogurt maker. I heat it in the microwave (it takes exactly 12 minutes to get to 182°). I typically use the powdered culture but on occasion I will also use a few spoonfuls of leftover yogurt from the previous batch. Both work fine. I use a small yogurt maker ...the kind that comes with little jars...for consistent heat and set it between eight and nine hours. I always drain it through a fine mesh filter as we like it very thick. So easy ... so good...no magic!
 
Delanie A. March 5, 2018
Maybe this is cheating, but if my yogurt doesn't turn out as smooth as I was hoping for, I hit it with an immersion blender just before straining.
 
Andie P. March 5, 2017
When I want extra thick yogurt I use half and half. You CAN use ultra-pasteurized milk, which in many places is the only stuff you can find.<br />You can buy a little bottle of calcium chloride - order it online or go to a health food store, most carry it. <br />It only takes 1/8 teaspoon mixed in two tablespoons of water and added to the milk before heating. <br />If you want to make super thick, rich yogurt, use heavy cream. I buy the "Manufacturing cream" Alta Dena dairy, here in SoCal and it can be substituted for clotted cream. I have found that the higher the butterfat content, the milder the yogurt. (I have tried adding powdered milk - the only one that really works well is NIDO - full fat powdered milk - I don't like the "grainyness" others produce).
 
Lisa C. March 4, 2017
What about adding probiotics??? Does anyone do this? Thanks
 
Amelia March 5, 2017
Yogurt by definition is cultured milk and therefore already has probiotics in it. I suppose you could add different cultures/amounts of cultures depending on what you want though!
 
kimmiebeck March 4, 2017
I use 1/4 cup organic powdered milk to 5-6 cups of milk. This always yields very thick Greek yogurt with no straining. As others have said, slow heating is a must!
 
Amy P. February 14, 2017
I do have access to raw milk, and yogurt is the one thing I don't like using it for. Obviously it's not raw after bringing it up to about 200 degrees, but the non-homogenized milk lets the cream rise to the top and become part of the "skin" that forms when it's cooling down before adding the starter. I remove the skin to avoid stringy bits in the yogurt, and therefore also remove a good portion of the cream. It still settles into a cream-top, but not a nice one like I've had from commercial sellers; the cream-top has an unpleasant texture. Any tips?! I'd love to be able to use my parents' cows' milk for yogurt instead of buying homogenized.
 
vrinda March 14, 2016
Does anyone make goat milk yogurt ? It's impossible for me so any advise would be very welcome.<br />thanks
 
mylene2k March 11, 2016
Ultrapasteurized milk should work just fine. It's the only milk that is readily available here in Europe, and yogurt making is quite popular. I've never had problems with the regular, ultrapasteurized milk I buy in the grocery store.
 
Judith R. March 9, 2016
As an old, card-carrying hippie, I have been making yogurt frequently at home for the last 30 years, and what Homa says works fine. I find my oven, with just the light on is the perfect place to incubate the yogurt. The one thing I don't agree with, is 12 hours incubation. I think the yogurt is too tart. Mine sets up solidly in usually just about 6-7 hours, and that's when I chill it. I've also found that if I plan to drain it into Greek style yogurt, I get more Greek yogurt if I chill it overnight and strain it the next day.<br />
 
HalfPint March 9, 2016
I totally agree with @Judith Roud about the 12 hours. The yogurt would be way too tart. I have a yogurt 'maker' which provides low heat and keeps the yogurt warm. And I find that even after 6 hours the yogurt is too tart for me. For my setup, 4-5 hours is optimal.
 
Kelley B. March 9, 2016
ditto using a crockpot, although you don't even need a (gasp!) thermometer. just pour half a gallon of milk in a crockpot and set it on low for three hours. turn it off for three hours and let it sit there in the pot. whisk in yogurt, put the lid back on, wrap it in a towel (or two) and set it in the oven, just to retain heat (but don't turn the oven on!; I usually leave the oven light on, though, just for solace). and then, voila! yogurt appears 12 hours later.
 
Janet S. March 8, 2016
I use my crockpot and a thermometer. Heat to 180, take pot out of the unit and let it sit on my cool quartz countertop and it cools to 112 in about an hour. Stir in yogurt and put the crock in my Wonderbag - check it out on Amazon! 12 hours later I pour it into a half gallon mason jar.
 
Debbie T. March 8, 2016
Sure homemade yogurt tastes better, but it's the amazing yeasty smell that I really love! I prefer to use a thermometer to have the exact temperatures. I also worry that my room or oven won't be warm enough, so I wrap my pot in a heating pad on low (with no auto shut off) and a towel and let it sit 12 hours.
 
Carole March 8, 2016
Thanks for the great post. I agree - making yogurt is a snap, even if you screw up. I've accidentally boiled my milk over the sides of the pot ;-( and also over-cooled it, and had to reheat it again, but the yogurt always turns out great, as long as I use hot jars (I heat a cup of water in my jars in the microwave to get them warm.)<br />A neat trick for keeping your containers warm during the resting stage: put them in a cooler. I make 2 quart ball jars of yogurt at a time, and sit them side-by-side in a soft-sided cooler overnight. They set up in 5-6 hours.
 
Sarah Q. March 8, 2016
I've been making yogurt for a couple of years. It's sooo very much better than store bought, although I use Stonyfield for the starter bc of the mild flavor my kids like. After trying quite a few techniques, milks, powder or not, etc. the most helpful things I've done are 1. Go slow on getting the temp up, 2. 180 degrees or higher for the starting milk temp to denature proteins, and 3. Don't freaking stir the starter into the cooled milk. Just let it slurp out of the container into th bottom of your pot and leave it be. Alaina Chernila's advice and it absolutely works to get a thicker yogurt no matter the fat percentage. Also letting it culture for 24 hrs means that as a lactose intolerant, I can finally eat yogurt again. Thank god. Ugh. Yogurt is the best.
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. March 8, 2016
wow! i've always stirred—will try not stirring next time and let you know how it goes.
 
Matilda L. March 8, 2016
I make yogurt at home, too. My understanding of why you heat the milk (to 180 degrees F, for those of us who like thermometers) before letting it cool enough to introduce the culture is not to kill bacteria (because most of us will be using pasteurized milk) but to denature the proteins.
 
EL March 8, 2016
So easy, but when I say that, I have to remember that I have problems growing zucchini. Still, I don't understand why more people don't make their own. It's way cheaper than buying and you know what goes into it. It also takes less time than the no-knead bread that everyone is doing.<br /><br />I set my pot on a low heat to heat the milk and set a timer so that I can do other things. I rarely have much clean-up. I also just scald the milk rather than bringing it to a full boil. You kill most organisms in milk (especially if the milk is pasteurized) at that heat. Heating slowly seems to be key from what I have heard from others, as it prevents the yogurt from becoming granular (losing the smoothness). If it does become granular, simply drain it longer to make a firm, fresh cheese (called quark) from it. The cheese will be smooth. Then try again with new starter. <br /><br /> I do mine in 10 oz glass jars which I don't fill quite to the shoulder. That way I can add Muesli or other additions without overflowing. Cleaning is a snap. As far as not holding heat -- I just incubate in the oven with the light on, so the glass works perfectly. Plus they have lids so there is no chance for spills (as I like to add flavorings and then take to work, this is important). Some people use pint mason jars, but they are a bit too big for me. The ceramic bowls are just one more step and more to clean.
 
Panfusine March 8, 2016
I've had no issues using store bought organic milk. it seems to set well. I think the culture is crucial, the regular yogurt is not optimal at all for setting. I've had the best results from a small local brand called Erivan (http://erivandairy.com/ - available at Whole Foods) and also from organic Kefir. Once the milk is boiled and cooled to the optimal temperature, I like to whisk the culture with a little bit of the milk and then add this back (like whisking in eggs for custard). Also, if you have a proof setting in your oven , USE it. its a sure fire help for keeping the temperature optimal for the yogurt to set.<br />
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. March 8, 2016
great tips, panfusine! (wishing so much my drafty kitchen's oven had a proof setting!)
 
Emily March 8, 2016
Even easier than on the stove (because boiling milk in a pot leaves a residue that is very hard to clean) - http://www.ayearofslowcooking.com/2008/10/you-can-make-yogurt-in-your-crockpot.html