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Making Countertop Yogurt

We've made yogurt for as long as I can remember, way before we had cows, and some of the best stuff was out of powdered milk. Tasty memories. But when we got cows and started making yogurt with raw milk, things started getting tricky. We didn't want to heat the milk because then we'd loose the raw milk critters, but if we didn't our yogurt would end up as a weird kind of cheese almost as often as it turn out as yogurt, and when it did end up as yogurt it was sort of bitter. So I was on the look out for a new yogurt culture, and a couple weeks ago I ran into a Villi Finnish Probiotic Yogurt Culture at an herbal medicine class and decided to give it a try.

After a whole week of trying it out, I was a fan. It's tasty and it's so simple: no heating it all up and then cooling it all down and keeping it all warm all night. Instead you just put a little culture in a jar, add some milk, put it on the counter and over the next day all those great little yogurt critters eat up the lactose, and, viola, you have yogurt.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Your yogurt is ready when it looks like yogurt (kind of tofu-y) rather than a liquid.

  • Homemade yogurt is more runny than the store bought variety. You can thicken it by draining it or letting it culture longer (it gets more sour but it also gets thicker). Pasteurizing the milk first also makes thicker yogurt, but if you're working with raw milk that seems like a bad method for achieving a thicker end product.

  • If you want less yogurt just use less culture to start with and add less milk.

  • If you want the yogurt to take more time, start with less culture and/or add more milk, or both. This way the culture has more milk it has to work through.

  • The bacteria don't stop working once the milk coagulates, so once you have yogurt put it in the refrigerator or the yogurt bacteria will continue to feed and your yogurt will get more sour.

  • Though I have not verified this with experience, my understanding is that you should be able to use this with any lactose containing milk ... goat milk, yak milk, llama milk, whole milk, skim milk, powdered milk, you name it.

  • Seems to me it would be good to try and stay consistent with what type of milk you use as I suspect the bacteria will adapt some to the food you give it.

  • Temperature influences bacterial growth pretty significantly: if it's warm the bacteria will grow faster, if it's cool they will grow slower. So in the winter it will take longer to make yogurt unless you compensate: starting with more culture or less milk or keeping the culturing yogurt in a warmer place.

  • You can always slow your culture way down by putting it in the refrigerator, but taking a culture in and out of the refrigerator a lot can stress the little critters. If you leave your culture in the refrigerator long enough without feeding it the bacteria will eventually die and even if you feed it those little critters don't thrive in the cold.

You can get a Villi culture or many other mesophilic cultures all over on the internet but I got our Villi culture from Seed Renaissance and we've liked the cultures we've gotten from Cultures for Health as well.

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