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Help my California yogurt man-up

triomphe Apr 15, 2013 07:48 AM

I am a long-time home yogurt maker and apart from the odd misfire, have never had any trouble with it. That is, until I moved from Massachusetts to California. Since I moved here, I have NEVER been able to get my yogurt to set. I’ve tried everything: varying the incubation time, varying the incubation temperature (100, 110 and 112), sterilizing the equipment, not sterilizing the equipment, varying milk fat (I use cow), doing it at different times of the year when ambient temperatures are different, changing the yogurt culture. I haven’t resorted to adding gelatin, because I never needed to before, and I’d like to nail down the problem before adding another step.

The only variable I can think of is geography. Could it have something to do with CA vs. MA wild yeasts? Could it be something in West Coast yogurt cultures?

I’m getting mighty tired of thin smoothies. Any yogurteers out there have any ideas?

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  1. biondanonima RE: triomphe Apr 15, 2013 08:46 AM

    Have you tried a new culture? I've used pretty much every commercial yogurt out there as a starter (I started with Stonyfield but I prefer more tang, so have moved onto various Greek brands, including Fage, Chobani, Olympus, etc.), and they all work fine. You can also purchase dry starters from various vendors (I know New England Cheesemaking sells some, and Amazon has a variety). If all else fails, you can try adding dry milk powder and/or straining for a thicker consistency.

    2 Replies
    1. re: biondanonima
      splatgirl RE: biondanonima Apr 16, 2013 07:47 AM

      +1 to this rec. I had been propagating the same culture for a looonng time and then went for a while without making any yogurt so had to buy some. When I used it as starter for my next homemade batch, the texture came out completely different--much thicker and better.

      I think my old culture had gradually strayed from whatever it was originally and I just didn't notice or pay attention.

      1. re: splatgirl
        triomphe RE: splatgirl Apr 16, 2013 10:16 AM

        Yes, using new cultures every time, because the previous batch is too runny to reuse. I was assuming I killed the culture somehow. I'm going to lower the temp and go for a longer steep. I'll report back.

        Thanks, friends-in-yogurt!

    2. hotoynoodle RE: triomphe Apr 15, 2013 09:35 AM


      have heard the slow-cooker method is pretty fool-proof.

      1. kapusta RE: triomphe Apr 15, 2013 09:50 AM

        Maybe it's those California cows??

        Perhaps you already do this, but I have better results on my yogurt when I heat the milk to about 185-190F first and hold it there for about 15-20 minutes. Then cool your milk to less than 112F or so and add your yogurt culture.
        The heat denatures the proteins and results in a more consistently thick yogurt, in my experience. Prior to instituting this practice, my results were hit and miss and it did seem to vary with what milk I used. This has also eliminated the grainy texture that I sometimes got.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kapusta
          maria lorraine RE: kapusta Apr 16, 2013 03:54 PM

          This is a key step. Heating to that temp kills off competitive bacteria and also denatures one specific protein that can prevent the proper yogurt protein matrix from forming.

          I'd check to make sure your temps are correct, triomphe, using a different thermometer. I heat to 180F also but keep it there only for a minute or so, which sounds similar to what you're doing. When the milk has cooled to 105F, I add the starter.

          It also sounds as if your starter might not have enough active microorganisms to create yogurt. I like Stonyfield for use as a starter culture, if you don't purchase a specific yogurt culture. It's been written that Stonyfield has more active yogurt micro-organisms per volume than other brands.

          Make sure your incubation temp is in the correct window, and that the temp is consistent over several hours, at least 8 and up to 15, depending on how tart you like your yogurt.

          Long yogurt thread with many tips:

          Good luck!

        2. dave_c RE: triomphe Apr 15, 2013 11:46 AM

          One thing you might have to consider is that the milk in California has more protein (and calcium) than milk sold anywhere else. I believe former Gov. Arnold signed a law requiring the milk to be "enhanced".

          Maybe that's the problem?

          11 Replies
          1. re: dave_c
            triomphe RE: dave_c Apr 15, 2013 12:04 PM

            I never thought of the milk! That might indeed be the inconsistency. The cultures probably aren't different coast to coast (Skyr, Danon, Stonyfield, cheapo store brand) but the milk certainly is.

            Kapusta: Interesting thought about holding the milk for 20 minutes. I bring it up to temp and right back down. I'll try the raise-and-hold technique. Hotoynoodle, maybe that's where that slow cooker can come in.

            1. re: dave_c
              hotoynoodle RE: dave_c Apr 16, 2013 12:11 PM

              i was fascinated by this bit so did some ggogle-fu.

              calif. milk advisory board:

              California’s milk standards exceed federal standards because California processors add nonfat milk solids which offer improved taste and nutritional benefits. California milks exceed the federal guidelines for the amounts of calcium and protein in each serving.

              gaah. can't they just raise healthier cows? why are they adding stuff in after the fact? jeebus.

              op: don't know where you live in mass, but there are a fair number of organic dairies selling mostly grass-fed milk. we get milk and cream from shaw farms in dracut.

              1. re: hotoynoodle
                chefj RE: hotoynoodle Apr 16, 2013 12:24 PM

                It has nothing to do with the health of cows. Cows do not produce the levels of that California requires
                It has more to do with Commerce and Nutrition.
                California's Milk standards keep other states Milk out of our market.

                1. re: chefj
                  hotoynoodle RE: chefj Apr 16, 2013 02:07 PM

                  they're requiring milk to have a higher protein content, so to achieve that, processors are adding non-fat milk solids to liquid milk. are you suggesting cafo mik is as nutritious as organic, grass-fed?

                  seems if other states wanted in, they could do the same, but with the high out-put of california dairy, i'm sure it hardly seems worth it.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle
                    chefj RE: hotoynoodle Apr 16, 2013 02:53 PM

                    I made no such suggestion. Just that the health of the cows have nothing to do with the CA requirements for dairy. And grass fed organic does not produce milk that meets the CA standard with out enrichment.
                    There have been many cases trying to make CA lower the Standard since it exceeds the Federal. The Claim is that it does not let out of state dairies compete.

                2. re: hotoynoodle
                  tastesgoodwhatisit RE: hotoynoodle Apr 16, 2013 07:26 PM

                  So basically, in California plain cow milk is illegal, and it *has* to have extra milk solids added to it before you can sell it?

                  There's something really off about that.

                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                    gnomatic RE: tastesgoodwhatisit Apr 16, 2013 08:50 PM


                    I don't think it's of a significant difference from national standard to cause problem with making yogurt for the OP. I have friends who also make yogurt and paneer with store bought California milk with no problem.

                    1. re: gnomatic
                      hotoynoodle RE: gnomatic Apr 17, 2013 07:00 AM

                      op's problem seems to be with the "new" milk, not the stuff he/she was using calif.

                    2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                      hotoynoodle RE: tastesgoodwhatisit Apr 17, 2013 06:59 AM

                      although raw cow milk is relatively easy to obtain, compared to other states, so i'm a bit unclear on the reg's.

                  2. re: dave_c
                    dave_c RE: dave_c Apr 16, 2013 03:36 PM

                    Correction: The "milk enrichment" law was enacted in 1962, not by Gov. Arnold (Ret.)

                    1. re: dave_c
                      maria lorraine RE: dave_c Apr 16, 2013 04:04 PM

                      But any added milk solids would not get in the way of yogurt forming. After all, manufactured yogurt often adds milk solids to milk. I've often made yogurt this way myself.

                      It's not the milk. I'm guessing incubation temp and starter activity to be the culprits.

                    2. j
                      jaykayen RE: triomphe Apr 15, 2013 12:13 PM

                      I'm in CA. Have found that nonfat milk sets very loosely. Full fat is best.

                      1. g
                        gnomatic RE: triomphe Apr 15, 2013 09:50 PM

                        I am in San Francisco. I make my yogurt using Trader Joe's 2% organic milk (usually the cream top, but sometimes use the regular when they run out of cream top). I use a local artisan yogurt, St. Benoit (available at farmer's market and local Whole Foods) as the starter (at least 20 batches ago).

                        I heat the milk to 180 F, let it cool to 120 F. Add in the yogurt (21g to a cup of milk). I usually make yogurt with 6 cups of milk at a time.

                        I put it in a cheap thermal cooker (my mom gave it to me while back to make chinese herbal soup..which I would never make of my own free will). I also used a small thermos before. Wrap it up in a tea towel (more insulation), and leave it on top of my fridge overnight. Perfect yogurt every time.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: gnomatic
                          triomphe RE: gnomatic Apr 16, 2013 10:14 AM

                          That sounds pretty close to what I do, although the St Benoit usually ends up in my mouth--dang, that's good yogurt. You're using a variation on the slow cooker too, although not with powdered milk. I'm giving that a try next.

                        2. firecooked RE: triomphe Apr 16, 2013 02:10 PM

                          Any chance you are using a different thermometer (or the one that you have got jarred in transport)? You might try to calibrate to make sure you are getting the temp's you think you are.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: firecooked
                            triomphe RE: firecooked May 5, 2014 09:40 AM

                            IT WAS THE THERMOMETER! I can't believe it. I've got the richest most amazing yogurt now that the temps are right. Thank you, firecooked!

                            1. re: triomphe
                              firecooked RE: triomphe May 5, 2014 02:04 PM

                              So glad my geek engineering background was able to help!

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