Back when we were dreaming of this country life, top of the list of things I would do once we moved was make my own yoghurt. I'm not sure why I felt I had to relocate in order to begin. I'm sure in even the sleekest designer city kitchen with the most fast-paced, peak-hour lifestyle, it would be possible. But it just feels like a country thing to do.
We used to go through one, sometimes two, 2kg tubs of natural Greek yoghurt a week, at $10 a pop. My girls eat it every night for dessert, I often have it at breakfast, and it makes its way into cakes and alongside our favourite pitas and cheesy triangles quite often.
Apart from the first couple of weeks, since moving here over eight months ago (eight!), I haven't bought yoghurt once. And I've read all around blogland of people who use yoghurt makers and powdered starters, or who strain their yoghurt to thicken it. I do none of that. This really is so easy. I referred to Soulemama's method the first time, and just adapted it slightly as I went along. My original starter was an organic yoghurt from the health food store. I added powdered milk in a few batches at the beginning because I read somewhere that it helps thicken it. In the end I decided it made no difference.
The thing that does make a huge difference, I've found, is the milk. I tried once with a supermarket brand (before I learnt all about permeate and the woes of dairy farmers - we don't buy that milk anymore) and it refused to become yoghurt. I also had a failure once with a major national brand, who recently started emblazoning its labels with a bright yellow 'permeate free' banner. But after reading this post at Little Eco Footprints, I clicked along and discovered that the milk sold at my local general store, and at the supermarket in a nearby town, is local, ethical and additive free. And it tastes better. And it makes beautiful yoghurt.
For this method, you will need a thermometer, an insulated cooler bag (or esky) and two hot-water bottles.
Heat two litres of milk in a saucepan until it reaches 90 degrees Celsius. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to 40 degrees. I speed this process up by putting the saucepan of milk into the kitchen sink filled with cold water. It still takes about 10 minutes.
Once it has reached 40 degrees, whisk in about a quarter of a cup of your last batch of yoghurt. If it's the first time you've made it, choose something unflavoured, natural and organic with live cultures. Pour it into your chosen container. I know lots of people use glass jars (and I will soon when I get around to finding some the right size) and sterilise them beforehand, but I just use the old 2kg plastic tubs we used to buy our yoghurt in, and run them through a hot dishwasher before storing them.
The next step involves keeping the warmed milk at 40 degrees for several hours. Soulemama puts hers on an electric heat pad. Others put it in a thermos, or into an esky filled with warm water. I've had faultless luck with an old insulated bag I got from the fish markets a while ago (designed to keep fresh fish cold) in which I place two hot-water bottles filled with boiling water. I snuggle the tub of yoghurty milk in with the hotties cuddling it, zip up the bag and put it in the warmest part of the house. And it rarely takes longer than five hours to set.
Then I put it in the fridge to cool before we eat it.
There's always a bit of whey in the tub but not enough to bother any of us, so I've never tried to strain it. And by the time we get to the bottom, it's generally a lot runnier and sloppier - all the better for stirring your frozen raspberries through to make it pink. But for the first few days, when scooped from the top, it's the most delicious, tart, creamy, thick yoghurt, as good as, if not better than, any I've bought in a shop anywhere.