Raw milk yogurt has been an elusive target for me for the last few years.
The very best, creamy, thick batch of raw yogurt I ever made was impossible to replicate – I incubated it on the back porch in the sun and then in a warm vehicle overnight. Phooey!
Beyond that one special accomplishment, I’ve had a lot of this:
which means a ton of these:
but very little of this:
Ultimately, making raw milk yogurt isn’t any harder in theory or practice than making pasteurized milk yogurt, but the results are impeded by the raw milk bacteria itself (darn little healthy buggers getting in the way of progress!). The probiotics already present in raw milk compete with those trying to culture and grow to make yogurt, and that battle means a few things for the yogurt maker:
- You need to add a bit more starter to give the yogurt buggers a leg up – instead of 2 Tbs., be sure to add about three Tbs. per quart.
- In order to use your own yogurt as a starter for the next batch, at least more than once or twice in a row, you generally need to make a “seed” of pasteurized milk yogurt to have a more “pure” starter for the raw milk.
- Your results will often be inconsistent, almost always much less thick than conventional yogurt and often textured, more cottage-cheesy or lumpy or separating from the whey.
A Better Method
For a long time, I didn’t even pursue raw milk yogurt anymore because it wasn’t as pleasant an experience for my family. We LOVE our homemade yogurt and literally eat it at least once a day, but those jars of runny raw yogurt would noticeably sit in the fridge longer than the pasteurized stuff, so I just pasteurized my raw milk before making yogurt.
- Raw milk yogurt seems to do better (i.e. thicker) at a lower incubation temperature, between 95-100F rather than up toward 110 degrees.
- Raw yogurt likes consistency; it’s less forgiving of changing temperatures during incubation.
Therefore, my previous method for winning the raw milk yogurt battle was to incubate in my Excalibur dehydrator at 100 degrees F.
I don’t love doing that, however, because it’s hard to justify using electricity to make yogurt when I have a simple energy-free method to make homemade yogurt already.
However, if you’re committed to making only raw milk yogurt and have the equipment, it’s not a bad way to go.
Other cultured milk options include simply making a countertop yogurt culture from Cultures for Health (that incubates at room temp, so it’s brain-dead simply but always runny) or checking out what the GNOWFGLINS Cultured Dairy and Cheesemaking eCourse has to offer (lots!). You can also see a video of my jar-in-pot cooler incubation yogurt method in that course.
The Best Raw Milk Yogurt Method EVER!
Wouldn’t you rather your raw milk yogurt look like this?
I have recently discovered the key to perfect, thick, almost-like-the-store homemade raw yogurt every time:
That’s a high quality gelatin from grassfed cows, sold at Radiant Life for about fifteen bucks for a rather large bottle. I first introduced it to you in the post about real food protein sources for after a workout last week, but I really have it around hoping it would be the magic bullet for perfect raw yogurt.
My husband said that if it tasted like beef broth, that would be a no go. Luckily, it doesn’t.
This post is sponsored by Radiant Life – thank you for saving my raw yogurt!!
Here are the step-by-step instructions for making raw milk yogurt with
(You can catch more photo tutorial with a bit more info HERE.)
1. Put a washcloth in the bottom of your pot to cushion the jars.
2. Fill jars with raw milk.
3. Place jars in pot; fill with tap water (I use hot), and put the lid on.
4. Turn burner to high and stick near the kitchen to check the temperature every few minutes. Shoot to heat the milk to about 105-110 degrees F. You’ll need a thermometer, either candy or meat or whatever, to test the temp. Be sure to stir the milk around so that you’re getting an accurate reading. Note: If it gets higher than 118F, you’ve killed your enzymes and may as well go up to 160F.
5. Once you know approximately how long it takes with your pot on your stove on high, the next time you can set a timer for a minute or two shy and get back in time. My pot takes 10 minutes to get to 110F.
6. Once at about 105-110F, Remove jars from pot. I usually lid them and use an oven mitt so I don’t spill – they’re very hot!
7. Put the lid back on the (nearly empty) pot and bring the water to a full boil.
8. Measure 1-3 tsp. gelatin into each jar of warm milk (more on how to determine amount below):
9. Whisk it in.
10. Whisk some more. Whisk really, really well, hard, and for a long time:
I learned that the gelatin has a difficult time incorporating into the warm milk, and if you don’t work very hard to make sure you get all the way to the bottom and really whisk the granules into the milk, you’ll end up with a layer of yogurt jello at the bottom of your jar and still funky-textured yogurt in the rest of the jar.
So dig DEEP when you whisk, and peek through the bottom of the jar until you don’t see (much) gelatin sitting there anymore. It was usually about 2-3 times longer than I thought I should have to whisk.
11. Now add your 2 1/2-3 Tbs. yogurt starter:
12. Stir well:
13. By this time, your water has certainly boiled in the pot. Put the pot, lid on, into a towel-lined picnic cooler.
14. Then nestle the jars in next to the pot, also wrapped in the towel.
15. You’re about to take the lid off the pot to let steam out into the cooler and keep the yogurt jars warm. Since you just boiled the pot, there will be plenty of steam, and I’ve found that it’s usually too much/too hot for proper yogurt if you trap it all. Unless your home’s temperature is exceedingly cold (60F), you should take the lid off the pot, allow steam to escape for 3-5 seconds, then close the lid of the cooler.
16. Find a quiet place for your cooler to sit for 8-24 hours. (Actually, it’s much better to have the cooler more or less where it’s going to rest before adding a pot of boiling water and heavy jars of milk, ahem.)
17. If you incubate beyond 8 hours, add a few cups of boiling water to the pot every 8 hours to keep the temperature up. You may choose to use a thermometer the first few times to make sure the temp stays at about 100F in the cooler, or just wing it and troubleshoot if your yogurt fails.
That’s it! Put your jars in the refrigerator when finished – do not disturb the contents until they are completely cooled, and don’t worry if it looks runny going in. First, yogurt is always runnier when warm, and second, the gelatin doesn’t gel up at all until cooled, so have faith! And patience!
Keeping a “Seed” for Future Batches
Although I’ve started yogurt with Dannon, Stonyfield, and Fage brands of yogurt, I prefer to use a bit from a previous batch to start my new batch; it’s much more frugal that way.
With raw milk, you’ll start to get more and more competition with the raw milk probiotics and the yogurt itself unless you have a bit of pasteurized yogurt to use as a “seed.” One of the beautiful things about the jar-in-pot method is that you can make each jar a bit differently. I think the easiest way to keep your seed, which many people find you only need to do every other or every third batch, is to just make one jar pasteurized.
While you’re boiling the water in step 9 above, you can just leave one jar in. It will come to temp (160-170F), and then you leave it on the counter to cool to 100-110F. Still put the pot and other jars of raw yogurt into the cooler, and about 1 1/2-2 hours later, you can stir in some starter (2 Tbs.) into the cooled, pasteurized milk jar and simply add it to the cooler (quickly so you don’t lose much heat).
When that jar is totally cooled, you can pull some out to make sure you have your “seed” separate (uneaten) and ready for the next batch of yogurt.
One More Raw Milk Yogurt Note
To make raw yogurt, although it’s tempting to want to turn into yogurt milk that’s about to turn itself, fresh milk is best; if it’s starting to sour at all, unpredictable things seem to happen in the conflict between the yogurt cultures and the sour milk cultures. It’s not impossible to make raw yogurt with old milk (say, 5 days old or so), but your chances of a nice consistency reduce dramatically. To use up that milk that’s about to sour, I recommend just making pasteurized yogurt (or turn it into pancakes or soaked baked oatmeal or something).
If you’re struggling with homemade raw milk yogurt, you can experiment with less risk with the jar-in-pot method – make 3 jars of pasteurized yogurt and one raw to see if you can nail it, or half and half, or try different amounts of starter or different starting temps. (A new homemade yogurt troubleshooting guide may help…)
How Much Gelatin to Use?
After finding that 1 teaspoon gelatin per quart just isn’t enough to make a difference, I harnessed the versatility of jar-in-pot again to do some experimenting: 4 tsp. vs. 2 tsp. vs. no gelatin.
Here’s raw yogurt without any gelatin added:
Now with 2 teaspoons gelatin:
also 2 teaspoons:
And check out 4 teaspoons!
Doesn’t that look amazing? This thickness is actually a bit too much like Jello – my kids didn’t like it at all, and my husband and I decided four was a bit much. Somewhere between 2 and 3 teaspoons gelatin per quart is the perfect amount for us and makes a doggone enjoyable yogurt!
Just remember, when adding gelatin:
- You may or may not be able to use gelatin-laced yogurt as a starter for the next batch.
- You may or may not be able to strain gelatin enhanced yogurt into yogurt cheese and whey. It wasn’t supposed to work…but I did it once.
Very cool added benefits of having gelatin in your yogurt include:
- Additional protein: gelatin has 12 g protein per Tablespoon (3 teaspoons)!
- Digestive benefits; gelatin is a digestive aid.
- Having gelatin around means you can add it to your homemade chicken stock (or beef) as well to ensure that you get a good “gel” and add the digestive benefits even if you don’t have the best bird or most perfect process for getting lots of gelatin in your stock, like this.
Check out this soup that was made with broth that was totally liquid, and I added a bit of gelatin to the additional water I used while making the soup:
The Only Bummer
I was hoping gelatin would be a “fix” for those mysterious batches of yogurt, even pasteurized, that turn out runny. I tried a few things to fix already-made yogurt, which I’m sure you want to hear about, right?
My very first attempt was to add ½ tsp. gelatin to one cup somewhat runny yogurt. It started out pourable but not totally liquid:
I shook the jar very hard, opened it, scraped gelatin off side/top, shook again until I was convinced it was incorporated. After I refrigerated just two hours or so, I took out the small jar and my eyes nearly popped out of my head.
Holy cow, I thought, Total gel.
I turned the jar upside down and nothing moved.
Somehow, just a bit of gelatin and a good shake had taken this:
I was amazed. I’ll be the yogurt hero of the world, I thought.
Then I tasted it.
Hmmmm. Something’s different. It’s still good, but there’s something very unique about this. I hope it doesn’t taste like beef broth like my husband feared…
A few more bites. I could almost put my finger on the underlying flavor…
It’s like…it’s like…aha! It reminds me of when I licked my finger after making those healthy homemade frozen popsicles with coconut milk yesterday for Paul’s birthday party! I wonder what it is about gelatin that tastes a bit like coconut milk? Guar gum?
It was a bit too thick, and I wrote in my notes:
It makes it taste like coconut milk, at least the coconut milk from the can. Maybe when I taste the coconut milk when I’m making a recipe, it’s actually the thickener I taste! Try ½ tsp. for an entire quart jar.
And the funny part about that story? I was tasting and taking pictures of the jar of leftover COCONUT MILK from making those popsicles the day before. For real.
I put a big scoop in with my yogurt. I can’t believe I didn’t even figure out my mistake when it was so much whiter than the yogurt and, hello, tasted like coconut milk!!! The actual yogurt that I shook up…didn’t gel at all. It only became completely liquid since I broke all the connections in the original runny yogurt. Fail!
I also tried “the fix” by dissolving gelatin into a bit of boiling water, allowing it to cool slightly, and then adding to runny yogurt in the fridge. That also failed, but at least I picked myself up and tried again after taking all those pictures of coconut milk!!! That’s what I get for not labeling all my jars in the fridge.
The lesson learned here is that, so far, I can’t help you fix runny yogurt with gelatin, but if you KNOW you’re going to have runny yogurt, like when you make raw milk yogurt, you can add the gelatin before the culturing period and have amazing success.
Be sure to grab some gelatin from Radiant Life since it’s so well-sourced. The gelatin you buy at any big box store is not going to have quite the same health benefits, and it’s most certainly not from grassfed, well-raised cattle (if it’s made from bones at all).
Now go make some yogurt! (or just scoop coconut milk into your bowl and be a dork like me)