You Can Make Your Own Yogurt

The Recorder, September 8th, 2015, by Richie Davis

Contrary to what you may have heard, making your own yogurt is not as easy as pie.

It’s easier.

That’s why we invited Lucia Ivantchev, a Greenfield woman who emigrated to the United States from eastern Europe in 1995, to show us how. She was joined in the teaching project by her mother-in-law, Tamara.

Like many members of Greenfield’s roughly 500-strong Moldovan community, and other people who grew up in eastern Europe, the Ivantchevs grew up making yogurt from the fresh milk right from the farm. (In Lucia’s case, it was from her family’s one or two cows; her mother-in-law’s yogurt was made from sheep’s milk.)

In the United States, starting with a half gallon of milk from the supermarket, the Ivantchevs say making their own yogurt is simple. And what they’re making and eating isn’t full of unhealthy sweeteners and unnecessary thickeners, plus it’s less expensive than buying one of the hundreds of ready-made yogurts available in the supermarket.
Tamara grew up in Moldova’s southern Cantemir area with sheep from which her mother made yogurt, called lapte acru. She used to make the fermented milk dish every few days, but has cut back because of her husband’s health. And now, instead of regular milk, she uses 2 percent milk, which she admits isn’t as flavorful and doesn’t produce a rich yogurt.

Lucia simply pours a half gallon of milk into a stainless steel pan and brings it almost to a boil — if you have a thermometer, websites like and advise heating the milk carefully to 160 or even 180 degrees — and then removing it from the heat.

The milk has to cool down to 110 degrees, which could take a half hour or so, but Ivantchev places the pan in a sinkful of cold water to speed up the process.

“If the milk is too hot, it can kill the bacteria,” that will be stirred in, Lucia warns, advising patience to allow it to cool down enough, to 110 degrees.

When the milk has cooled to the right temperature, Lucia adds three or four tablespoons of sour cream as a starter for her homemade yogurt’s culture, slowly mixing it in.

She could also use the right amount of yogurt, taking advantage of her own homemade yogurt if she already had some on hand. Or she could use plain yogurt from the grocery as a starter. But Lucia prefers the culture from sour cream, which she says has less of a bite and tastes smoother.

Then she pours the mixture into a large storage jar, covers it and lets it sit at room temperature. (Experts advise culturing for six to eight hours to as much as 24 hours at a constant 110 degrees, but it depends on taste and texture desired. Several Web sources for details of this process are listed below.)

There are, of course, electric yogurt makers that keep the homemade at the correct temperature for the proper amount of time. But Lucia, whose intuitive sense of making yogurt, as well as cheese and the cultured milk drink kefir, does it the simple way.

While her counter stays warm enough in summer for the yogurt to culture properly before it’s moved into the refrigerator, she uses the oven in winter to keep the culturing mixture at about the right temperature for several hours.

Refrigerated, the yogurt was always a favorite for dessert after an evening meal in Moldova, says Lucia as she serves it in cups as a chilled summertime refresher, “like iced coffee.”
“I always loved homemade,” she said, “but I don’t always have time to do it. My mother-in-law says we’re becoming lazy to buy it in the store. Here I know what the ingredients are: there’s no sugar, no corn syrup. You can add honey or fruit, cereals and you know what you’re adding. It’s cheaper, and it’s healthier.”

And best off, you can use it to make more.

For more information, here are some helpful websites:

Making Yogurt at Home

Making Yogurt at Home: Country Living Series

Fermenting Yogurt at Home

How to Make Yogurt

How to Make Delicious Homemade Yogurt

How to Make Greek Yogurt