Lessons in Yogurt

On the way to strained yogurt

On the way to strained yogurt

I have read on the internet about folks making homemade yogurt and how easy it is.   I was definitely interested.  I really did not like the grocery store options.   I hate  the sort of gelatinous texture found in large commercial operations.   I also thought that if made my own I might be able to get my husband off of his sour cream addition.    I knew that there was something out there better because I have experienced it.   Occasionally when I get to a Greek place in a nearby big town buy their Greek yogurt.   If you have never had real strained Greek  yogurt you are missing, not a mass thickened by stuff produced the major companies  marketed as Greek Style yogurt.  My husband who is addicted to sour cream and has been putting it on everything will use this instead gladly with no complaints.   It is the only substitute he will agree to after 35 years of being addicted to sour cream.    It was time for me to stop buying yogurt and making it from scratch.  My goal was our own strained yogurt.

Like all of us today I was  getting my information for the internet.   The first thing I learned is that much of our yogurt today has an assortment of thickeners added.    My aversion to that texture was starting to make sense.    I was looking at labels much more skeptically.      I found a recipe that sounded easy and made a small batch, my top two criteria.   I made my first batch.    It was a flop.   I was sure I had done something wrong, so tried it again, making a couple of adjustments.    Once again I had a milk mixture that sort of had a hint of yogurt taste, but was no thicker than whole milk.  I was  determined to find out what I was doing wrong.   I started looking at bloggers who posted about making  yogurt.  I shared what I was doing and  asked questions of the experienced yogurt makers.    I was looking for an answer.   I got what I thought was good coaching and advise and I tried again.   No luck again.     This was getting expensive and I was not sure how many times I wanted to beat my head against the wall.   Time for a break and a different approach.

I was going try to strain my own yogurt.  Here are some of the reasons I gave myself for trying this:

  • Getting rid of lots of the whey in yogurt  takes out some of the sugars (aka carbohydrates), and boost the protein and calcium (both of which I struggle to have enough of in my diet).
  • Whey is a acidic and getting rid of it also give a yogurt a different taste.
  • Removing whey may make yogurt tolerable for folks with lactose intolerance since lactose is found in the whey.   Sometimes as I have aged I have found I don’t tolerate dairy as well.  (This is also why Greek Style yogurts that are just thickened and not strained don’t have the same effect).
  • My chickens love getting the whey so nothing goes to waste.

I planned to start with  the very best yogurt I could find.   To me that meant it would contain milk and cultures, nothing else if at all possible.    I wanted it to be  local product  if possible.     I got lucky and found something with milk, dried milk and all different kinds of live cultures.   It wasn’t a Montana dairy, but it was a regional coop of farmers.      It was pricey but at this point giving  my pilot batches of yogurt to the chickens rather serving it on  our dinner table the price seem irrelevant.

There are lots of ways to strain yogurt.  People use all sorts of things from coffee filters, muslin, cheese cloth, and the list goes on.   I first used muslin and cheese cloth  in a food mill, but it wasn’t working for me.   I had no room in the refrigerator for the large contraption.   Left on the counter top my house smelled like a dairy.   The washing the bags, I was never sure they were clean enough.   My second choice was a contraption sold specifically for straining yogurt.     First it was reusable, no single use parts.   It can be washed in a sink or dishwasher. It has a design that allows the maximum exposure to the strainer with the smallest foot print.   It has a container that catches the whey, the liquid.    I have been using this now awhile and it is the way for me.

After straining yogurt  for the summer  the verdict is in.   My husband has without my prompting said as long as I strain yogurt like I have been doing he no longer “needs” sour cream.   I am eating more dairy (aka calcium).   The time commitment is negligible.  I still have near heart failure when I buy my good yogurt, but short of making my own this is the way it will be.   I am now thinking about yogurt cheeses.   I don’t expect them to replace a good aged cheddar or Gouda, but possibly some of the softer cheeses might just work with this.   I might even buy some yogurt cultures and try making it again.   I will keep you posted.