This is a letter we received from Claire Barker, a cheese maker in Colorado. It was very kind of her to share her experiences with us about making yogurt. (If you have something to share, send it along to email@example.com). We always love to hear from you!
Hi All – Oh, I always get SUCH a kick out of your newsletters. It is wonderful to be in the ambiance of folks who love what they do and enjoy each other’s company to boot!
Since there were two little missives on yogurt making this month, I thought I’d kick in my two cents. Yogurt is my “go to” use for extra milk.
I first started making yogurt when I was about 12. We had just moved (again!) to northern New Mexico, and shopping was no longer a matter of walking to the neighboring store for my mother, but a drive to the nearest “big town” which often didn’t yield some of the food I really liked to eat – amongst them yogurt. (Hard to believe that now-a-days, but ya gotta remember how LONG ago that was!)
Anyhow, my sister came for a visit and showed me how to make my own yogurt out of store bought milk (which was easy to find) and a spoon or two of the precious yogurt she had brought along from California. (Food Coops were just starting to be a gleam in people’s eyes about then.) I was 12, and not prone to being dedicated to any sort of routine by nature (which still plagues me!) but I kept up the yogurt making – one batch to the next until we moved again, about four months later!
I’ve been making it off and on ever since and still utilize the sort of “whatever milk I have, whatever incubation system I have on hand” type of approach, and yes, I often space out the time, and it is still almost always more than edible. Occasionally I have a yeast attack, but the chickens like that, so it doesn’t go to waste!).
I recently had my biggest surprise with yogurt making ever! You already know I’m not usually terribly routine, but, since having my own herd of (mostly alpine and alpine cross) goats for almost 2/3rds of my lifespan (yeesh!) and being frugal about extra expenditures of both energy, time and dollars – I’ve always opted:
1. to take the freshly milked offering from my generous “girls” directly through the milk filter – into the clean clean glass jar (almost always quarts, but sometimes half gallons). It is already around 90F, as fresh as it comes and UN-pasturized. My lactation cycles are anything from first freshener and restarts to going on three years of constant lactation off of one breeding nanny.
2. to add the yogurt starter that I happen to have on hand – which can be one of your marvelous packets or a tablespoon or so of the wide variety of commercial plain yogurts available today that are “well made” with “the right stuff.” This is usually because I find it on sale – and I can’t leave it to pine away on the store shelf without passing on it’s genetics, now can I? Plus, I am always curious to see what will come out of the process – it is always different! but yummy!
3. I then take a small square of plastic wrap and seal the top of the jar-and add the right lid (which is the hardest darn thing to find sometimes!)- screwing it down tight. I have often shaken the jar vigorously at this point to disperse the yogurt bacteria well throughout the jar of warm fresh milk. I add the plastic wrap because a lot of my lids are old, and also because, despite my best cleaning intentions, I feel a lid is probably where most invading bacteria will find a little toe hold as the lid is drying from being cleaned.
4. I then place the jar in one of many situations to incubate. None of them take extra energy – in the loosest sense: a cardboard box with a big blanket, down coat or other insulating material put in a sunny window or warm corner; a small insulated cooler I have filled to just below the neck of the jars with hot water (110-120F), lidded and snugged up with extra insulation if I’m in the middle of winter or the room is cold. I re-use the water to wash the floor, or water plants/trees. I had a friend who would stick hers in the gas oven with the pilot light already going, and another who puts a big double boiler on the back of her wood stove, the point being that none of these incubator systems is particularly “accurate” over time-but they do the job just fine.
5. Sometime after six, eight or even 12 to 14 hours, I remember I’ve got yogurt YO! And I pull it out and put it in the fridge.
Independent of what culture I use – I have had anything from firm custard-like -(which is just SO Awesome, not because it tastes better, but because it gives me a sense that the ultimate yogurt deity has blessed me) to the runnier “smoothie” sort of texture, to the curds and whey. All have that wonderful yogurt flavor and fresh yogurt smell, and while I’d like to be “more consistent” that, too, would require that I take out a lot of research equipment to assess the decline and rate of my incubation, the bacteria present in the raw milk, the raw milk itself because of where it is in it’s lactation, which goat I took it from – well, you get the picture.
My big surprise this last month was this – I am, for the first time in a LONG time, going to dry off the entire herd and let them start over this summer, for a variety of reasons (extended cold, need to really clean out my milking space, repair and paint etc., get a new one started and an old one a “last go at possibly making a doe,” etc.)
One of the reasons is that I had a new starter from last year who hit a metabolic something or other and her milk production has declined WAY below what I anticipated, as well a more mature doe who really wants babies and just shut her faucets off after two years. So, my usual supply to cover ours and our neighbor’s milk needs has been severely challenged, making me save any extra in those wondrous glass jars over a couple days or the week. NOTE: I am NOT promoting this method AT ALL! Just sharing a serendipitous happening.
I had an entire extra pint of fresh warm milk the other day, to which I experimentally added those tidbits of COLD milk from the week before (I know – I know – always discouraged, but hey, I like to experiment and, like I said, something around here will eat even the failures) to bring it up to almost the quart amount.
I added a good couple tablespoons of cold “Greek yogurt” to make it a full quart, lidded as explained above, gave it a good shake and put it in the “hotwaterinthecoolerbath” for incubation. Now, this meant that the entire “start” of this batch was probably around 50F.
What came out 12 hours later was an amazing, thick, creamy – what we think of as traditional yogurt. Oh my.
It hasn’t been repeated successfully by the way – in taste, yes, but not in consistency.
Claire Barker, Colorado
PS I’ve been pondering the miracle again since I wrote about it and wonder if starting out cold – the anti-bacterial cells that all raw milk
has weren’t in full swing (because they were cold!), and so the yogurt-making bacteria could flourish on that batch? Hmmm – life is a mystery and yogurt is one of them!