Raw milk yogurt has a thin, delicate texture and a lovely, light tartness. You can make it at home very easily. Serve it plain with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey or make homemade yogurt panna cotta for a special dessert.
What is raw milk yogurt?
Raw milk yogurt is yogurt that has been prepared using raw, rather than pasteurized milk. It has a thin, drinkable consistency similar to milk kefir, and a lightly tart flavor.
How is it different?
Traditionally, you make yogurt by whisking the starter into pasteurized or scalded milk. After that, you let it culture for 6 to 12 hours. Scalding or pasteurizing milk denatures its proteins. This process makes them "sticky." Accordingly, it's easier for those proteins to coagulate, or thicken as the milk cultures. The result is classic, thick and spoonable yogurt.
When you make raw milk yogurt, you whisk the starter directly into raw or unpasteurized milk. And since the proteins remain in their natural state, they don't coagulate resulting in a thin, rather than thick texture.
Raw milk yogurt also tends to be richer and has a more diverse array of bacteria than yogurt made from pasteurized milk.
Bacteria and Raw Milk Yogurt
Raw milk is naturally rich in bacteria, with some samples containing hundreds of varieties. For the most part, these bacteria are benign or even beneficial, but they can also be a source of pathogenic bacteria that cause serious food-borne illnesses (1).
When you make yogurt, you inoculate milk with a starter culture that's rich in specific beneficial bacteria that will give your yogurt flavor, texture, and many health benefits, too.
These starters include probiotic strains with strong anti-inflammatory activity. That's why yogurt is considered a nutrient-dense functional food. And the bacteria in yogurt help support optimal weight while improving gut, cardiovascular and metabolic health (2). These benefits aren't exclusive to yogurt made with raw milk.
Your Starter Culture
When you make yogurt the traditional way with scalded milk, you can save a little bit of that yogurt to make your next batch. In this way, starter cultures can become heirlooms - preserved and passed on. These starter cultures contain specific strains of bacteria that give your yogurt consistency in flavor and texture.
Raw milk already contains a very wide variety of native bacteria. When you use it to make yogurt, those native strains mix with the strains in your starter culture. Over time, the native bacteria in your raw milk may outcompete the strains in your starter, producing off-flavors and inconsistent results.
So, for consistent results, it's best to use a new starter each time you make yogurt rather than preserving a little from one batch to the next.
Further, use the freshest milk possible rather than old or sour raw milk. Bacterial counts in raw milk tend to grow rapidly in just a few days. Accordingly, these cultures may interfere with the bacteria in your starter culture, creating undesirable flavors or textures.
Pro Tip: Direct-set starter culture works best for raw milk yogurt and is the easiest option.
Making Raw Milk Yogurt
It's easy to make raw milk yogurt. First, you'll need to whisk your starter into your milk, and then let it culture.
Most yogurts culture best at a slightly elevated temperature of about 110 F. So, for best results, you'll need a way to keep your yogurt at a consistently elevated temperature. Some people use a thermos or tuck their jar of inoculated milk into the oven with the pilot light on, but a yogurt maker is a great purchase.
You'll know your yogurt is ready when it smells and tastes pleasantly sour, and set.
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How to Thicken Raw Milk Yogurt
Raw milk yogurt is naturally thin with a drinkable consistency. And for many yogurt makers, this thin consistency is undesirable.
- Scald your milk first and then cool it down. Heat your milk to 180 F and then cool it down to 110 F. Your milk won't be raw any longer, but you'll make delicious yogurt with a thick consistency.
- Strain your yogurt. Line a fine mesh sieve with a butter muslin, and then pour the yogurt into the muslin, allowing the whey to drip. Depending on how well the yogurt set, you may lose a significant amount.
- Add raw cream. Substituting half the milk for cream can result in a thicker yogurt.
- Add gelatin. Place 4 teaspoons gelatin into a bowl, and cover it with ¼ cup raw milk until softened. Then whisk the bloomed gelatin into your milk as you heat it to 110 F. Culture normally, and set in the fridge at least 4 hours before serving.
- Quigley, L., O'Sullivan, O., et al. (2013) The Complex Microbiota of Raw Milk. FEMS Microbiology Reviews. 37(5). 664-698
- Pei, R., Martin, D.A., et al. (2013) Evidence for the Effects of Yogurt on Health and Obesity. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 57(8)