If there is any food I continue to cherish and love that came from my homeland, it is yogurt. Not any yogurt, but Bulgarian yogurt. A friend of my sister told her once “You eat yogurt with everything”. And this is true. Bulgarians eat (plain) yogurt for breakfast, lunch and dinner; this includes plain yogurt on its own, as an ingredient or a condiment to savory dishes. We even make a yogurt drink (but I will not torture you with that recipe).
So, what is yogurt? It is nothing more than warm milk and a starter/culture. The two are mixed and kept in a warm place for a few hours (which allows the culture to grow), and when the desired thickness and tartness is reached, it is preserved in the refrigerator.
Why homemade yogurt? It is fresh and healthy (no additives or sugars), but most importantly, the natural fermentation process minimizes the lactose content in the milk (which makes it easy to digest) and the formed bacteria is very good for your tummy because it creates an environment where the nutritional value of all the foods we eat is increased. Therefore, it helps your digestive system function more efficiently.
For breakfast, I love my homemade yogurt simple; a handful of berries, rolled oats, few sliced almonds and topped with honey. Yum! Yum! Yum!
I have listed 2 methods (2 different culture sources) for making homemade yogurt below. I prefer using whole farm milk (the one that comes in glass bottles).
Using a freeze-dried starter (found in most natural and organic food stores). Those are small packets of freeze-dried yogurt, which make about a quart (1 liter) of homemade yogurt. I prefer using them, because I get thicker, firmer yogurt and more consistent results.
My grandmother’s method, using a small amount of yogurt as a starter. In this method the consistency depends on the quality and the quantity of the starter. The only commercial yogurt that should be used as a starter is the one made with milk (and cream) and bacteria; NO gelatin, sugar, or pectin as an ingredients. Otherwise it will not work. Also, the fresher the starter is, the better.
Makes a quart (1 liter) of yogurt
• 1 quart (1 liter) whole milk*, at a room temperature
• 1 packet of dry-freeze bacteria
1 teaspoon of fresh plain yogurt (see note about Method 2), at a room temperature
• 2 (16 oz.) glass jars, or a 1-quart glass or a ceramic container (do not use plastic)
• Instant read thermometer (optional)
• Medium size sauce pan
• Warm blanket
1. Fill your jars/container with hot water and leave them until ready to use.
2. Turn the stove to a medium-low heat and slowly heat the milk until it reaches 180 F (82 C) or until you see steam coming from the surface of the milk (it takes about 8-10 minutes).
Using freeze-dry bacteria starter:
3. Stir the freeze-dry bacteria with a small amount of lukewarm milk. Set aside.
4. Let the milk cool off until it reaches 125 F (51-52 C), it takes about 15-18 minutes.
5. Pour the dry-freeze and milk mixture into the pot of warm milk and stir well.
Using fresh yogurt starter:
3. Mix the yogurt with a small amount of lukewarm milk. Set aside.
4. Let the milk cool off until it reaches 105 F (42-44 C), it takes about 30 minutes.
5. Take a spoon of the warm milk and mix it with the yogurt milk mixture you created earlier. Repeat the process with a few more warm milk spoons (this prevents the yogurt from curdling). Pour the yogurt/starter mixture into the warm milk and mix well.
6. Empty the water from your jars/container and fill with the warm yogurt mix. Cover the jars/container with foil or lids and wrap them in a warm blanket. Incubate for 6-8 hours. The longer they incubate, the firmer and tarter the yogurt will become (I leave mine for 8 hours). Refrigerate to stop the process.
The homemade yogurt is good for about a week.
*The larger the fat content in the milk is, the thicker the yogurt will be.