Yoghurt, to my mind, is about the biggest rort going. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, and eat it almost every day for breakfast. But until I lived in Phnom Penh I had no idea how easy it is to make. It is seriously easy. So my question is, if you can buy milk in the supermarket for as little as $1.00 for a litre, why is a litre of no-added-sugar, natural yoghurt upward of $6.00?

Yoghurt is not some high-tech modern invention. People have been making the stuff for thousands of years – no technology required. Wikipedia tells me that the oldest writings that mention yoghurt are from a Roman chap who was around in the first century AD, known as Pliny the Elder. Pliny had observed that some uncivilised nations knew how to change milk into a thick and pleasingly acidic substance. And the Handbook of Femented Functional Foods offers the fascinatingly enlightening gem that ‘Abraham owed his fecundity and longevity to the regular ingestion of yogurt’!

It was with much excitement when living in Phnom Penh that I received the news from a friend who also lived there, that making yoghurt is easy. I was skeptical, but he emailed the instructions to me and from the first time I tried it, had perfectly thick, deliciously tangy yoghurt. It helps if you live in a warm climate, but don’t let that put you off – I live in Melbourne now and can happily whip up a batch in the middle of winter.

Now, I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with whoever dictates the marketing of milk in Australia. When I returned here after living in Asia for a few years, I discovered that practically every brand of milk was being enthusiastically advertised as now being ‘permeate-free’. When milk in Australia is processed it goes through a process called ultra-filtration which separates the various parts of milk including fat, protein, lactose, vitamins and minerals. Permeate is the lactose, vitamins and minerals part. Milk producers generally like to keep their products consistent throughout the year and one way that they do that is to add back in some permeate. This means that during summer and winter when the cows are doing it a bit harder and their milk is a bit lean, the flavour and texture can be bumped up to more like it is during autumn and spring when the grass is green and lush. Anyway, someone got a bee in their bonnet about it and so now we have the ‘naturally permeate-free’ phenomenon.

Whatever. I buy my organic milk from a small producer at the shop around the corner. It costs a bit more – about $4.00 for a 2litre bottle (I shudder to think how the farmers are surviving on what the supermarket must be paying them for the $1.00 retail version), but I like it and it means that I avoid the whole permeate sham.

Making your own yoghurt is easy

Ok, so here’s how to make your own yoghurt. It’s pretty much:  heat milk, cool it down, add some left over yoghurt from last week, come back 10 hours later.

What you need:

1 litre milk
100g powdered milk (just to thicken the yoghurt – you can make a runny yoghurt without it)
A splash of water
1 tablespoon of yoghurt from the last batch (or buy some natural yoghurt with acidophilus)
A ceramic or cast iron dish with firmly fitting lid
A warm place (a sunny spot, or a hot water system in a cupboard will do)

What you do:

Take the tablespoon of yoghurt out of the fridge so it can come up to room temperature. Place the powdered milk into a large saucepan and add a splash of water then stir to dissolve it. Pour in the milk and either over a double saucepan (ideal) or very carefully (don’t take your eyes off it for a moment!), gently heat the milk until just below boiling point. It should form lots of tiny little bubbles and start to rise up the side of the saucepan, but not too high. Keep it at this temperature for about 5 minutes then remove from the heat.

The heated milk needs to cool down for about half an hour (depends on the temperature of your kitchen). Officially that should be to about 45ºC, but I don’t have a thermometer and the way it was told to me is that it’s ready when you can stick a finger in and it’s not so hot that it burns, but you wouldn’t want to leave your finger in there for too long!

In Phnom Penh I used to make my yoghurt in a stainless steel tiffin container, and left it in there to ferment after the heating process. My electric stove in Melbourne doesn’t like the tiffin tin, so instead I use a saucepan, then transfer the heated milk to a ceramic dish.

Next, remove the skin that has formed on top, spoon some of the warm milk into a jug with the tablespoon of yoghurt and stir to combine. Pour it back into the rest of the milk, put the lid on and transfer it to your warm spot. Since living in Melbourne I now put my dish into an insulated bag – the kind you get from the supermarket to bring your frozen items home in – to help it stay warm.

People will tell you different amounts of time for the fermenting process. I have the most success with about 10 hours, but this varies on the climate. I also have much more success with milk that has been processed as little as possible. Go figure.

Give it a whirl! Let me know how you go.