My Version of Easy Homemade Raw Milk Yogurt

Like I shared earlier this week on my post about making homemade raw milk kefir, I have to really make sure something is simple and doable before I’ll try it. Kefir seemed pretty easy to me, but I have to admit I was intimidated by the idea of raw milk yogurt. Kefir needs very little temperature control (room temp is fine), while yogurt needs a consistently warmer temperature, and I wasn’t sure how to tackle that without buying a thermometer or a yogurt maker.

I searched high and low through the internet for ways to make raw milk yogurt. It’s a little different than pasteurized milk yogurt, because you do not want to heat the milk too hot or it will kill all the wonderful little enzymes and probiotics inside. I found some great pointers at different blogs, but I wanted to simplify it even further. Basically, I wanted a raw milk yogurt that could be made without a thermometer. Turns out this is easier than I realized!

I recalled reading in Nourishing Traditions that the body has a fascinating way of telling you if something is too hot to harbor enzymes--it simply feels too hot! With this in mind, I realized that the power of touch is the key to making yogurt without a thermometer. So, I tried it out and it worked!

Here’s my version of homemade raw milk yogurt:

1. In a stockpot, place up to four 32-oz (1-quart) mason jars inside. Fill the jars with raw milk.

2. Fill the pot with warm water (about halfway up the mason jars or so) and gently begin heating at a low to medium temperature.

3. Keep a close watch on the pot. You can test the water temperature with your finger, or feel the outside of the mason jars to gauge the temperature. The ideal temperature for growing yogurt is somewhere between 98-110 degrees, which should feel comfortably warm. (I test the milk itself with my finger. This may not be the most sterile option, but I haven’t had problems with it.)

4. When the milk is warm enough, place 1-4 tablespoons of a good quality, no-additive, whole fat plain yogurt inside, and stir well to mix the cultures. You may find the amount of yogurt starter you add affects the thickness of your yogurt. Some people find less starter actually makes a thicker yogurt.

Now you need to keep your raw milk yogurt warm for 6-24 hours. Here’s how I keep mine warm:

1. Place the mason jars in a cooler filled with very warm water. Close the cooler tightly and cover with blankets or towels for insulation. This stays at the proper temperature for several hours at least, much longer if your house is on the warm side.

Our house gets cold in the winter, so during that time I usually add a few cups of boiling water to the cooler every few hours to maintain enough heat for the cultures. To see if the yogurt is staying warm, I simply dip my finger in the jar and see if it feels warm. (Like I said, maybe not the most sterile method but very accurate nonetheless for testing the temperature. Of course, if you use a thermometer that would work, too!)

2. Yogurt is usually ready after about 6 hours. However, if you keep it warm longer you can eliminate more lactose and casein, while culturing more probiotics. I usually culture my raw milk yogurt for at least 12 hours.

Of course, there are lots of other ways to keep yogurt warm, like in the oven with a pilot light, in a crock pot, or even in a warm car! Just remember it needs to be somewhere between 98-110 degrees to culture properly. Too cold means the cultures won’t take. Too warm means the cultures will die completely.

After your yogurt is cultured, place in the fridge for 5-6 hours to firm it up. It will usually still be thinner than commercial yogurt (though using a Greek yogurt starter may help). The texture may be slightly different than what you’re used to, but the taste will be very familiar.

Remember to save a few tablespoons of your plain raw milk yogurt to use as a culture next time! This way you don’t have to keep buying starter yogurt. Make a batch of yogurt at least every 7 days to keep your cultures active. Of course, you can also buy powdered yogurt cultures as a yogurt starter, if you prefer.

This yogurt tastes great with stevia and vanilla, which is how we make it here. My kids don't even notice that it's not store bought. You can also sweeten it with unrefined sugar like palm sugar or pure maple syrup. And of course, like all yogurt it tastes great with fruit and nuts, too!

An added bonus: this raw milk yogurt is fairly inexpensive. The cheapest non-organic plain whole-fat yogurt I can find is $1.83 for 32 ounces. No additives, but nowhere near organic and definitely not raw. Organic, high-quality plain yogurt is more like $3-5 for 32 ounces! I pay $6/gallon for raw, high-quality milk, and a gallon makes four 32-oz jars of raw milk yogurt. That's $1.50 for 32 ounces! Very inexpensive by comparison. And of course way cheaper than buying a bunch of tiny cups of yogurt. Plus you know you're culturing the good stuff, and cultured raw milk is a very healthy food.

If you have some experience making raw milk yogurt, or if you have any tips to share, I’d love to hear about it!

Find great sources for all your culturing needs on my Resources page!

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