Homemade Yogurt

My old supervisor, Jeremy, asked if I make yogurt.  He’d been wanting to try it and it’s really pretty easy.  Here’s a simple recipe for Homemade Yogurt.

The trick is to find a good culture.  I looked at the supermarket for yogurt with live cultures and actually found quite a few!  Some of the cups say “Made with active cultures” but I kept looking for one that said “Contains active cultures”.  This means that the final product has not been pasteurized to kill off the bacteria.  I would recommend using “fresh” yogurt.  If it’s been sitting in the fridge too long, the bacteria have probably given up trying to find anything to eat and won’t be very useful to you.  It’s good to buy a new culture of commercial yogurt every now and again.

To make homemade yogurt, you’ll need:

  • milk
  • active yogurt cultures
  • a pot
  • a stove
  • a thermometer
  • a whisk
  • some jars or containers
  • a place that is 110F

To make yogurt, there’s only a couple of simple steps:

  1. Heat the milk to 170 degrees F for 10 minutes.
  2. When the milk cools to 110, inoculate with live cultures.
  3. Hold the milk at 110 for 7 hours.
  4. Strain. (Optional step)
  5. Refrigerate.
  6. Eat.

While at the market, I settled on a single-serve size cup of CHOBANI Greek yogurt.  It had a long list of lactobacters that sounded yummy.  I also picked up a gallon of whole milk.

Homemade Yogurt Ingredients
Homemade Yogurt Ingredients

My hope was to use the crockpot to hold the milk at 110 for the 7 hours, but the warm setting was about 85 degrees and the low setting was 125.  This was tested by warming 3 quarts of water in the crockpot at various settings for 2 hours and testing with a thermometer.  Some websites advocate turning the crockpot on and off over the course of the 7 hours — way too much work for me.

Trial two was a cooler and a hot pad.  I lined the cooler with the hot pad and filled my yogurt containers (spaghetti sauce jars) with water and put the pad on high for 2 hours.  It was hovering around 105F until my fancy heating pad’s auto-shutoff kicked in and shut off.  So that was out.

Homemade Yogurt Incubation
Homemade Yogurt Incubation

I ended up using the food dehydrator.  Not everyone has a commercial food dehydrator in their basement, but I do and I’m using it!  Another thought might be to use one of the advanced settings on the oven.  I think the “proofing” setting on my oven might be the right temperature.  I didn’t check it.  But back to the task at hand.

Start by heating the milk in a pot on the stove over a moderate flame.  Slowly raise the temp to 170F, but don’t let it get to a simmer!  I use a low setting and just let it take its time.  You don’t want to scald it or burn it to the bottom of your pot.  Take your time.  You’re dealing with proteins and you have to take your time.  Turn the heat off or remove the pot from the heat.  You may have to apply a little more heat after a couple of minutes.  Keep your thermometer handy.  This step denatures the proteins in the milk and sets you up for a nice consistency in the finished product.  This step can make or break you – so be careful!

Scalding Homemade Yogurt
Warming Homemade Yogurt

After the mandatory 10 minutes at 170F is over, let the milk cool.

When the milk hits 110F, you can stir in the yogurt culture.  Use about 3 Tbsp per quart of milk.  If your starter yogurt culture has been hanging around in the fridge for a while, use a little more.

Give this a good whisking and pour into your jars, cap, and put into them into the warm (110F) place.  Set a timer for 7 hours.  I actually just put it in the Food Dehydrator after taking out all the shelves.

Homemade Yogurt Fermentation
Homemade Yogurt Fermentation

When time’s up, you can remove it to the refrigerator and chill or you can strain the yogurt to make it thicker, like Greek Yogurt.  To strain, you can line a colander with a coffee filter and pour the yogurt into that.  Some people use a clean tea towel or pillowcase.  I have a chiniose, so I used that.

I left it straining for about 3 hours because I like it really thick, but it’s completely up to you.  I’ve got another batch in the fridge right now that I’m going to let go for 8 hours and hopefully will become something like cream cheese and I can spread it on toast.

Straining Yogurt to make Greek Style
Straining Yogurt to make Greek Style

A helpful hint: pinch a couple of TBSP of your fresh yogurt and freeze it right away while it’s at its most active to use as the culture for your next batch!

PS Dannon has some great recipes to use yogurt on their website: http://www.smartswaprecipes.com/  And their smartswap converter is really helpful in making your old favorites much more healthy!

Update 4/29/12:

Now that I’m out of store-bought “culture”, I’ll pinch a 1/4 cup of this batch and keep it in the freezer for next weeks batch.  It’s best to freeze off your starter culture as soon as you can from the last batch.  Don’t wait until you need to make yogurt again and try to use a culture from yogurt that’s been in the fridge too long.  You want a nice fresh culture, not one that’s starved to death in your old lactose-free yogurt.

About John MacDowall

I was born in Poughkeepsie, NY. We moved to a farm during middle school where I learned about raising animals and growing food. Now, I live in the affluent suburbs of Washington, DC and wonder why people eat the way they do.


  1. I was amazed that your efforts with 0% milk were just as good as whole milk!

  2. 1%! Nice. I am going to try it with skim this weekend. Been thinking how cool it would be to not only save the money (as I eat probably too much yogurt) but enjoy it with the health benefits of no mystery whey and other additives.

    How does it taste? Pretty close to store bought or way different?

  3. I think it’s better than store-bought, but that might be just my pride I’m tasting. I ferment it for up to 16 hours, too. I like to make sure most of the lactose is gone, because I’m lactose intolerant.

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