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

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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.

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"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:

Yogurt at Home
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Yogurt at Home

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.

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...

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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.
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.
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.
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!

Yogurt at Home
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Yogurt at Home

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

Tags: yogurt, diy yogurt, yogurt at home, the white moustache