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For Christmas this year my lovely husband bought me a cookbook I had been pining over for some time.

It is written by one of my favorite chefs and food writers- who happens also to be Norwegian, named Andreas Viestad. You may have seen him as a host on the television series “New Scandinavian Cooking” which also airs in the US on PBS. It’s a really great show and is where I was first introduced to Viestad. He also writes “The Gastronomer” for the Washington Post, where he sort of goes into detail about the nitty gritty scientific processes that surround food making.

The cookbook I received  is called “Ekte Mat” (Real Food) and is his newest cookbook. It is very much centered around his farm and has a very “DIY” sort of feel about it.

I really love his food philosophy of promoting regional foods, heirloom varieties of fruit and veg, and his support of sustainable agriculture. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he’s funny and quite adorable, too.

The day I got the book I flipped through the pages, drooling over the beautiful photography which include absolutely delicious looking foods and scenes from his farm. I stopped at the page which said “Lag din egen yogurt” “make your own yogurt” and was interested over how simple he made it sound.

I had wanted to make my own yogurt for some time, but the instructions I had found before seemed a bit complicated and involved buying a yogurt incubator.

Not so, according to Andreas.

Now of course, he admits that his process can yield varying results, but if you don’t mind that, then it’s as simple as heating up some milk, adding a few spoonfuls of plain store bought yogurt and then leaving it on the counter overnight.

Well that’s definitely easy.

However, I do want relatively consistent results, so I set about seeing what I could do to achieve that.

What I found is that while it may indeed require a few extra steps beyond Andreas’ instructions, it’s still incredibly simple to do, doesn’t require any sort of specialized expensive tools, and I’m here to tell you how!

Homemade Yogurt:

For myself and Yngve I only make about 1 liter (about a quart) of yogurt per week. If you’ve got more mouths to feed than us, or if you happen to eat more yogurt, then you might want to make more, but the process is easy so making more isn’t any more difficult.

This is what you need to make yogurt:

  • milk, preferably whole milk, but you could use low-fat. I tried once with skim and it didn’t work out at all.
  • starter culture. This is a fancy way to say: buy a small container of plain yogurt at the store. Here in Norway, I use TINE. (because that’s pretty much my only choice) but in the US, I’ve heard the best starter cultures come from dannon and stonyfield farm. I don’t know because I haven’t made yogurt from those. You only need to purchase this once. After you have made yogurt, you can use your own yogurt as the starter for subsequent batches.
  • jars to keep your yogurt in
  • a pot to heat the milk in
  • a small cooler
  • optional: a kitchen thermometer to check the temp of the milk. This is optional because you can indeed do this without one and I’ll explain that, too.

I start by pouring the milk into the pot and heating it up to about 194 F (90 c). This will: 1. kill any undesirable bacteria that could compete with the friendly bacteria that will be making your yummy yogurt , and 2. denature the milk proteins so that they set together- I read about this somewhere and asked Yngve what all this protein denaturing was for. My biophysicist hubby did a little research and gave me a long winded and complicated scientific explanation which I have promptly forgotten. Basically, heating the milk up that much should result in a slightly firmer yogurt with a nicer texture.  You don’t HAVE to do this, it is not critical to making yogurt, it just makes it a little bit better.

If you do not have a kitchen thermometer, scald the milk- ie, heat it just to before it starts to boil, then remove it from the heat. Don’t freak out if you forget it and it reaches the boiling point, it is not a crisis.

Cool the milk down to around 98-107 (37-42 celcius). You can do this with a thermometer OR, you can do what I do when I’m feeling particularly lazy- just feel the side of the pot with your hand. It should be a bit warmer than body temperature, but not hot. You don’t want to kill the nice bacteria that will be making your yogurt.

Once the milk has cooled, add about 1/4 cup of yogurt starter per liter (quart) of milk. Or, just throw in a few heaping tablespoons. It doesn’t have to be exact. Stir it up to evenly distribute all those bacteria.

Now, you’ll want to pour it into your container of preference.

I use old jam jars that have been thoroughly washed and sterilized. To sterilize, you can either put them through your hottest dishwasher cycle, boil them, or, stick them on a baking sheet in an oven heated to 350 F (180 C) for about 20 minutes.

Pour the inoculated milk into the glass jars, put the lids on and proceed to the next step.

I have to admit, I got the next idea from The Frugal Girl who has an excellent tutorial on yogurt making as well.

Put your jars into a cooler, fill the cooler with water heated to around 120 F (48 C). (this should feel quite warm, but not so hot you can’t have your hand in it- sort of warm bath temperature)

Now, close the cooler, put it in a draft free location where it will go undisturbed and  wait. Incubation can take anywhere from between 4-8 hours. Around the 4 hour mark, open the cooler and remove a jar. Tilt it a bit to see how well its firmed up, if its firm and has a thin layer of a yellowish liquid on top, its done. If its mostly firm with no liquid, its no biggie- you can either put it back in or stick it in the fridge, it will be fine either way and will firm up more in the fridge anyway. I don’t have the best cooler for this job, so my water tends to cool off quicker than if it was a thicker  one. To offset this, I’ll pour boiling water into the cooler and let it sit for a minute before pouring it out and adding the 120 degree water. I also wrap it up in a couple bath towels to help insulate it even more.

When its done I think it should cool in the fridge for at least 6 hours before eating it, but I don’t think that step is absolutely crucial- it just makes it firm up that little bit more. Opened jars should last around a week, unopened jars a month. We eat it all in the space of a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. I only make 2 jars at a time because I only HAVE 2 jars. (we need to eat more jam)

The total actual hands on time in this process is really no more than 15-20 minutes. Mostly it’s just waiting. I like to start my yogurt in the morning that way it should be done by the afternoon/evening where it can go in the fridge overnight for breakfast the next day. Anyone can find 20 minutes to throw some milk in a pan, heat it, pour it into jars, stick it in a cooler and forget about it for the next 4-8 hours.

And believe me, its totally worth the 20 minutes. Homemade yogurt just tastes… way better. It has this delicious fresh taste that is incomparable to store bought. It is less tangy, creamier… its just delicious.

Here are some reasons why I think you should make your own yogurt (at least try it, anyway!)

1. It’s easy and tastes better

2. Its cheaper. If I buy 1/2 liter containers of plain yogurt, they are nearly twice the cost of buying the equivalent in whole milk. If I was to buy the smaller cups of yogurt, the cost can go as high as 4 times more.

3. Its better for the environment. You aren’t purchasing lots of little cups of yogurt to clog the landfills.

4. YOU control what you put in it. Commercial yogurt (especially in the US) is loaded with stabilizers and artificial colors and not to mention sugar. LOTS AND LOTS of sugar. You just don’t need as much with homemade yogurt.

5. Its good for you! The probiotics in yogurt have been shown to improve GI health and can even reduce lactose intolerance in some people!

Here is how I have my yogurt almost every day:

I take some thawed, frozen strawberries (I’d use fresh if they were in season!)

Mash them up!

I also add a few drops of vanilla extract, about 1/2 cup of delicious yogurt… then mix… (if you want it sweeter than the berries give, add a couple teaspoons of honey or, in my case, a little sweetener)

Then I top it with my favorite homemade low-cal granola, and enjoy.

The whole thing (including the granola) is only 330 calories and I feel like I’m having desert for breakfast. Its THAT yummy.

I’ve even made it with no sugar added strawberry jam- you could try blueberries or raspberries or blackberries. Anything! You are limited only by your imagination. You can use homemade yogurt in baking bread, as a substitute for sour cream, in smoothies, or homemade frozen yogurt- really, there are so many applications for yogurt! You can make as much or as little as you want!

I hope my instructions were clear (if they weren’t, leave me a comment and I’ll try to fix it so they are) and I hope this inspires at least one other to try making their own yogurt.