You’ll never want to buy yogurt again after making it at home. It’s so easy to make and so, so delicious. Like it sweet or with fruit? Just add your own topping. I sometimes add honey or jam, but most often, just as it is; a little tart, creamy, and refreshing. I make a two quart batch every one to two weeks. I usually strain one quart overnight to make lebaniya, or yogurt cheese. Lebaniya is its Hebrew name. Its Lebanese name is labneh. Straining overnight in the fridge gives it the consistency of whipped cream cheese, but it can be pressed and made into a much stiffer cheese, which is popular in the Middle East.
I like thick yogurt, and my technique makes a “Super Greek” texture. Straining yogurt to remove much of its liquid, or whey, produces Greek yogurt, even though there is no strict definition. BTW, after straining to make lebaniya, the whey can be used to make ricotta cheese, added to many recipes, including bread, or enjoyed over ice. Dogs and cats enjoy it, also. I’m told that pouring it down the drain is bad for the sewage system.
The most difficult part is the incubator setup. You need a way to keep the jars of yogurt at 110-115 degrees F. for eight hours. Most ovens won’t keep such a low temperature. Some use yogurt machines and some use an ice chest with a heating pad or jars of hot water for heat. Many “Instant Pots” have a yogurt setting. I use a Samson Silent 9 Tray dehydrator that is similar to the Excalibur. Whatever system you use, be sure to set it up and preheat before you start your batch.
A double boiler is not essential but it reduces the chance of scorching the milk. I use a soup pot inside a slightly larger skillet. Add water about 3/4 full into the skillet.
I know that digital thermometers weren’t used in the distant past but they’re really handy to monitor temps. I like to use a whisk to blend.
Funnels with coffee filters are used to strain yogurt to make lebaniya.
2 quarts milk (I like 4% whole. You may sub reduced fat but it won’t be as thick.) I use pasteurized but different procedures are used for ultra pasteurized and raw milk. The starter culture source websites have those procedures.
Yogurt starter, per source instructions. I use Bulgarian starter, bacillus bulgaricus. I’m told it is the yogurt most similar in tartness and consistency to the yogurt you’ve been buying. Two sources I’ve used are Bacillus Bulgaricus and Cultures For Health. Buy a little extra for backup, which can be stored in the freezer. You can also use store-bought plain yogurt with active cultures for your starter. Succeeding batches are made from the previous batch but with commercial yogurt the strength of later yogurt tends to diminish.
For your first batch, if using powdered starter from sources given above, follow the instructions from the source website. After the first batch, you will save about a tablespoon of the yogurt to use as a starter for your next two quart batch. As soon as you take the finished yogurt out of the incubator, put a tablespoon into a separate container, cover and mark well so no one will eat it. Date it so you know when you need to make another batch. Anchor makes nice little bowls with plastic lids that are perfect. Store in the fridge. I have stored starter as long as two weeks with success.
Instant non-fat dry milk, 1 cup (100 grams) Optional. It adds to thickness and nutrition. Non-instant is really difficult to blend.
Set up and preheat your incubator.
Heat 2 quarts milk in double boiler setup. Stir in powdered milk. Stir often. If not using double boiler, heat slowly and stir constantly to prevent taste ruining scorching of milk. When temp reaches 180-185 F., reduce heat to lowest and continue heating for 30 minutes. This extra heating reduces the water content to make a thicker yogurt. Fill two quart canning jars with hot tap water to preheat. If using yogurt as starter, remove from fridge and place atop one of the jars of hot water so the starter can warm up a little.
After 30 minutes of low heating, remove from heat to cool. Place in sink and run cold water into lower container to cool milk faster. Stir constantly and monitor temperature. When temp reaches about 113, remove from cool water bath and continue stirring. When it hits about 111 F. spoon some of the heated milk into a small bowl with the starter yogurt. Whisk briskly. Don’t worry about small pieces of starter not dissolving. Stir this mixture back into the pot of milk. Empty the jars and fill with the milk. Place lids loosely and quickly place into incubator. It takes about three hours to set, but eight hours makes it thicker.
If a thinner consistency is desired, omit the powdered milk and the extra 30 minutes of low heat cooking. To test if set, tip the jar to see if the yogurt comes away from the glass as a clump, or, remove the lid and gently push the surface of the yogurt down with finger.
I usually make lebaniya with one of the quarts of yogurt. Allow the yogurt to cool at room temp for two hours and then into the fridge. Do not mix the yogurt for a better consistency.
To make lebaniya, pour finished yogurt into a funnel lined with a rinsed coffee filter or several layers of muslin cloth. A nut strain bag or light cotton material also works well as strainer. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to drain on counter for about two hours and then place into fridge for about eight more hours.