Thursday, April 2, 2009

Our Best Yogurt Yet

Our friend Sylvie at Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener inspired a trip to the health food store to look for a better brand of yogurt culture. I wasn't expecting any more than what I usually see at Whole Foods. Imagine my surprise.

In fact, there were several appealing yogurts I had never seen before, including this one called "siggi's," made in New York State but billing itself as an "Icelandic style" yogurt or "skyr." Of all the yogurts in the dairy case it boasted the largest selection of active cultures: Acidophilus, Delbrueckii Bulgaricus, Delbrueckii Lactis and Thermophilus.

Don't ask me what all of it means. Microbiology was not by best subject in college. I just wanted something more than the usual.

The way I've been making yogurt for the past several months is to add some of last week's yogurt to a pot of whole, unhomogenized creamtop milk, provided by grass-fed cows and delivered to our door by South Mountain Creamery in Western Maryland. The original culture for this yogurt came from a quart of Seven Stars Farm yogurt purchased at Whole Foods. Seven Stars, a biodynamic, organic operation located in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, makes a wonderful yogurt. But I was itching for something a little different.

The "skyr" has an additional depth of flavor. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but there's something about the tang that hints just a wee bit at a barnyard--in a pleasant sort of way. In addition, I planned on adding whole cream to this next batch of yogurt. Because we haven't ordered any cream for some time, and because my wife hoards the half-and-half for her coffee, I've been making yogurt with milk only and the result has been thinner, with more curdles. My wife insisted the curdles were a result of my overcooking the yogurt. But I knew better. I was convinced that re-establishing the cream in my formula would return us to thick, rich yogurt.

Can I take a moment to gloat?

I mixed 3 1/4 cups creamtop milk with 1/2 cup heavy cream in a heavy sauce pan and brought it slowly up to 195 degrees over gentle heat. That takes about an hour. I then monitored the pot very closely and kept the mix around that temperature for about 15 minutes. After removing the pot from the heat, I partially filled the kitchen sink with cold water and placed the pot in it, stirring the milk until the temperature dropped to 120. At that point I mixed in 1 tablespoon of last week's yogurt and 1 tablespoon of "skyr." I then poured the mix into a warm quart canning jar and placed it along with two other canning jars filled with hot water in a small cooler. There the yogurt sat overnight, giving the bacteria plenty of time and a cozy, warm nest in which to get busy.

I showed the finished yogurt to my wife the next morning and she was convinced. It was the thickest, creamiest, tastiest yogurt we have ever made. I don't see much room for improvement, and I consider the $3 I spent on that 6-ounce container of "skyr" a valuable investment.


rojo said...

You have answered several questions I've been pondering recently: why my yogurt was thin and curdy (I wasn't using cream) and how that Icelandic style yogurt tastes. There is a cafe called Carma's in Baltimore that serves delicious Icelandic yogurt, but it is too expensive to eat on a regular basis! Now I can make my own. Thank you!

Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener said...

By all mean, do gloat!

Different yeasts (used in beer, wine, bread etc) yield different tastes, so makes sense to me that different bacteria strains also yield different yogurt flavors.

and now, I am the one who needs to look out for that brand.

...and, Ed, following of the discussion we had about heating up vs. non-heating up the milk on one of my posts, here is the latest result with my experimentation: heating raw milk to 120 and adding the starter resulted in yogurt thinner than I cared for - thicker than keffir certainly, but not as thick as when i heat up to 180F, or when I heat up the store-bought pasteurized milk to 120F. My theory on the later is that the store-bought milk is already heated to a high temperature through pasteurization at the plant and therefore is in that ready-to-coagulate stage. Thought you'd want to know... smile...
Next experiment: I'll try your method and heat to 195/2000 and hold it there... and see how it compares to the other yogurt.

Anonymous said...

$3 for a 6oz container??? Who buys this stuff, except as starter culture??

Ed Bruske said...

Rojo, you certainly can make any yogurt to match the most expensive brand. Just buy the expensive stuff once and use it as a culture. Some people really like Greek-style yogurt. It's very thick, almost like sour cream, because they strain it.

Sylvie, you make a good point about the store-bought pasteurized milk I hadn't thought of before. It's already been heated, whereas the raw milk hasn't. Heating is important for thickening as it binds the proteins together. Some manufacturers add powdered milk to concentrate the proteins, but we stay away from powdered milk (damaged cholesterol there).

Emily, Sylvie told me she's seen that same yogurt being sold for $6. I guess the people buying that are the ones coming from the Starbucks with their giant caramel lattes. I was glad to see this small container though, because I really didn't need a whole quart to start my yogurt. I will be making yogurt for months off that little $3 investment.

el said...

I will just say "yum." Culture is good!

future reference said...

Gloat away. Your recipe revolutionized my home yogurt production.

Ed Bruske said...

El, I have to say I'm really glad I started making my own yogurt, especially with the primo milk we get. It's one thing I can make all year round no matter what the weather, and nobody has to see me doing it.

Emily, I'm glad to hear this information has been helpful. Fresh yogurt is a great thing to have in the fridge.

brett said...

Ed, thanks! I tried making yogurt a month or two ago and failed miserably. I followed your example above this past weekend and made an A+ batch.

Ed Bruske said...

Brett, I am really glad to hear that. Thanks for the feedback. One thing I've found with yogurt is it never comes out exactly the same every time. But I think this formula is a winner.