Yogurt: The Food You Should Be Eating (and Making) Now

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Yogurt has been a food fad trending for millenniums, with scholars believing our Neolithic ancestors were the first to discover and devour it.  It fueled the armies of Genghis Kahn, cured the King of France of a very sour stomach (and disposition) and was labeled a “cure for old age” by a Nobel Prize winning scientist in the early 1900s. Yogurt has undergone a lot of transformation since then and all you need to do is walk through your dairy aisle (at a sensible social distance of course) to see the variety of options available today.

Well I have good news, like Little Miss Muffet who was rudely interrupted eating her curds and whey: You can make your own yogurt with 2 simple ingredients. 

Imagine having one of the most pliable foods stocked in your fridge to enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner, as a healthful snack or delectable dessert. It can take the place of sour cream and mayo and can be enjoyed with a spoon or a straw or as a frozen confection. Just as important as its taste is its proven health benefits. As a true probiotic, with billions of potent microorganisms, yogurt is a functional food that has added value characteristics. Populate your gut with this army of good bacteria and your bad bacteria just might surrender. Research show it helps with everything from glowing skin to a healthy heart and recent studies indicates yogurt eaters are basically happier and healthier. What better way to plow through a pandemic then learning to brew your own batch of probiotic rich, digestion restorative, tart, tangy and additive free yogurt.

Basic Cow’s Milk Yogurt

Make a mad dash to your market and grab with your latex coated hands a ½ gallon of organic whole milk, a container of your favorite plain yogurt (it must contain live and active cultures), and if possible, an instant read thermometer. Once you get home and you take a shower in Lysol, you are ready to begin.

Step one: In a large pot, bring the milk to 180 degrees F, over a low-medium heat.  Do not rush, it is important that the milk slowly comes to the correct temp allowing the proteins in the milk breakdown.

Step Two: Hold the milk at 180F for 10-15 minutes, by lowering the heat and pulling the pot partially off the flame.  By holding the milk, you will create a thicker yogurt in the end.

Step Three: Allow the milk to cool, by pouring it into a thoroughly cleaned pot or lidded container.  It generally takes about 45 minutes to cool, so go watch Gov. Cuomo give his daily briefing and come back and check on it.  You want the temp to reduce to 115F, this is the precise temp to introduce the yogurt starter. Too hot and the milk will kill the bacteria and prevent it from doing its thing.

Step Four: Take your container of yogurt out of the fridge and let it come to room temp, as your milk cools.  When the yogurt is 115F, scoop 2 TBL of your store -bought yogurt into a small bowl.  Ladle some milk into the bowl to temper the yogurt and then pour the inoculated (how’s that for a fancy medical term not related to COVID-19) yogurt into your container.

Step Five: Cover the pot, wrap it in a towel and place it in your oven, with the oven light on.  The ambient heat from the light will be just enough to cause the milk and yogurt to ferment- which breaks down the lactose and creates lactic acid- hence the tart and tangy taste.  This process also makes yogurt nearly lactose free, so that’s a bonus for those who generally avoid milk products. Put a sign on your oven so no one accidentally scorches your batch (I learned that the hard way)

Step Six: After 5-6 hours, check your yogurt.  If it jiggles, has a little liquid (whey) collecting on the surface and smells like yogurt—it’s done.  If you want it thicker or tarter, leave it for up to 12 hours.

Step Seven: Let come to room temp and refrigerate.

Step Eight: Enjoy your perfectly probiotic powerhouse for 1-2 weeks when kept in the fridge, covered.  Use 2 tablespoons of your batch to make the next, you can do that about 7 times before it loses its fermenting destiny.

To Make Greek Yogurt

Simply strain the yogurt using a sieve lined with cheesecloth, muslin or even a coffee filter.  Place the strainer over a large bowl and let it collect for up to 3 hours on the counter, or longer in the fridge until it is to your desired thickness. Because the whey has the bulk of sugar, your Greek yogurt is more protein packed with fewer carbs. Save the whey that collects, it makes a great smoothie, marinade and even a garden fertilizer.

Questions: I am here to help walk you through from percolation to inoculation, incubation, and fermentation so feel free to visit my website www.junehersh.com and send me a question. As I am staying put, chances are you’ll get a very quick reply.

Future postings will provide you with some creative and easy ways to integrate your homemade yogurt into your daily eating routine. So if your bag of chips and bowl of popcorn have been assaulted way too much, it’s time for a yogurt break.

June Hersh is the author of Recipes Remembered, a celebration of SurvivalThe Kosher Carnivore and Still Here, Inspiration from Survivors and Liberators of the Holocaust.  Her next book, Yoghurt a Global History (Reaktion Books, UK) is due out in 2021.