Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

I recently discussed my love for Armenian yogurt, made fresh from just-milked cows.  It would be impossible to replicate this unless you have your own stash of cows, and a really rich yogurt to start with, but you can make your own yogurt at home despite lacking a personal farm.  My family has been making yogurt for generations.  I'm pretty sure all Armenian families do, or at least at some point have.  There are some rules regarding yogurt-making, which I will share with you now.
  1. You always need yogurt (or yogurt cultures) to make yogurt.
  2. You should use whole milk. Using less fattening milks will make a huge difference in flavor and quality.
  3. You should begin with a good quality, flavorful yogurt.  The yogurt you produce will mimic the flavor of the yogurt used to make it, so pick a brand you enjoy.  My mom likes the Whole Foods brand for starting her yogurt.
  4. If you've made a successful batch of homemade yogurt before, you can use your homemade yogurt to make new batches of yogurt.  You don't have to start with store-bought yogurt every time.
Armenians enjoy yogurt in so many ways, whether it is simply spread on bread, flavored with honey and eaten by the spoonful, made into jajik (a cold cucumber soup with garlic, mint and watered down yogurt), or mixed with crushed garlic for our ever popular "matzoon sughtor" or "yogurt-garlic" sauce, which tops many of our favorite dishes including dolmades, manti, and even pasta!  My family loves topping our pasta with matzoon sughtor, and even some grated Parmesan cheese.  It's almost like a tangy, yogurty Alfredo, haha.  Matzoon sughtor is also great topped with sumac, a slightly sour purple spice used often in Middle Eastern cuisine.

However you enjoy your yogurt, you can brag to your guests that it's completely homemade!  What's better than that?  Feel free to reduce this recipe if you aren't a huge yogurt consumer--1/2 a gallon milk to 1/2 a cup yogurt, or a quart of milk to a 1/4 cup yogurt.  Lesser quantities will take less time for the milk to cool to 130 degrees F, so keep an eye on the temperatures!

Homemade Yogurt
Makes 1 gallon (or 4 quarts)

1 gallon whole milk
1 cup good quality, whole milk plain yogurt, mixed until smooth

Arrange blankets and kitchen towels in a pile on the counter with 4 quart-sized plastic containers on top, ready to fill your yogurts and then wrap them to stay warm.

Heat the milk in a tall pot (with room to swell) on high heat, stirring occasionally until it comes to a boil. When it swells, be careful it doesn't spill and remove from heat. Stir the hot milk occasionally off the heat for about 1 hour until it cools enough for you to put your finger in it and leave it in briefly without burning yourself, about 130 degrees F.

Temper some hot milk into the yogurt, a little at a time, and then stir yogurt into the pot of milk. Then ladle the hot milk into the containers, dispersing evenly. Cover containers with lids, and then wrap containers tightly with layers of kitchen towels and blankets to keep warm for at least 7 hours or overnight.

Then unwrap towels/blankets, remove the lids and wipe off condensation. Replace the lids and refrigerate quarts of yogurt.


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