Make Genuine Bulgarian Yogurt

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strained or greek style homemade bulgarian yogurt
A tub of homemade and strained Bulgarian yogurt made in October, 2022

Years ago, I wondered if I could make yogurt myself, and save some money on grocery store purchased yogurt – at the time, my youngest son David was really enjoying yogurt mixed with a bit of honey and frozen blueberries. My first attempt was a fabulous success, and we really enjoyed our homemade product.

Several people have asked me how I make yogurt, and so I thought I’d write a post about it, and then refer them to the post. There are several ways that I’ve used to make different styles of yogurt over the years, including a Greek style yogurt where the whey is drained and a thicker but smaller in weight and volume is made. David didn’t like it as much as regular yogurt, but I enjoyed it so we’d split the batches into two; one for David and the thicker one for me.

Making your own yogurt is pretty simple. It can take a bit of your time in preparation which is one of the reasons I like to make large amounts of it with using at least 6 litres of milk at a time. This is especially true now, when I always drain the whey and turn it into a thicker Greek style.

The title of this post refers to genuine Bulgarian yogurt, but we’ll get to that shortly. Let’s first see how you can make your own yogurt, other things you can do with it, and how easy it is.

Others will tell you all kinds of things about you must do, and should not do, and I’ve discovered that many of these things are garbage. “Never use UHT Pasteurized milk,” some will say. “You just won’t get yogurt.”

This is nonsense. How do I know? I tried it. I’ll write a post about that, later. I’ve written a post about making yogurt from UHT milk here.

Considerations & Basic Method For Homemade Yogurt

Milk Considerations

I will agree that milk that has not been UHT Pasteurized that you purchase at the grocery store is better. And some will claim that fresh from the animal (cow, lamb, goat) is best. I’ve always used store bought regular pasteurized and homogenized milk and have never had a problem.

Personally, I prefer full fat milk, but you can go ahead and use 2% or 1% or even skim milk if you want. You can control the fat content of your yogurt simply by choosing whatever milk fat content of the milk.

Culture Considerations

To start with, you don’t need to purchase a yogurt culture to make yogurt – you can simply use a store bought yogurt (regular unflavoured) that has “Active Culture” listed on the ingredients. That is very important.

You’ll need about a tablespoon of this yogurt, which has always worked for me with up to 6 litres of milk. In Ontario, my preference was unflavoured unsweetened Activia plain yogurt.

Equipment You’ll Need

  • A large enough pot to hold the amount of milk you are planning to turn into yogurt.
  • A slotted spoon is handy, but not necessary – anything, preferably stainless steel to stir
  • A stove
  • A place to keep the milk warm as the milk turns into yogurt. You’ll need this space for around 8 hours. I use the oven and leave the light on for the time the yogurt is incubating.

Yogurt Making Method

The milk you have purchased from the store has been pasteurized which is a process to kill off any harmful bacteria. But, it still may have picked up some of the baddies before it was bottled or packaged (if you live in Canada, you’ll know that many get their 4 litres of milk divided into 3 plastic milk bags).

So, many suggest you re-pasteurize it immediately before making yogurt – and this in my opinion also provides for a nicer, thicker yogurt.

  1. Bring the milk to just under the boiling temperature boil, until it is steaming – between 70 and 90C. I start at medium temperature to bring the milk temperature up, and stir with a slotted spoon frequently. Then, turn the milk up to high, and stir constantly to ensure milk doesn’t scald or burn at the bottom of the pot. I find that keeping the milk at this temperature for 10 minutes provides a better yogurt, but stirring is vital. If you bring it to a boil, turn the heat down. Boiling for too long can destroy nutrients.But stirring the milk as it steams for about 10 minutes seems to help with a better resulting texture.There are some who don’t bother with this secondary pasteurization and just bring the temperature of the milk up to about 35C and then add the 1 or 2 tablespoons of yogurt/culture.
  2. Cool the milk. Too cool it as fast as possible, take the pot of milk and set in your kitchen sink with an ice water bath. There are different types of bacteria, some thrive at higher temperatures than what we want to incubate the yogurt culture at – but to be honest, I’ve never had issues with allowing the milk to cool mostly on it’s own, along with some regular stirring.Regular stirring also helps to keep a skin from forming on the surface of the milk as it cools. If you do get a skin, no worries. Just take a fork and pull it off and put it in the garbage or give it to your cat or dog. My dog loves it, when I end up with a bit of a skin on top of the milk!
  3. Once the milk has cooled to about 35C (95F), add a tablespoon or two of the yogurt you purchased (I’ll reiterate that this yogurt must contain live culture). Some people claim you should remove a small amount of milk from the pot, and mix with the yogurt before adding it; I have never found this necessary.
  4. Stir the milk in the pot for several minutes, breaking up the yogurt you added. This helps to spread the live culture throughout the milk.I have tried as an experiment, just adding the tablespoon(s) of yogurt without stirring – and I still had success. But to be on the safe side, give the milk in the pot a gentle stir for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Put the lid on the pot – if it does not have a lid, then place a clean dish towel over the top of the pot. You’re protecting the milk and resulting yogurt from any dirt or insects that might be around.
  6. Put the pot in a warm area – as mentioned, my preference is in the over with the oven light on, to keep the air space inside the oven warm. Another option is turn your oven on to it’s lowest setting, perhaps 150F for those that live in Canada and the USA, then turn the oven off, let some heat escape, and put the pot of milk inside.
  7. Eight hours later, check and see if you have yogurt!

Yogurt Setting Problems – What Went Wrong?

I’ve never had any problem with the above method other than sometimes, after 8 hours, the yogurt hasn’t set yet.

In the unlikely event your yogurt has not set yet within 8 hours, leave it alone. Check on it in another hour or two.

There are no set times when we’re making yogurt. The fact is, you could leave your yogurt that you’ve just made, outside of the fridge for 24 or even more hours without refrigerating it and will not go bad. I do this regularly in fact (more on that later).

Maybe your yogurt batch might take another 2 to 4 hours to fully set.

If for some reason, the yogurt never sets up, possible things to look at:

  • Was the yogurt that you used to inoculate the milk passed its expiry date?
  • Was the milk you used past its expiry date? (It’s best to use milk as fresh as possible).
  • How warm was the space you placed the pot of milk? It should be above 80F but at the same time, if it’s too hot, you can kill the bacteria.

If you have a set yogurt, congratulate yourself. Within the next 12-24 hours, you can put that yogurt in the fridge to chill and keep it. For me, I would find my yogurt would keep for up to 3 weeks (if for some reason, which was rare, it wasn’t consumed).

There is no need to rush your freshly made yogurt into the fridge – you can keep it out at room temperature for quite many hours, even days before it will spoil. In another post, I’ll explain some of the things I do with my freshly made yogurt.

Making Genuine Bulgarian Yogurt

If you have made the above with Activia yogurt, you will have a great yogurt! But it is not the genuine and close to original Bulgarian, which in my opinion is even better than Greek yogurt made in Greece. Even my Greek friends say that my Bulgarian yogurt, after it’s been strained of excess whey, is better is more delicious than Greek yogurt sold in Greek supermarkets.

All yogurts are made with bacterial culture and sometimes there are several different types of bacterial strains. Activia is a yogurt made with:

  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Lactococcus lactis
  • Bifidobacterium lactis DN 173 010/CNCM I-2494 (a strain that seems to have been developed by Activia)

Genuine Bulgarian yogurt on the other hand, generally contains only two strains:

  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Streptococcus thermophilus.

While Activia claims additional benefits from consuming their yogurt with the additional strains, and I enjoyed it, I personally prefer yogurt made with only the two strains that are most common and that were identified in Bulgarian yogurt, many years ago. They naturally occur in the geographical area and beyond of what we call Bulgaria today.

Often what can make a yogurt different from another yogurt include the local micro-flora, and in different ratios. Each strain can have a different influence on how a yogurt will taste, its texture, etc.

Some years ago, I read that Bulgarians still today typically will consume Yogurt with every meal (as is typical of many Greeks as well). It’s been purported that consuming Bulgarian yogurt on a regular basis has many health benefits, so I investigated where I could find a true Bulgarian culture in the standard ratio that one would find in that geographical area of the world.

And that’s when I discovered Bacillus Bulgaricus – Bulgarian yogurt culture that you can purchase from almost anywhere you are in the world. It’s available in various sizes – from enough for 2 litres (2 quarts) and packages that will turn 150 (40 gallons) litres of milk into yogurt.

One of the great things about this culture is that you can also make the same yogurt from a previous batch, in the same way I described how to make it from Activia yogurt. But I like to always have extra culture on hand – just in case as it so frequently happens, the yogurt gets consumed before I’ve had a chance to make anew. So, if you’re going to try this Bulgarian style, I’d highly recommend you start with at least enough to make 8 litres for your first time, and make your first batch using 4 litres of milk.

You don’t need to be exacting in your measurements of the culture – although if you don’t use enough, you run the risk of other bacteria taking over before your culture gets a chance, or taking much longer for the yogurt to set.

People have been making yogurt successfully for thousands of years, even before they understood what was going on! So, this is not a recipe that you need to follow precisely, or set a timer or an alarm clock to have great yogurt.

Get your Bulgarian Culture Now!

Yogurt Making Conditions

You might hear a lot of people talking about disinfecting/sterilizing everything that you use to make yogurt, including the area you are making it in. This is not necessarily the best idea, however. What you really want is sanitation. Similar to homewinemaking, sanitation is a better goal than disinfection / sterilization before starting to make your yogurt.

You are working with bacterial culture when you make yogurt and while you don’t want cross-contamination, complete disinfection could also cause problems with residue left over from the disinfecting/sterilization agents, which may kill off the bacterial culture you’re adding, or really impede their population growth.

So, what does sanitation mean? Basically, keeping things clean, including your hands. Wipe down the countertop with vinegar. Make sure the pot and stirring utensil you use are clean and without any old food matter on them.

If you want, you can pick up some sodium metabisulphite from a home winemaking shop. In winemaking, this compound typically called simply sulphite, has two uses, one of which is in sanitizing equipment, and surface areas that are in the vicinity of the wine making process. Two teaspoons to a litre of water in a spray bottle is powerful enough to provide sanitizing to your work area.

Conclusions

Making your own yogurt is pretty simple and generally most people should have no problems. Maybe for some, it’s just too convenient to purchase at the grocery store, but those who want to know and experience how it’s made might like to go through the process. You might even enjoy it that you’ll become a regular yogurt maker!

In addition, once you’ve made yogurt, there are many other things you can do which I’ll write more about later.

So what’s holding you back? Get started either with genuine Bulgarian Culture or start with an active culture yogurt like Activia.

If there’s enough demand or questions about anything I’ve written, I’ll provide further photos of the process.

Any questions? Feel free to ask or leave a comment, below.

Related

Yes, You Can Make Yogurt With UHT Milk

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