The Heartbreak of Homemade Greek Yogurt

If you want to view a market trend in real-life and in real-time, I might suggest you park yourself at a Whole Foods (particularly one in NYC) Greek yogurt aisle. It is a supply/demand cartoon come to life. The yogurt shelves are almost always in constant disarray – as if there was a daily “Black Friday” sale on Chobani and Fage. The store employees are desperately trying to add order to the chaos: unloading yogurt at a rapid pace from the many hulking pallets lining the aisle, rearranging tubs, and providing crowd control. At one point, you might even see a defeated employee handing out tubs of the creamy Greek goodness directly from the pallet to customer. I have been that customer (addict). I have been known to wait for Greek yogurt replenishments at a grocery store for up to 21 minutes.


There are a few reasons I decided to make my own Greek yogurt. First, I was beginning to feel a lot of green guilt for mucking up landfill with leftover yogurt tubs. Second, I am a self-styled and slightly delusional DIY dude (I’ve gotten pretty good at making my own bread and my own pasta). Lastly, the homemade stuff is supposed to taste better and is supposedly better for you.

Making homemade yogurt is relatively easy. You heat a half-gallon of milk in a pot over medium heat (I used 2%, but you can use whole) to 180 degrees F. And you have to stir slowly and continually while heating to keep the milk from scorching. Once the milk is at 180 degrees F, remove from heat and cool to 110 degrees F. (I just let it sit for about 30 minutes, but you can use an ice bath to speed the cooling process).


At this point, you add a yogurt “starter” to the milk and whisk it in until blended. I used a quarter cup of some plain 2% Fage, but there are freeze-dried yogurt starters on the market. Let the mixture incubate. There are 300 methods to do this, though a popular method is to put a lid on the pot of milk, wrap it in towels, place it in the oven with the oven light on, and wait for 6+ hours. I use my oven too often, and I am neurotic about burning out my oven light so this method did not appeal to me. Instead, I love the genius idea over at Serious Eats of submerging the yogurt in jars in a warm water (120 degrees F) bath in a cooler. Total genius. (Yes, you can incubate in a yogurt maker, but I can’t bring myself to buy another piece of kitchen equipment).


After the incubation period, you have to chill the yogurt in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours THEN if you want it Greek style you have to strain it. I did this with a strainer lined with cheesecloth. AND THEN you can eat it.


I wish I could say I enjoyed the process more, but there is nothing sexy about making yogurt. The tactile delights I associate with pasta and bread making are completely absent in making yogurt. It feels like a lot of work for very little pay off. It tasted completely fine (yes, I jazzed it up with some chocolate ), but it felt like a chore (the heating, stirring, incubating, waiting, straining, etc…). Ah well, I might make another go of it. I might try to streamline it into my kitchen routine. Or I might just go back to Whole Foods and wait in the yogurt line.



Homemade Yogurt Notes:

-Technically, the longer the incubation period, the tangier the yogurt.

-Use a yogurt starter (plain yogurt) with plenty of active live cultures. Do not use a yogurt starter than contains sugar or thickeners.

-Better milk = better tasting yogurt. And a higher fat milk makes a creamier yogurt.