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Perfect Greek Yoghurt

Rise and shine – it’s a new day, and it could begin with glorious Greek yogurt, bananas and honey for breakfast.

How To Make Perfect, Creamy Greek Yogurt

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I owe a lot to Greek yogurt. Once, years ago, while living in the UK, I entered a competition promoted on the top foil of a Greek yogurt called “FAGE” – pronounced “fáh yeh”. To my amazement, my slogan was one of six winners, and my then spouse and I were whisked over to Crete via the sponsor, Virgin Airways. It’s the only thing I’ve ever won, but it was a goodie.

In the Cretan seaside hotel, I got my first taste of real, fresh Greek yogurt – as lovely an experience as listening to Handel’s “Ombra mai fu” for the first time. Honest. It was swoon-making stuff: thicker, creamier and more luscious than I can describe, and crowned with a generous dollop of honey haunted by the ghosts of wild mountain herbs. I get goosebumps just remembering it.

O.K. Maybe you don’t share my passion for Greek yogurt. But that could be because you’ve never tasted it homemade and fresh.

Using Portuguese Dairy Products (sigh.)

In essence, Greek yogurt differs from the ‘ordinary’ sort because it is creamier (full fat is the ONLY genuine Greek yogurt. Shun the “0%” pretender). Its thickness is partly due to the butterfat content and partly its lower water content. That part is easy – just let it simmer longer to drive off more steam.

After trial and error here in Portugal – using UHT milk in a box (NO! Don’t try this!) plus some ghastly ersatz “cream substitute” that was actually full of chemicals, chalk, oil and slime (I wouldn’t feed it to a dog), I finally found one brand of proper, fresh “meia gorda” or “gorda” milk and an acceptable long-life “cream” that produced a good result.

I have no idea what ails the Portuguese dairy industry, nor what happens to all the fresh milk and cream it produces. If anyone does, I’d love to know. Meanwhile, we must make compromises.

Friends, I’m not saying this yogurt is as wonderful as it would be if made with genuine fresh cream. But it is certainly better than any Greek yogurt you can buy here – and cheaper, too. Try it. You’ll be glad you did.

So off we go. First, gather all your ingredients and utensils – and make sure they are spotlessly clean. Old yogurt, acid liquids or other food residues could spoil everything.

Plan Ahead:

A) You will heat, then cool the milk, and temperature is critical to your success. To cool the milk rapidly, have a water bath ready. The easiest method is to fill a washing-up bowl half full of cool water and leave it in your kitchen sink.

B) Once made, you will need to wrap your warm milk-yogurt mix in towels or blankets, so find a space (e.g. airing cupboard) where the temperature is stable and the pot won’t be disturbed. Have everything ready.

Utensils

You need:

* A heavy-bottomed stainless steel or enameled pot (e.g. Le Creuset) with a tight-fitting lid. No aluminium pots please!

* A wooden spoon.

* A ladle or perforated spoon to allow whey to pass through.

* A small bowl for the starter yogurt-milk mixture.

* A cup or glass for dipping out warm milk into the starter yogurt.

* A food thermometer or digital food probe (buy one online).

* 2 litres of fresh milk (not UHT or long life).

* A pack of “nata para bater” – or even better, fresh cream IF you can find it!

* A small pot of commercial Greek yogurt as a “starter” culture; have it ready at room temperature.

Do NOT: Please don’t use any cheap metal utensils – stainless steel, wood or food-grade plastic and silicon rubber only. Also, avoid lead-glazed earthenware bowls or aluminium pots, because the acid in the yogurt can attack these and release dangerous substances. Use glass, china, or food-grade plastic to store your finished product.

Right – let’s get started!

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1) Pour the milk into your pan and place on low to medium heat. Stir from time to time with the wooden spoon to keep it from burning on the bottom.

2) Heat milk until it is just below boiling point*. If your food probe or thermometer shows 195-200 degrees F. or 95-100 degrees C, and there is steam and little bubbles around the edges, that’s fine. Remove milk from heat. Remove any ‘skin’ that may have formed.

TEMPERATURE NOTES: Never touch any part of the pan with the tip of your food probe. Keep it submerged at least 2.5 cm / 1 inch in the milk.

*Know your home’s altitude. The higher it is, the lower both the air pressure and boiling point of liquids will be. I live at 500 meters (about 1600 feet) above sea level, and I remove the milk from the heat at about 190 degrees F. or 87-90 degrees C. You can find a chart for altitude/boiling points online at:

http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/boiling-points-water-altitude-d_1344.html

Waterbath

3) Using hot mitts, lift the pan into your water bath. The water will absorb the heat very fast; when it gets hot, lift the pan out, pour away the hot water and replace with cool. Pop the pan back in. Repeat.

4) When the food probe reads 120 degrees F. or. 49 degrees C, lift the pan out of the water bath. It’s time to add the starter. (Again, remember these are ‘sea level’ directions. If you live higher, as I do, your target temperature will be proportionately lower.)

Temp forStarter

5) Plop commercial Greek yogurt into the small bowl – at least ½ cup is good; you can use two pots if you want a super-thick yogurt. Dip out a cup or so of the warm milk and mix it thoroughly into the yogurt with your wooden spoon.

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6) Quickly pour starter into your pan of milk and stir it well to “incubate” the warm liquid completely.

You can also add half or a full pack of the commercial “nata / cream” at this point. This will give you a richer, creamier result.

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7) Don’t let the milk cool. Place the pan in your chosen location, making sure the lid is on tightly, then swaddle top and all sides with towels or blankets.

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8) Now go away and forget about your yogurt. Leave it eight hours or overnight, if you can – and NO PEEKING!

BEWARE: The first time I made this yogurt was high summer, and Portugal’s formidable little “formigas” (ants) were trooping through the house and round and round on the pot lid when I came to retrieve it. Luckily, I got to the yogurt before they found a way in – but be warned!

9) Carefully unwrap your treasure, carry it to the kitchen and pot it up in completely clean plastic pots or glass jars. It’s the cook’s privilege to be the first to taste and enjoy! So, whether you love yogurt on its own, in a cucumber and mint raita to accompany a curry, or dressed up with booze-marinated fruit as dessert, your healthy homemade treat is going to be simply scrumptious.

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Extra Notes:

* When you’ve eaten all your yogurt – and assuming you want to re-use your containers, clean them meticulously, scrubbing all the little grooves around pot tops. Our local agri-coop sells olives in large, sturdy pots with handles that are excellent (once cleaned) for potting yogurt.

* Some recipes say you can use some of your first yogurt batch as a starter for the next one. I have to disagree! In my experience, your own has lost a lot of its bacterial “oomph” by the time you’ve kept it for a week or two and worked your way down to the bottom of the pot. Go out and buy a new pot of commercial yogurt.

* Keep your yogurt covered and in the fridge – obviously.

* Problems? If your yogurt doesn’t thicken up properly, either you got your milk temperatures wrong, didn’t use enough starter, or you didn’t distribute it throughout the milk. Try, try again. Frankly, I’ve never had a failure, and I doubt you will. And once you’ve made this delicious yogurt, you will never want the commercial stuff again.

* COSTS: My fresh milk cost .79 cents per litre and the “nata para bater” was 1.89 euro – both from Intermarché. Shop around. The price of commercial yogurt varies by brand and pot size. With a large pot of shop-bought stuff, you can make up to 6 litres of yogurt in one big batch – if you have a hungry family and fridge space for the pots!


Jude & Keith Irwin
Jude Tel: 965 431 092
Keith: 967 957 227

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