Homemade Yogurt – The Pioneer Method

After posting my bread baking post, someone asked for the homemade yogurt recipe and instructions. Homemade yogurt is so much less expensive than store-bought, I just can’t imagine buying yogurt anymore. It is delicious and incredibly fresh-tasting – I prefer it to all brands of store bought. What is it not, however, is super thick. If you want your homemade yogurt to have the dense thick texture of store bought greek yogurt, you have to add a step (strain the yogurt) at the end. I’ve worked this recipe out such that I am really happy with my thickness and I don’t strain. But you can. I won’t judge.

You need some equipment to make yogurt: a heat source and a place that will hold the heat steady (or kinda sorta steady) for a number of hours. You also need milk and bacteria, but not just any bacteria. I will show you my way of handling the whole process, but at every step of the way you could achieve the goal of that particular step in your own way. Just keep the goal in mind – heat or storage or inoculation or whatever – and come up with a way to get there that works in your kitchen.

To make an omelette, you gotta break a few eggs, right? Well, get ready to break eggs and spill milk. There’s no crying in yogurt-making. I made a few inedible batches on my way to perfection, and every now and then something goes wrong and the yogurt just plain doesn’t “yog.” I end up with thickish milk for the dogs. Blech. But MOSTLY this works well and is fabulous. Here’s the step by step:

You need a half gallon of milk


Jersey milk... mmmmm, creamy. Note the moody sky...

Jersey milk… mmmmm, creamy. Note the moody sky…

and some commercial yogurt (or some leftover yogurt form the last batch you made). I always eat all my yogurt up and then have to buy some commercial yogurt for the bacteria. You can buy just the bacteria in packets, like yeast for bread. I’ve tried it and wasn’t happy. I choose a brand of yogurt that has a flavor I really like. MUST be plain yogurt. MUST have live cultures. Most brands in the supermarket now boast “live cultures” right on the label. So far every brand I’ve tried has worked just fine. Choose your brand by flavor – I really love how mild the Fage brand is, and around here I can also get Greek Gods. Both taste really good to me, and so that’s what I use.

0% fat is ok. Full fat is ok too.

0% fat is ok. Full fat is ok too.

You also need an empty 12 cup coffee carafe from a coffee maker you threw away (ok, you don’t have to chuck the coffee maker. But really if you’re not using a French press, I need to take you out back and smack you around a little.).

pretentious intentionally tilted shot

pretentious intentionally tilted shot

And you need a cooler. Remove all the ice and beer. Mine lives in my kitchen, since I make yogurt about once a week.

yes, I got paint on my cooler...

yes, I got paint on my cooler…

Now you’re going to multitask. FOCUS: you’re going to fill up a tea kettle (not pictured) with water and set that on the stove to boil. AND at the same time, pour the entire half gallon of milk into a nice large pot and set that on the stove. Bring the water to a boil. When is boils, pour it into the coffee carafe. Put the carafe in the cooler, in the middle.

Now the milk. Some of you will hate this, but there is a reason for my madness. I boil the milk. I buy incredibly fresh raw milk from the farm down in the valley, 3 miles from my home… and then I boil it. The Cowbella milk in the photo is a special and rare treat: it is from Jersey cows and I never used it before. Jerseys give a richer milk – more cream. I thought that would make spectacular yogurt, so when I saw it at my veggie farmstand, I snagged it. My normal milk is from some other breed of cows and is a more “normal” percentage of milkfat. The normal yogurt I make is totally wonderful, but I thought some extra creamy would be a nice treat. It is. So yeah: go ahead and bring it to a boil. STAY RIGHT THERE and whisk it off the stove as soon as it starts foaming… or get ready to clean your entire kitchen. Boiling milk foams up and flies out of the pot and makes a godawful mess. Ask me how I know this. Facebook strikes again, and again, and again.

Ok, you have a carafe of just boiled water sitting in a cooler (make sure you shut the lid!!!), and a pot of just boiled milk. Set the pot of milk aside to cool to approximately 110°F. I forgot to tell you that you need a thermometer, although you could probably wing it (since your body is 98.6, 110 will feel pleasantly warm – how’s that for vague?). I don’t because I happen to have a thermometer.


my hand looks really deformed.

my hand looks really deformed.

While you’re waiting, no, you can’t go update your status or take a selfie with your steaming pot. You have more work to do. Get yourself containers to put your yogurt in. You’ll need 64 ounces worth of container space, and you can organize that anyway you want. 4 pints? Great. 2 quarts? Fine. 2 pints and a quart? Go for it. But locate your containers. Wash them thoroughly, and rinse them even more thoroughly. You want CLEAN containers and they must have good lids. Go. Now.

Hello ice cream containers. Welcome back to the kitchen.

Hello ice cream containers. Welcome back to the kitchen.

Place 1 tablespoon of plain commercial yogurt in each container. My ratio is 1 tablespoon per 16 ounces of milk. If you’re using quart containers, then use two tablespoons. Sorry if that was obvious.


blobs in cups

blobs in cups

Now check your milk temp again. You don’t want it to cool too much. Aim for close to 110. When you’re sure you’re at 110 or so (112 is probably ok, 108 should be fine), pour the milk into the cups. Wheeeee! Spilled milk time! No crying, cupcake, you’ve got stirring to do. Stir the yogurt on the bottom into the milk you just poured in. I use a plain old spoon for this. Stir each container really well.

Plop the containers into the cooler near the carafe. Yes, I know my cooler need a good cleaning. Tomorrow. I’ll get to it tomorrow.

I really need to clean out the cooler.

I really need to clean out the cooler.

Now leave it. Do NOT open the cooler. I let mine sit for 24 hours, but that’s because I usually forget about it (10 p.m., heading for bed, then “OH SHIT! The yogurt!”). I honestly don’t know how long it takes, but I’d say start with 6-8 hours and see what you have. If it looks like liquid, slam that lid shut and walk away quickly. Return in another 6 hours.

You will read elsewhere that leaving it for a long time makes it wicked tart. Hasn’t happened to me yet. Not sure if that’s a function of my milk or my culture, or just plain luck, but we’re well into year 2 of making yogurt all the time and never has it been unpleasantly tart. Runny? Yes. But never a harsh flavor.

The runny problem was 100% solved by boiling the milk. Yes, it totally negates the wonderful raw enzyme thing about using raw milk. I don’t care. I want yogurt I can eat with a spoon, not weird-tasting milk. This method works consistently for me. Tweak and adjust to make it work for you too!

One story before I depart: after a few runny batches, I had a thought. Pectin is a totally natural product that is used to thicken jam. That should work to thicken yogurt, I thought, so I bought some. It comes in packets. I heated my half gallon of milk, and poured in the packet of pectin. In a split second it was curds and whey – big clumpy weird blobs of congealed milk in a sea of whitish-grey watery blech. I was screaming and laughing and freaking out. It happened SO fast! So… I reached into the pot of nastiness, and… clumped up and kneaded and squished the cirds into a ball, then flattened the ball into a disk… then sliced the disk nicely and served with crackers and a glass of wine. Snort. CHEESE! The title of my autobiography is “The Accidental Cheesemaker.”

The economics of at home yogurt making: The milk I buy is $2.25 for a half gallon. That means 8 ounces of yogurt costs me $2.25 divided by 8, plus 1 tablespoon of starter yogurt (which could be free if I was organized enough to use my own). You do the math. I think it’s a lot cheaper than commercial yogurt.

The finished product. The cream is very yellow!

The finished product. The cream is very yellow!






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2 Responses to Homemade Yogurt – The Pioneer Method

  1. Tasha says:

    Heather– I’m also a veteran yogurt maker with a lot of failed batches and lessons learned. A couple of additional suggestions:
    1. incubation: If you have an old (like, wedgewood type) stove, with a real flame pilot light, it just may be warm enough to incubate yogurt. The one in the house I used to live in certainly was. Too warm: I had to prop the door open a smidge. Where I live now doens’t have a stove with a pilot but it doesn’t get cold (Florida). I turn on the oven to preheat for 2-3 minutes, then turn it off and put the yogurt in there overnight. It seems to work fine even though clearly the temp is lowering slowly over time.
    2. starter: live culture yogurt freezes just fine and are still active. I fill a little tiny cube sized ice cube tray with a batch of successful yogurt (or with yogurt purchased from the store) and then pop those cubes into a ziplock and keep them in the freezer. Then, if I don’t manage to save enough to use on the next batch of yogurt, I can just add a few cubes. The tiny cubes are about 3/4 t.

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