Greek yogurt totally from scratch

OK, if you want to make Greek yogurt (think brands like Fage and Chobani), the simple way to do it is to drain plain yogurt overnight. But if you really want top-notch Greek yogurt that not only tastes better but costs a wallet-load less, you’ll want to start from scratch.

Fear not – the bacteria won’t kill you.

Yogurt and cheese seem to scare some home chefs who are otherwise perfectly capable of making their own. I know I was initially hesitant to make anything involving live cultures, molds, etc. at home, but after making mozzarella cheese on my own and living to see the next morning, I’m not afraid.

Jessie bought me a Salton yogurt maker (note: I have the 1-quart maker, which is no longer sold by Amazon) as a birthday present a year ago, and I’ve used it a few times since then. We love Greek yogurt, which has a thicker texture and more tart flavor than plain yogurt. Making it from scratch at home allows you to control the quality of the milk, the starter culture used, the freshness, and, unlike a lot of store brands, there are no additional chemicals or fake sweeteners added.

As a start culture, you can either buy dry packets, or use store-bought yogurt with live cultures to get started. For this batch, I bought a 79-cent cup of Stonyfield Farm plain yogurt, which has six live cultures in it. If you keep your yogurt fresh and make new batches regularly, you can use a leftover 1/2-cup of your own yogurt to keep the cultures going. Using the yogurt as a starter rather than dried cultures, I’ve found, yields a much thicker and richer consistency, and the Stonyfield yogurt has yielded the best yogurt to-date.

And, like I said before, it’s far cheaper. For this batch, since I bought milk on sale, I got about 1 pint of fresh yogurt and another 1/2 pint of Greek yogurt for a total investment of $1.30 — and if I reuse my cultures for the next batch, it will only be about 50 cents worth of milk (it was on sale for $2 per gallon).

If you don’t have an electric yogurt maker, you can still make your own by simply keeping the milk warm for a long period of time. But if you plan to make yogurt frequently, the yogurt maker is a really cheap tool to have in the kitchen.

Here’s what you need for roughly 1 pint of Greek yogurt (I made 1/2 pint because I saved some to be used as plain yogurt):

  • 1 quart of whole milk (you could use lower fat, but why?)
  • 1/2 cup powdered milk
  • 1/2 plain yogurt with live cultures (I recommend Stonyfield)

For hardware, you’ll need a pot, thermometer, cheesecloth, two big jars (or a strainer — more on that later), and an electric yogurt maker.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Combine the whole milk and powered milk in a large pot. Heat to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, then remove from heat.
  2. Allow the milk mixture to cool to 120 degrees. While it’s cooling, preheat your electric yogurt maker.
  3. Stir in the plain yogurt until completely dissolved.
  4. Pour the mixture into the electric yogurt maker and allow to incubate for 8 hours. You can incubate longer for a more tart taste, but since you’ll be straining it, it may become too tart if left for too long.
  5. After the incubation period, droop cheesecloth in two jars, securing it at the top, and spoon yogurt into the cheesecloth to drain (I use this method because it leaves fewer pieces to clean, and because you can squeeze it into just about any corner of your fridge. Alternately, you can line a strainer with cheesecloth, put the yogurt on top, and let it drain into a large bowl underneath). Put the straining device into the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, and up to 12 (in other words, overnight).
  6. You’ll want to check the jar after a few hours and pull the cheesecloth and yogurt out to drain off any whey so that the yogurt isn’t sitting in it.
  7. After the straining is done, spoon the yogurt into a storage container. It will keep in the fridge for a week or so. I prefer to whisk in a little honey for sweetness (as seen in the picture at the top).

Related posts:

  1. Roasted Banana and Coconut Ice Cream
  2. Mac ‘n cheese with bacon

About the Author

Owner of a graphic design firm specializing in magazine design and wannabe chef. Former resident of Belgium, the United Kingdom and...North Dakota.