Cooler Yogurt

Reader Contribution by Renee-Lucie Benoit
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You might be wondering about my choice of words in the title. It’s just a little joke or play on words. I’m not talking about yogurt that is hip or more hip than other yogurts. I’m talking about the device in which to incubate the milk to make it turn into yogurt. Get it? I guess I could have called it “Picnic Cooler Yogurt,” but what would be the fun in that?

There are all sorts of fancy devices on the market today that incubate milk and turn it into yogurt. I can think of at least two right off the top of my head. While these fancy contraptions are great and make the job easy, they are not available to everyone and especially folks on a budget. That’s me! Besides, my granny never used these fancy contraptions and her way is good enough for me!

All you need is milk and culture, a picnic cooler, sterilized jars with lids, and a milk thermometer. The optional things are rennet and gelatin.

I like to start my yogurt about an hour before bed time. That way I can leave the milk to incubate over night. Yogurt in the morning!

Here’s what you do: Heat the milk to 180 degrees in a heavy bottom stainless steel pot. If you only have an old electric stove like I do, you must keep a close watch on the temperature gauge. Using an old fashioned electric cook top to heat milk makes it a necessity to have a heavy bottom pot. Otherwise, it is so easy, too easy, to scorch or burn the milk. If you have a gas stove, you have an easier time controlling the heat. When grandmother made yogurt on a woodstove, it must have been challenging indeed! As you stir the heating milk, you’ll see that the temperature on the gauge rises. This is because the milk is hotter in the bottom of the pan, and you are mixing that hot milk throughout. Once it hits 180 degrees, take the pot off the heat. (If it rises past 180, don’t panic. Going above 180 is not a disaster. As a matter of fact, sometimes it is recommended to heat the milk to 190 and hold it there for 20 minutes. This makes the final product thicker. Because I have a temperamental electric stove, I have a very difficult time holding the temperature steady, so I don’t do it.)

Cool the milk to 112 degrees. I put my pot in the sink with water and a bunch of ice so it cools faster. Again, keep an eye on it. When it gets to 112 degrees, add a packet (1/4 tsp) of yogurt culture to the milk and let it dissolve for a couple minutes. (You can also use plain, organic yogurt that you already have or that you buy from the store. Use 1/2 cup if you’re using pre-made yogurt to culture.) Stir the culture in well. (If you want, this is the time to stir in a couple drops of rennet to make it turn out thicker. You can also use some organic gelatin to make it even thicker. With Greek yogurt being so popular, we are all used to super thick yogurt. Ordinary, highly probiotic yogurt does not have to be thick! Still tasty!)

Pour your milk into jars, cover with lids and place them in a picnic cooler. Take a pitcher, fill it with hot tap water, and pour it into the cooler until it reaches about a inch below the top of the jar. Don’t pour the water over the lids! Pour it in from the side! And then don’t disturb! Tuck your little jars to bed and let them sleep! No peeking! The children are all right.

Incubate your yogurt for about 8 hours. You can let it incubate longer up to 12 hours if you want the taste to be tangy. The longer it incubates, the thicker and more tangy it will be. I like mine mild after about 9 hours. I like it with a little bit of organic, unfiltered honey drizzled on top. Trés simple!

Photos by Renee-Lucie Benoit.