DIY Yogurt, Cheese, Vinegar, Fermented Foods

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Introduction: DIY Yogurt, Cheese, Vinegar, Fermented Foods

This starter as as a simple mini incubator, but has expaded to much more as my knowledge and confidence has grown in culturing foods. For example, making vinegar is as simple as adding juice or old fruit to raw vinegar. You can never go wrong adding a bit of raw honey for cultures, but don't oversweeten. You can never go wrong adding milk ferments to fruit ferments. The only limitation is what you want the flavor to be. Keep your cultures strong. Sore bought cultures are a great starting point. And SHAKE EVERYTHING! We are not distilling alcohol here. We are making food. If you want alcohol with the least hangover, go buy the cheapest vodka you can find and run it through a brita filter or better a couple times. I'm off the alcohol, the caffeine, the meds, practically the food and water. I hope you enjoy the instructable!

Before you make this cute little countertop mini yogurt maker, there is an even easier way. The electric lightbulb or pilot light in your oven may work just as well for making yogurt. To test it out, buy a tub of whole milk yogurt. Stick it in the oven with the lid on it and turn the light on. If you have a gas oven, the pilot light is already on. If after 6-2 hours or so there is more liquid in the tub than when you bought it, then your yogurt is waking up. The temperature is ok. Add a quarter or half of it to a gallon of milk and within a day or two incubating in the oven you will have made a gallon of yogurt. It smells weird when it's warm. That's all yogurt. If you like Greek yogurt then strain the yellow liquid from your yogurt to make a thicker yogurt. The yellow liquid is 'whey'. Or just stir it up and eat it. Add pectin if it isn't thick enough for you. Pectin can be found in the canning aisle of a lot of stores.

For info on making any and all fermented foods, see the last step, entitled 'Today we will be making fermented Foods.'

****Warning****-Do not forget that you have foods incubating in your oven and go to preheat your oven. It's happened to me once before. I forgot that my light bulb incubator set up was in the oven. If you are still planning on possibly using your oven as an oven sometime in the future, please put a working smoke detector with good batteries inside your oven for safety.***

*UPDATE* The top of your water heater tank works better faster to make thick delicious yogurt. Simply add some whole milk or greek yogurt to some whole milk and place on top of your water heater an inch or two from the pipe on top. Work like a charm. Don't be scared to culture it until it's thick, no need to strain it. Shake it up every day or two.

*#1 safety tip for fermented food/drinks-Do not eat or drink them if they still smell like alcohol. Keep shaking them up and letting them go. Wait until they smell like vinegar and you can do no wrong. By the way, you may still get tipsy.

Step 1:

-Cooler

-nightlights

-three outlet extension cord

-mini utility knife

-chopsticks

-hot glue gun

Step 2:

This instructable is going to be a lot easier to follow exactly if you live near a Dollar Tree. You get one of their little foam coolers, three of their nightlights, and one of their extension cords. Actually, do yourself a favor and do not get a Dollar Tree extension cord. They are terrible. Spend a dollar or two more and get an extension cord that you can actually plug things into without having to widen the slots of the outlets. Be sure to get an extension cord that has the three outlets on the end of it. That is most any common, cheap 6 foot extension cord. Or get a longer extension cord if you want. The choice is yours.

If you don't live near Dollar tree, the theory that you must understand here is that you are making an insulated box and heating the inside of it with a certain number of watts of incandescent light bulbs to get it to within a temperature range that will work for making yogurt. So if you don't live near a Dollar Tree, look elsewhere for a small '12 cans plus ice' foam cooler and 8 to 12 watts of incandescent nightlight power to keep the inside of the cooler warm.

Step 3: 4 Watts or 7 Watts?

If you get the nightlights from the Dollar Tree, you'll notice that the package says the bulbs are 7 W, but the bulbs themselves say on the metal part that you screw in '120v 4W'. So are they four watts or are they seven watts? I don't know what to believe anymore. I'm inclined to believe the actual bulbs, what it says on them, which is 4 W, which is where I believe they really are.

The second time I made yogurt in this, I had somehow misplaced one of the nightlights, so I made yogurt using only two nightlights instead of three. That worked too. The three night light yogurt that I made the first time, I checked the temperature of it in the morning after having left it to incubated overnight, and it was right around where you want the top temperature range of yogurt to be, perhaps even 5 to 10°F above that. It was around 120 to 130° when I took the temperature reading of the actual yogurt. The yogurt was very solid with the significant layer of whey on the top. That is exactly how I wanted it to be for the purpose of making strained Greek yogurt. Yogurt can go two ways. You can go the fruit on the bottom/sweet/breakfast/ordinary yogurt way. Or you can go the hearty/salty/cheesy/dinner yogurt way. You want to use three nightlights and let it just go overnight, 8 to 10 hours if you are going for Greek yogurt. If you're going for normal yogurt, I would say use two nightlights and let it go 14- 16 hours. I'd like to have a little more heat and a little less time for normal yogurt, but then you're complicating the situation. You would need to either use three nightlights and add holes into the lid that could be uncovered or covered, or you could go to the hardware and buy a plug in lamp dimmer. I like the Greek style yogurt better. It seems to me like the less liquid way you leave in the yogurt, the better it keeps in the fridge.

Step 4:

I live in the United States. Here we have polarized electrical outlets where one side is longer than the other. To get the third night like to plug in your going to have to go against what the polarized outlet wants you to do. For me, I just had to push a little harder and the nightlight went in fine the 'wrong' way. I suppose you could give the third nightlight its own separate extension cord. The beauty of these 4 Watt bulbs, is that they really don't get hot, you can push them directly against the Styrofoam while at full power, and there is no melting/fire/fume hazard whatsoever, it just doesn't have the juice.

I did a test to see if a 15 Watt nightlight bulb would be a hazard. Even in direct contact with the Styrofoam,while the 15 W bulb did make it indent in the Styrofoam, there was still no fire/melting hazard. To be safe though, just don't lose the covers that the nightlights come with. Leave those on facing the bottom of the cooler so the bulbs aren't in direct contact with the Styrofoam cooler.

Step 5: The Chopstick Shelf

You need something to set your yogurt containers on, so they'renot sitting directly on the nightlights in a non-balanced falling over sort of way. You want a little table, shelf, stand, etc. A nice flat, level surface for the containers to set on.

If you don't have a whole bunch of glue guns and bags of chopsticks, first of all go get those things so that your life will be complete. Then make a stand like you see in the picture. You can cut the chopsticks with an awesome pair of Betty Crocker scissors from the Dollar tree, or any other pair of scissors that are not terrible scissors. The long chopsticks of the stand are just the length of the chopsticks. Running the other direction, the short chopsticks, I cut them down to a length of about 5 1/2 inches. Then the chopsticks stand just sets into the cooler. The cooler tapers at the sides, so at the point where the cooler is 5 1/2 inches by chopsticks length inches, the stand supports itself against the cooler walls. Nice.

The stand does not have to be made out of chopsticks and hot glue. Chopsticks and hot glue are just what I had on hand. You can use Legos, blocks of wood, cardboard, etc.

Step 6:

All right, so you pretty much done at this point. Plug the three nightlights into the end of the extension cord. Put those in the bottom of the cooler. The plug end of the extension cord will have to come up through the stand. So when you're making your stand, leave a little open space at the corner of it, big enough for the plug of the extension cord to go through. Take a look at the picture.

So once you got the nightlights and the stand in the cooler, you'll notice that the lid of the cooler doesn't fit on top because the extension cord is in the way. So you've got to cut a space for it in both the top of the cooler and the bottom of the lid. See picture. Then the lid will fit on nicely.

Step 7:

Just like I got a slot in the lid and the cooler for the extension cord to go through, I also cut a smaller slot for the wire of a thermometer probe like the one in the picture to go through. You can buy thermometers like the one in the picture off of eBay for less than two dollars a piece. Search 'digital thermometer'. You don't really need a thermometer, but why not? Unleash your inner scientist and measure something.

Step 8:

This step is a little short tutorial on how to make yogurt. Go buy a gallon of whole milk and a small container of either Chobani or Fage plain Greek yogurt. Okay, I guess any plain Greek yogurt will work.

With the right containers, you could make nearly a gallon of yogurt in this little yogurt maker. However big the containers are that you're using, you'll need to heat up that much milk, minus enough room to add a few spoons of boughten Greek yogurt to act as a starter.

I put the milk in a big glass stirring bowl and stick it in the microwave on high for about 10 minutes. Your shooting for 180°F. You're trying to take it up to just before boiling, where it steaming a lot. you want it scalding hot. I have my suspicions that you could just boil it and that would work fine.The microwave for me is a lot easier than the stove, because with the stove you have to keep watching it and stirring it, and even if you're doing all that is still always seems to burn on the bottom of the pan. So I use the microwave. Cancer in the long run? Probably. A lot easier in the short run? You bet.

Anyways, heat the milk to at least 180 Fahrenheit. This is where it's nice to have a thermometer. Once you've heated the milk, you've got to wait for it to cool down to 115°F before adding in the starter yogurt. Actually, the knowing when the milk is cooled down enough is the step that you most want to have the thermometer for. Once it's cooled down enough, then you add the starter yogurt. I use old yogurt containers and put a few spoons of starter in each one. Two fit easily in the cooler. Let the yogurt incubate 8-12 hours or so. Take a peek at it when you think it might be done. It should be nice and thick and have at least a little bit of liquid whey on the top. If you want you can stir the whey back in, I prefer to pour it off and have thicker yogurt. Good luck, any questions feel free to comment.

Step 9: Update: Another Easy/cheap Temperature Control Option

If you want to use a different cooler or bulbs. for instance if you already have a cooler and a light like a clamp light or a small lamp, here's a trick so you can use what you already have:

You modify an extension cord by adding in what's called a 'nc switch', which stands for 'normally closed switch'.

Pretty much you're making a magic extension cord that will turn your light bulb off when it gets the incubator to the right temperature and turn it back on again when it drops below that. Search this on ebay: 45c normal close

The 45c stands for 45 Celsius which is 113 Farenheit. That will work.

Step 10: Today We Will Be Building Fermented Foods

Making fermented foods is as easy as leaving food out at room temperature. That is it. It goes bad in the fridge. It goes good at room temperature.

The exception to this rule is yogurt. Your yogurt will not turn out like commercial yogurt at room temp. You need to keep the yogurt over 100 degrees to make it become like commercial yogurt. The best range is from 105-115 Farenheit, but dont overthink it. Fermented foods need to be kept warm, 65-75 degrees farenheit is fine. Yogurt needs to be kept really warm, like a hot day in Florida warm.

Adding in a large amount of store bought fermented food or drink will help to ensure your success the first time around, for example, if making yogurt, add in 2 cups to a quart of yogurt to a gallon of whole milk. If you try to be stingy and just use a couple of tablespoons, it will take a long time to culture and won't end up tasting anything like commercial yogurt. It probably wont be good. For thicker yogurt, it helps to heat the milk to around 180 Farenheit. Let it cool to around 130 Farenheit if you are adding room temperature store bought yogurt as a starter. Remember, don't be stingy. If you are adding cold yogurt, it will further cool the milk, so take that into account. If you follow this recipe for yogurt, simply wrapping the warm milk and starter mixture in a towel and placing in the oven with the light or pilot light on for warmth will produce decent results within 24 to 48 hours. I like to culture it longer than that.

You can pour out the liquid as it forms, Add it your water or juice kefir if you are making that. When you pour the liquid whey out, add in more whole milk and honey or fruit if you like. Stir it up and continue to culture it, eating some and adding more milk to balance out the flavor. Use whole milk or above (cream added). Again, preheating the milk and incubating in a warmer environment will produce better results. If it gets too hot your yogurt will start to smell like custard. At that point, it's dead.

For a shortcut to thicker yogurt, add fruit pectin found in the canning aisle of your local grocery store. If your yogurt starts to taste 'off' after a few batches, throw most of it out and basically start over at the beginning, except do add in a small amount of that 'off' yogurt. Those are your heirloom cultures. Ingesting small amounts will protect you from 'germ' around you by letting you build up immunity to them. I no longer believe in refrigeration, air conditioning, or forced air heating. I mean, I know they exist. I believe in it in that sense. I just feel that there is too much chance for disease causing, cold loving micro-organisms to thrive in cold environments that are rarely if ever sanitized. That's my theory. Why I'm against forced or heating/central air/furnaces has to do with dust. You can't get rid of it in those systems, Take off your vents and look at how nasty they are inside. Clean them as best you can, but you can only clean so far into a small metal duct. I find it quite coincidental that allergies tend to flare up during the change in seasons, when we begin climate controlling our homes. There is very little pollen in the air outside. If there aren't a lot of flowers, then there isn't a lot of pollen. Do you see a lot of flowers?

Once something is open, leave it open I say. If shelf life is a concern, don't buy so much at once. Buy fresh and eat it up while it's still fresh. When yeasts are present in a culture such with kefir, it is first going to get more bubbly and the alcohol content will go up. That alcohol changes to more of a vinegar taste the longer a food or drink cultures for and the alcohol content goes down. Any questions, feel free to ask. It's not rocket science. You can make it as complicated or as simple as you want. You won't a commercial yogurt maker that lets you culture a gallon or more of yogurt in containers that you already own. Or maybe you will but if you do, it's going to cost you, and you can do the same thing at home for very little start up cost. If you want more accurate control over temperature, a light bulb wired to a dimmer switch is all you need. You do not need to be an electrician to do that. There are 3 wires to connect, you can use twist on wire connectors to join the wires. No need for soldering.

Be careful if you ferment tomatoes. The flavor and smell gets out of hand real quick. I'd skip fermenting tomatoes at all if I were me, which I am. Also, avoid using metal utensils, pots and containers as much as as possible as they can kill cultures. If using tap water to make fermented drinks, boil it and cool it first before adding starter culture. This gets rid of the chlorine, but not the flouride, which can also be damaging or fatal to a culture. The small amount in tap water shouldn't be that big of a deal, but why not avoid it altogether? There's no sense in trying to build up healthy cultures in the bowels and then killing them off by drinking tap water. Now we have built fermented foods.

Step 11: *UPDATE* How I Feed/Make My Yogurt Now

I feed my yogurt anything dairy. That's all good. Any sort of cheese you like, add it to your yogurt. THe cultures will blend and you'll get a delicious cheese yogurt cross. Eventually the cultures will become so fierce/strong, you'll have overnight separation of all milk solids from the way. You are at that point making cheese, and liquid whey. Commercial yogurt is a distant speck in our rear-view mirror at that point. Take a look at the pictures. THats from about 18 hours of culturing on top of my water heater tank. Good luck getting that separation from any available commercial cultures. I don't know if I could physically strain any more liquid from those curds with some type of hydraulic press. I exaggerate, but barely. My stuff is healthy.

I dont have special containers or utensils or anything. I just start with whole milk, I don't heat it, and I dont strain it. I pour off the liquid. I don't bother to keep the temperature any higher than is comfortable for me. I don't want my cultures to be temperature shocked. At this point my yogurt must contain a billion cultures. I don't know. I don't have a microscope.

I also feed it raw honey for cultures from flowers and bananas because I read that yogurt cultures like that. I also read that they like raw eggs but I'm not going there. I try not to eat embryos, including, nuts, seeds, beans, grains. Equally I do not eat broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc. because they have not had a chance to flower.

My yogurt setup is as simple as adding some yogurt to a gallon of milk and leaving the whole gallon in a warm area. I shake it up every so often and keep an eye on the flavor. I don't throw out batches because of off taste. I don't have to. It's always cheesy and delicious, like something a desert nomad may have drank a long time ago. I don't even have a funnel. I just use a cut off water bottle top.

Don't believe the line about 'Yogurt cultures are anaerobic, they need to be sealed to culture. If you seal it, it will always start to taste bad at the top of it after a while.

They might be anaerobic. People are 'aerobic' I guess. We breathe oxygen. That doesn't mean we should be sealed off in a room with pure oxygen. We would die.

So shake it up! The jug the milk comes in or the yogurt container are both fine to culture in. If you go buy juice in a glass bottle, you can use that once emptied also to culture milk.

Remember, don't use less than whole milk. And shake it up!

It helps to have a stick blender otherwise known as an immersion blender. That will be used to puree any banana or cheeses that you add to the milk.

Thanks for reading!

Step 12: CHEESE

To be succesful with cheese, add a whole lot of aged cheese, powdered or grated, to some whole milk. If it starts to taste bad, feed it some cream or more whole milk. Pour or strain out the liquid as you go. Add herbs if you want. If it doesnt taste at all salty, add some salt. Dont add a whole bunch of salt until you want to do the final seperation where you strain it and age it to reduce moisture content. If main gets grainy, I hit it with a stick blender until it is creamy like blue cheese salad dressing. Blue cheese has been aged a long time.

The first thing to culture is yeast, then bacteria, then mold/fungus. Their is a health theory that mold/fungus is the cause of all health problems, Molfd and fungus take way longer to culture than the amount of time that food should be in your body, so if you've got internal fungus, yeah, you're in trouble.

People are way to scared of mold. The mold that is harming people is coming from refrigeration/ac units. Ironically people are not scared of those.

To make homemade blue cheese, just let some ground parmesan age. Working at fazolis taught me that as the cheese in the very bottom of the shakers never got changed and often turned blue, yet no one got sick.

I worked gutting a flood damaged house entirely filled with black mold, without a professional respirator. Never got sick beyond the fact that breathing a lot of mold spores is similar to breathing a lot of dust and blocks your airways.

You can buy this meat alternative in the store called Quorn. It is mold. Or fungus. Mold becomes fungus I believe. Correct me if I'm wrong.

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    7 Discussions

    Thanks! I thought about making kits of these to sell. With more control over the temperature by adding a dimmer to the bulbs I think it would be a pretty good product.Most of the yogurt makers out there limit what sort of containers you can use or you can only make small amounts of pyogurt at once. This would be pretty easy to scale up to however big you wanted. Pretty much a cooler, a light bulb, and a dimmer, maybe a small fan and a safety max temperature switch. I had really good results culturing greek yogurt with two night lights with this exact simple design though.

    I have failed at making yogurt more times than I am comfortable admitting but for the sake of honesty I shall just say I am not giving up yet. The other thing that I shall try with this is to use it to rise some of my homemade breads. I am pretty sure this will help me with that problem, too. I shall let you know.

    2 replies

    my brother has had good success with homemade starter yeast for bread, I think its flour, water, sugar and he just leaves it on top of the fridge where its warm, not super scientific but hes getting to be a pretty dang good baker. He has a convection oven which makes the bread too dry but he bought a lodge cast iron dutch oven with a lid to bake in and that holds the moisture in.

    Yea, there is definitely a knack to it. Ive done a lot and I still use fresh store bought starter yogurt every third batch or so. Are you heating the milk to 180 degrees first? Also whole milk of course makes the thickest yogurt. Many commercial ypgurts use a thickening agent. Pectin works and can be found in the baking/canning section. I really like the strained greek yogurt the best. It goes good with salty flavors. I think a lot of world food dishes have yogurt in the cooking to give it a creaminess. Skip the cheesecloth. Its impossible to reuse. Go straight for the gerber cloth baby diapers and then wash them by hand or your yogurt will taste like laundry soap. I was trying to come up with the very simplest way here. It is a very crude method as there is no temperature control and three bulbs runs a bit on the hot side I dont think all the strain probably reproduce well, just the thermo ones. Thermophilis, etc. Ive been making to get a bit more scientific/sanitary with the process what with a microscope and maybe specific strains from probiotic capsules. Something that would work better than this is to buy something called a Normal Close switch. Its a little bimetallic switch that you splice in to an extension cord to make a magic temperature control extension cord. Search NC Switch 45 C (for celsius.) thats 115 faenheit. They only make them in 5 degree celsius increments. The cool thing is you can find them on ebay for 99 cents, free shipping from china. It sounds like you might be serious enough about this to go for the gold, a microcontroller. Seach 'Sous vide' on instructables. For around forty dollars or so you can build a very accurate digital temperature control outlet. There are even humidity control microcontrollers. (theyre also called PID's but just search 'digital temperature control farenheit on ebay and youll find it. Or celsius if you want. It does take a bit of wiring. There really needs to be a video instructable of that part. it confused me. Also there are a whole lot of oldschool peple that just warm the milk, put it in a container wrapped with towels for insulation and put it in a warm spot in their house like by a vent, or on top the fridge.

    Mmmm yogurt is so good. And this looks pretty straightforward. Yet again thanking my lucky stars to live close to a Dollar Tree. That place is both sad and absolutely magical

    1 reply

    Yea, making the chopstick stand was a bit tricky. If you go that route, just know there is no going back once you enter the magical world of building stuff out of chopsticks and hot glue. I agree about dollar tree being magical. I think I see what you're saying about it being sad too. The low prices leading one to wonder about the working conditions of the 'Made in China/Malaysia/Etc.' people who make the stuff. That's anywhere you go though it seems like, no matter how much you're paying for goods.