raw milk yogurt

Photo by Shannon Stonger

by Shannon Stonger
Health Impact News

Yogurt is one of the most recognized cultured foods in North America. Often over-sweetened and generally made with low-quality ingredients, it is one of the few fermented foods easily accessible at any grocery store.

But it isn’t all it could be – not by a long shot. Good quality, probiotic-rich yogurt can be cultured fairly simply at home using the best milk available to you. Unprocessed cow’s milk, goat milk, and raw milk of all varieties can be used to make yogurt from thick to thin. It can then be sweetened with raw honey or fresh fruit, making a delicious breakfast or creamy treat.

Thermophilic vs. Mesophilic Yogurt

There are several ways to accomplish creamy, home-cultured yogurt. First, however, it is important to understand the different types of cultures that can be used and what technique is required for that specific culture.

Generally speaking, there are two types of yogurt starters – thermophilic and mesophilic. Thermophilic starters refer to those that require a warm environment (110 degrees F or warmer) to properly culture. Mesophilic cultures, on the other hand, generally culture at warm room temperature (65-85 degrees F).

Most commercial yogurt is made using a thermophilic process and good quality store-bought yogurt can therefore be used as the thermophilic starter for warm-incubation yogurt making.

thermometer in warm milk

Unless making mesophilic (counter top) yogurt, a thermometer is a handy, inexpensive kitchen tool for the job. Photo by Shannon Stonger.

To Heat or Not Heat The Milk

At home yogurt-making often involves heating the milk to near boiling for the first step. This heating step is used to make very thick, spoonable yogurt. Whether you begin with raw or pasteurized milk, heating the milk to 160-180 degrees kills any competing bacteria pre-existent in the milk. It also works to break down the proteins so that the yogurt sets thicker and with a creamier texture. Keep in mind that this step is unrelated to the type of culture used to make the yogurt, as the milk is always cooled down before adding the culture.

This step can be skipped for thermophilic yogurt and mesophilic yogurt alike, though you will need to heat it to 110 degrees when culturing with a thermophilic starter. Keep in mind, however, that the yogurt is often a much thinner consistency as a result.

Method: Electric Yogurt Maker

Commercially yogurt makers come in various sizes and with varying price ranges. If raw milk yogurt is desired, be sure that the manufacturer states that the temperature does not exceed 110-112 degrees at any point during the culturing period.

This is one of the easiest ways to make thermophilic yogurt. Simply heat the milk gently to 110 degrees, add ¼ cup of store-bought live yogurt or other thermophilic yogurt culture, and gelatin if using. Whisk vigorously and pour into yogurt maker’s vessels. Allow to culture according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

If pasteurized milk is being used, heat the milk to 180 and then cool to 110 before transferring to yogurt maker.

warm milk being made into yogurt

Small bubbles beginning to form around the edge of the pan indicates that the milk has heated to 165 degrees. Photo by Shannon Stonger.

Method: Makeshift Yogurt Incubator

If you do not own a commercial yogurt maker, the incubation conditions can be mimicked at home with some simple equipment.

One option is to use a cooler with a heat source. The cooler traps the heat, giving the thermophilic yogurt a warm environment to culture in. You can use either a heating pad set on low as the heat source or hot water.

If using the heating pad, plug it in and set it on low and lay it into the bottom of the cooler. Warm and cool your milk, add the culture starter and gelatin, if using, and seal the jars. Place these on top of the heating pad and close the cooler as much as you can with the heating pad cord running from the cooler. Culture for 12-24 hours.

If using warm water, hot tap water is generally the right temperature. Simply place your 110 degree milk, culture starter, and gelatin (if using) in sealed jars. Put these jars into the cooler and pour hot water around the jars, coming a couple of inches below the lid of the jars. After 12 hours either remove the yogurt or replace the cooled water with a fresh batch of hot water and finish the remaining 12 hours of incubation.

This same process can be achieved in a large pot of warm water wrapped with a towel for insulation.

incubating yogurt

Glass quart jars are a wonderful vessel for incubating yogurt. Photo by Shannon Stonger.

Method: Crock Pot

This method produces a thick yogurt but needs to be modified for raw milk yogurt. For raw milk yogurt in the crock pot, follow this tutorial.

For heated-milk yogurt in a two-quart crock pot:

  • Turn your crock pot to low and pour in 1/2 gallon of milk.
  • Heat on low for 2 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Once 2 hours and 30 minutes have elapsed turn your crock pot off and unplug it. Let the milk cool in the crock with the lid on for 3 hours.
  • After 3 hours remove 1-2 cups of the warmed milk and place in a bowl. To that add 1/2 cup of yogurt with live active cultures and mix very well.
  • Pour the yogurt-milk mixture back into the milk and whisk thoroughly.
  • Place the cover back on the crock and wrap the entire crock pot in a thick bath towel or two.
  • Let it culture overnight, 8-12 hours.
  • In the morning stir yogurt (if desired) and store in glass quart jars or a container of your choice.
  • For optimum texture, refrigerate for at least 8 hours before using.
storing yogurt

A warm water bath, insulated with a towel, works well for those who do not have an electric yogurt incubator. Photo by Shannon Stonger.

Method: Counter Top

The final method that can be employed to make yogurt is to make it right on the counter top using a mesophilic culture specifically designed to culture at room temperature. These cultures can be reused, so long as they are cared for properly. They can also be utilized in making raw milk yogurt but the culture must be perpetuated with pasteurized milk so as to not allow the organisms in the raw milk to compete with the yogurt culture.

To make counter top yogurt, the milk can be heated and then cooled to room temperature for a thicker texture. Otherwise fresh milk – at room temperature or chilled – can be mixed with a small portion of the culture, as indicated by the instructions accompanying your culture. This is then covered and allowed to culture at room temperature (65-75 degrees) for 8-24 hours.

The culture itself remains separate from the yogurt and can then be kept pure and used to make successive batches of yogurt. It will have to be multiplied, from time to time, using pasteurized milk.

home-made yogurt finished product

Photo by Shannon Stonger.

Raw Milk Yogurt

For those who go out of their way to purchase or raise their own raw milk, the idea of heating it seems counterproductive. Indeed, the enzymes and much of what makes raw milk worth seeking out is destroyed when heating milk above the culturing temperature.

Raw milk yogurt can absolutely be achieved, either with the knowledge that it will not be as thick as store-bought, or with gelatin added to create a more viscous yogurt. In either case, the enzymes and nutrients remain intact when the milk is left unpasteurized.

Using Gelatin to Thicken Raw Milk Yogurt

For every quart of milk used, ½ Tablespoon of gelatin can be added to the yogurt. To do this, set aside ½ cup of cold or room temperature milk and sprinkle the gelatin over it while you warm the remaining milk to 110 degrees. Note that heating milk to 110 degrees does not damage the raw milk.

Once the milk has reached that temperature, whisk in the gelatin-milk mixture thoroughly. Proceed with the culturing process as you usually would, with any of the incubation methods listed above.

About the Author

Shannon Stonger grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota. She studied chemistry in college, graduated, and married her husband one month later. They were then blessed with two baby boys within the first four years of marriage. Having babies gave their family a desire to return to the old paths – to nourish their family with traditional, homegrown foods; rid their home of toxic chemicals and petroleum products; and give their boys a chance to know a simple, sustainable way of life. They are currently building a homestead from scratch on two little acres in central Texas. There’s a lot to be done to become somewhat self-sufficient, but they are debt-free and get to spend their days living this simple, good life together with their four young children.