The whole COVID-19 thing has really made me reevaluate my dependence on stores for the fresh foods I love. I already make just about everything from scratch. I started doing this because it was so hard to find low salt anything in processed food when my husband first got diagnosed with hypertension. After I developed a wheat allergy, it became even more important. During this pandemic, the stores ran out of things like toilet paper and then many items were severely limited or missing altogether. Here I am trying to avoid going into stores more than once every two weeks and milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt were limited to one brand and one small container each trip!
Hubby dearest and I are big yogurt eaters and for many years we bought the largest pail of plain yogurt whenever we went to town. The problem was we often ate all the yogurt before our next trip. Plus the cost of good yogurt by the bucket was just plain prohibitive even before the pandemic. I decided to learn to make yogurt by the pot at home. Turns out, it’s really easy! You need milk and a good pot and a most critical, a good thermometer. I am also lucky because my old oven oven can actually be set for 38C (100F) for incubating. I start with 4 litres (about 1 US gallon) of milk plus 1 cup of skim milk powder (homogenized fresh milk is what I personally get the best results from.) I heat it to 77C (170F). This is the hard part because you have to “mind” the pot. The heat has to be low and the milk needs to be stirred as the temperature rises to avoid scorching on the bottom. I generally do this while I wash up the supper dishes so I am in the kitchen anyway. I then let the milk cool down to 39C (~100F) and stir in about one quarter cup of high quality starter yogurt from a brand I like. Generally this is done before bed. I leave the pot overnight and by morning I have a large pot of fresh yogurt.
Yogurt is a bit tricky. Sometimes it takes a little longer, sometimes it comes out watery. I started adding the extra skim milk powder to reduce the watery low yield end product. Even good yogurt that comes out right will always have a little whey. However I am prepared for that. I ordered this lovely strainer and if I leave even thin watery yogurt in it for a couple of hours I get really nice Greek style thickness. If I want really thick yogurt, say Balkan style, I leave it even longer. I can even get to a cream cheese consistency if I keep pouring off the whey and leave the yogurt sit in the strainer for about twenty four hours.
Watery yogurt with lots of whey is not such a bad thing. The whey can be used to make smoothies or added to bread instead of milk. Hubby dearest likes whey smoothies. I’m not such a big fan of them. To me they have a bitter sour taste. I don’t put whey in my bread because we often eat meat with bread and we don’t mix those in one meal. However, if I take the whey, bring it to a boil and then let it cool and strain it, I get ricotta cheese. I really like home made ricotta.
Yesterday, I decided to try making yogurt from ingredients that can be stored long term. For starter I used a small single serving package of plain yogurt in a cup which I froze months ago in the lead up to the COVID-19 lock down. I used all powered skim milk for the yogurt. And it worked! No powder milk taste. The disadvantage is it was only about half yogurt and the rest was whey. No fear. After straining, it was nice and thick and the whey made a lovely ricotta. (Four litres of milk from skim milk powder made according to directions with one additional cup of powder made 2 litres of Greek style yogurt and just over a cup of ricotta cheese.)
I have lots of fresh spinach and basil from the garden and some lovely rice based gluten free lasagna noodles (since I allergic to wheat). We are going to have a vegetarian lasagna for supper. Next time I will add more skim milk powder. Now I know I can successfully keep the ingredients for yogurt in storage for months ahead and make it whenever I want to. Pandemic shortages will not prevent us from having fresh yogurt when we want it.
What have I learned from this? I can freeze yogurt starter and I can make yogurt from powered skim milk. I will add extra skim milk powder to reduce getting a watery product next time. I might try adding some butter too, to put back some fat. Yogurt starter can be reused over and over again but I personally prefer to only reuse my own starter a few times as I find the flavour drifts. To be really “preppie” I suppose I should have dry powdered starter on hand. That is readily available ordered on line. I’ll consider it.