The World’s Best Yogurt

It’s a small world, all right, and for me it runs through the middle of a spoon of yogurt.

Some might say the best part of traveling is experiencing food from around the globe.  It is rare that a family of three will all have the same “ah ha!” moment over the same food,  but such was our collective experience with the yogurt served to us in small clear glass containers every morning at Riad Noir D’Ivorie in the heart of the Medina in Marrakesh.

This was “homemade” yogurt, it was explained to me, and I’m embarrassed to say that I had never, ever considered making yogurt at home.  I was one of those mystery foods, kind of like cheese, that somehow is “made.”  I knew it was dairy.  I just didn’t know how much.

“We make it every day. It is very easy to do,” our waiter explained, and casually mentioned something about warm milk and Danone yogurt from France.  I didn’t quite understand his French enough to catch the details, but then it didn’t really matter, because they would bring us as much as we wanted and I didn’t have a kitchen at hand.  And frankly it was hard to concentrate, what with the nectar drizzling off the end of our dainty little spoons, as if it was pretending to be warm honey instead of cool yogurt.

Cut to the parking lot outside of school five weeks later, and I am speaking with two girlfriends of mine about a local woman named Bea who lives a zero waste lifestyle  Half in awe and half sort of overwhelmed and appalled by her zealousness, we are deconstructing the pros and cons of hauling glass jars to the store for your chicken breasts, when one child listening to our conversation starts throwing out items that couldn’t possibly fit within this lifestyle.

“What about the plastic bag that pretzels and chips come in?” he asks.

“She probably doesn’t eat them, or buys them in bulk,” we respond.

“And yogurt?” he asks.

Both of my girlfriends say, as calmly as if they were explaining the need to brush your teeth, “She makes it herself at home.”

Which, of course, resurrects the memories of my satisfied taste buds, and I regale everyone with my story of the perfect Moroccan yogurt.

Which then, makes me wonder … could I possibly merge both these interests – trying to cut down on the waste I produce AND make my own velvety smooth yogurt?

The answer is, sort of.

Armed with a recipe off the internet and a gallon of organic fresh whole milk in a returnable glass bottle (with the cream plug on the top) from Strauss Dairy, I give it a whirl.

My first batch never congeals, and so when I unwrap it from the towels, it is a slightly funky smelling big glass container of strange milk.  Not appealing at all.  So down the drain it went, which certainly wasn’t zero waste.

And for most things culinary that turn out badly the first time, I usually never attempt a second go-round.  But everyone said it was so EASY.  And so I carefully heated and cooled and swaddled batch two yesterday, with a bit of coaching from Kathleen.

“Use a candy thermometer. Leave it in there from the beginning, and let it touch the bottom of the pan.  Use enough yogurt as a starter and wrap it in towels.”

And wouldn’t you know, when I unwrapped it this morning, it didn’t swish.  It was solid.

Herewith is the recipe that worked for me.

Heat the fresh milk to 180-190 degrees.  Then let the milk cool to around 115 to 120 degrees, somewhere between very warm and hot.  Watch it on the thermometer.  (I used the one I have that came with the espresso machine).  For each quart of milk, stir in 2 tablespoons of yogurt, either store-bought or from your last batch, thinning it first with a little of the milk.

Then put the milk in a warm jar (which I had heated in the oven set at 200), wrap it in towels to keep it warm, and let it sit until it sets.  I put mine in the turned off oven overnight. The next morning, I put it into the fridge to cool.

So while the world’s best yogurt, according to the Glader family, is from Morocco, the most personally satisfying yogurt is the batch in my fridge right now.  It’s not as silky.  And it doesn’t have the same flavor as my favorite North African kind, but I made it myself.

And that counts for something.


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