I make a batch of yogurt every 7-10 days. I've done this dozens of times and it has never gone wrong. If you like yogurt, you should consider doing it too.
Making your own yogurt is one of the best ways to get proper, full-fat greek yogurt or labneh. It's also great if you like thin Persian-style yogurt, or if you need thin yogurt as an ingredient for recipes.
The best yogurt I've ever eaten came from a now out-of-business greek market called Likistakos, that used to exist on the Upper East Side of Manhattan when I lived there. This procedure gets me close enough to that ideal that I'm no longer missing the place. A close second-best is yogurt from The White Moustache, who seem to be expanding their sales channels with each passing year. That said, at $5.50/serving it's pretty insane to eat it often.
- 1 Gallon Un-Homogenized milk. Ronnybrook "creamline" is pretty easy to find and not ridiculously expensive if you can find the half-gallon containers. Don't try to make less than a gallon at a time--the yogurt will have a hard time holding heat and won't come out right.
- A big ceramic bowl capable of holding a gallon of milk. Nothing fancy--think kitchen-supply not Williams-Sonoma.
- Some yogurt with live cultures to use as a starter. I use the "Greek" product from The White Moustache. Fage works too.
- A pot that can hold a gallon of milk
- A thermometer
- A blanket that you don't mind getting a little bit dirty
- A large strainer
- A whisk
- A secondary container that can hold two cups of liquid
- Put a gallon of milk in a pot and heat it until it starts to foam and overflow the pot. If you're like me, you'll make a small mess every time by not watching it like a hawk and only remember to move it to the bowl after it boils over. This does not ruin it. Just keep on truckin'
- Pour it into the ceramic bowl. Wait until it cools down to 115-120 degrees
- Once it's cool, transfer a cup or two of the warm milk into the secondary container, dump 2-4 tablespoons yogurt into it, and whisk until well mixed
- Dump the secondary container back into the big ceramic bowl and whisk until well mixed
- Cover the bowl, move it to a warm room, and wrap it in a blanket (really!)
- Forget about it for 10-18 hours.
- When you remember that there's a bowl of yogurt sitting around in some forgotten room, go grab it and stick it in the fridge until it cools down
- At this point you have thin, Persian-style yogurt. Eat some if you like. But for the really good stuff you might want to strain it
- Lay some cheesecloth in a strainer over a tall pot and spoon the yogurt in.
- Put that in the fridge for 6-24 hours. Every once in a while, go stir it to mix the dry yogurt on the bottom with the wetter yogurt on top. Stop when the consistency seems agreeable to you. I appreciate it at almost every stage of the process. Labneh takes more like 24 hours than 6. And it's heavenly
Plain yogurt is OK sometimes, and a good ingredient, but Yogurt really likes to be mixed with other stuff for the best experience. During the warmer months, fresh blueberries, strawberries, granola, and honey make for a great experience. During the winter, preserves will work in a pinch, but some properly prepared fresh fruit is much better.
One option is Cranberry sauce--I know it sound crazy, but hear me out. I'm not talking about the stuff from the can. Get a 12oz bag of cranberries, mix in 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water and boil it in a saucepan for 15 minutes. Mix a couple of spoonfulls of this with some Labneh made using the aove procedure...mmm. I tend to process 2lbs of cranberries at a time. It refrigerates well and lasts for more than 2 weeks. I freeze cranberries for the "off-season" since they're only really available from Thanksgiving through Christmas.
Another option: stewed apples. They cook down a lot, so start with 5lbs or so, and get yourself a goddamn apple peeling machine. They cost $20 and turn a 45 minute task into a 5 minute task. Throw the peeled, sliced, cored apples in a pot with some water, cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg, sugar, and allspice, all to taste, and let them simmer for a while, covered, until they turn brown. Mix that with the yogurt. You won't regret it