The key to yogurt is maintaining the right temperature. There are plenty of tricks out there - hot pads, crock pots, dehydrators, coolers packed with hot water bottles, various configurations of home ovens - but none of them worked for me. My yogurt was inevitably chunky and bitter, and rather than fiddle with the techniques, I'd opt for the $3.50 organic yogurt at the store. Enter the $15 Salton yogurt maker.
For a simple job, this baby is spot on. All you have to do is heat the milk, cool it, add a culture, and let Salton do its magic.
Another key to making quality cultured products is to sterilize all of your equipment so that no other bacteria are competing with the cultures you want to win. The first time I made this yogurt, I sterilized all of my tools in a 450-F oven (I was making bread at the time) and the second time I just boiled them in the same pot I used later on to heat the milk.
I started with 1 quart of fresh, whole, non-homogenized milk. I heated it to 210-F, then set the pan in a big bowl of cold water to cool it to 110-F. The second time around, I accidentally let the milk boil, with no noticeable damage to quality in the finished product. I used a regular candy/deep-fry thermometer for the measurements. In a separate bowl I mixed 3 oz of Stonyfield plain yogurt with a little of the hot milk to thin it before stirring it gently into the big pot of milk. It is important to thin the culture with milk so that it isn't necessary to stir the milk vigorously after adding it and to ensure that it is evenly distributed. Finally I poured the warm, cultured milk into a glass mason jar, put it in the Salton and left it for eight hours. Then I refrigerated it for at least two hours before opening it.
This yogurt is like pudding! It's thick, smooth, creamy and not too tart. It's so thick it can stand up on its own. The 8-hour yogurt was so mild in fact that I think I will try incubating it for 10 and 12 hours in the future to get a little more tang. There's a heavenly cap of sour cream on top that's great spread on toast, since it's basically thin cream cheese. Or eat it straight.
I have yet to see how the yogurt performs with successive generations of cultures. The Salton manual says that the cultures only stay strong for about five batches, but other recipes suggest they'll last forever. I suppose it's not the worst thing to have to shell out an extra dollar for every ten quarts of yogurt - especially yogurt this good. This yogurt doesn't need a single thing - no sweeteners, no fruit, no granola - it's perfect as is. I can't wait to use the whey to bake bread!