Mesophilic yogurt is one of the easiest ways to make yogurt at home. These heirloom yogurts are cultured at room temperature, meaning that there’s no need for a yogurt maker.
Making yogurt at home is incredibly simple, but it can be tricky to keep it warm without a yogurt maker.
The basic process starts by adding a yogurt culture to milk and then incubating at 90 to 100 degrees F for 6 to 8 hours, sometimes up to 12 hours. Sounds simple, but it can be tricky to keep the yogurt warm enough for that long.
A yogurt maker is a simple solution, and it is just an incubation chamber that maintains a consistent temperature. The problem is, they’re expensive. They generally cost around $50, which isn’t bad when you consider all the money you’ll be saving making your own yogurt.
I’ve tried all manner methods for making yogurt without a yogurt maker, including crock pots, water baths, oven lights…you name it. I even tried incubating yogurt in a food dehydrator.
There is a simpler way though.
Why not just make yogurt that doesn’t need incubation?
While most grocery store yogurt is what’s known as “Thermophilic” or heat-loving yogurt that requires warm temperatures to culture, there are plenty of yogurt varieties that culture at room temperature.
Thermophilic yogurts evolved in places where the average daytime temperatures during the summer are quite warm, like India. But in Scandinavia and Russia, the temperatures are much cooler, especially in the mountain pastures where the dairy animals are taken during the milking season (late spring through early autumn).
These mesophilic yogurts culture at room temperature, without an incubator!
Originally from the Caucasus, this easy homemade yogurt has been made since at least the 11th century. It’s known as Matsoni in Georgia, or Matsun in Armenia. Other places around the world call it all manner of things, and it’s even popular in Japan where it’s called “Caspian Sea Yogurt.”
Long before refrigeration, culture was added to room temperature milk and it was allowed to stand for 24 to 48 hours until the lactobacilli had converted natural milk sugars into acids.
That natural acidification process helped to preserve the milk, but also gave it a characteristic tangy flavor and thick, custardy texture.
Simply take the milk and allow it to come to room temperature. Add matsoni culture and give it a quick stir, then let it culture on the counter at room temperature (68 to 80 degrees F).
The fresh matsoni will be ready in 24 to 48 hours. You’ll know it’s done when it’s thickened, and it’ll pull away from the sides of the bowl/jar when tilted.
You can purchase Matsoni culture here.
This heirloom yogurt culture comes from Finland, and it creates a truly unique yogurt.
It’s described as having a “ropey” consistency, and it has an incredibly cohesive texture. Traditional strains have a “bloom” on the surface, similar to Camembert cheese, but most modern strains have the culture that causes the surface bloom removed.
Without the “bloom” it’s less traditional, but more fitting with modern tastes. Few people these days want yogurt with a fuzzy surface. If you want to add it back in, you’ll need just a pinch of Geotrichum Candidum culture.
The texture may be an acquired taste, but the flavor is incredibly mild and delicate, barely sour at all (unlike most yogurt, which is quite tangy).
I became obsessed with trying to find a Viili culture after reading a story about one heirloom Viili culture in the book The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Elix Katz. It’s the story of a Finnish immigrant named Van, the last of 13 children born just after arriving in the US:
“Van lived alone in a 3 room cabin in the woods up the road from us and in his early 90s was still pretty independent…After his 95th birthday, Van took a fall and his health began to fail…One afternoon, watching TV by his bedside, he asked me calmly, “Can you take care of the seed?” I assured him that he had shown me well how to do that and I would. In the middle of the next night, I realized his light was on and I went in to find that he had died.
The ‘seed’ is one Finn way of expressing ‘the starter’ or ‘culture’ of the Finn dairy product fiilia (viili). Though Van was born in Fort Bragg, the ‘seed’ had come from Finland with the Kinnunen family and probably dozens of other families as well. The corner of a clean handkerchief had been spread with a bit of cultured milk, dried, rolled up, and tucked carefully into personal belongings for the long trip to a new life. Seed or culture is the means for the continuation of life, a new life, in a new land…”
To make Viili, simply take a bowl, jar, or similar vessel. Take a spoonful of viili from the previous batch and spread it around the interior of the vessel. If using powdered culture, just sprinkle it on top and mix it in. (In the story above, a piece of the dried handkerchief culture would have been cut and placed at the bottom of the bowl.
Add milk, leaving a good bit of headspace because like all fermented foods it’ll expand a bit when cultured. Cover loosely with a towel or cloth and allow the Viili to culture at room temperature (68 to 80 degrees F) for about 24 hours until thickened.
You can purchase Viili culture here.
Originally from Sweeden, Filmjölk is another easy-to-make room-temperature yogurt.
It has a mildly sour yogurt-like tang, but also a rich buttery flavor. One of the probiotic strains in the culture produces something known as diacetyl, which has a buttery taste and gives this yogurt its characteristic flavor.
I’ve written detailed instructions on how to make Filmjölk since my kids particularly love this mesophilic yogurt. We mix in berry juice and make it into smoothies regularly.
The process is pretty simple though. Just add the culture and allow the mixture to culture at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours until thickened.
Though it’s often referred to as “drinkable yogurt,” the result is quite thick, and you could eat it with a spoon. You could also drink it from a glass, like a milkshake.
You can purchase Filmjölk culture here.
Another thin, drinkable Scandinavian yogurt, Piimä is similar in some ways to Filmjölk.
The main difference is that it doesn’t have Filmjölk’s buttery flavor, and instead tastes incredibly mild. It’s also usually a bit thinner than Filmjölk.
You can purchase Piimä culture here.
Technically a cheese, skyr is a type of “yogurt” made in Iceland that’s similar to Greek yogurt. It’s thick and creamy, and it’s generally made with skim milk.
The thick consistency is achieved by the addition of rennet, which is used in cheesemaking. This allows you to separate curds from whey and results in a protein-rich, creamy yogurt-like cultured milk.
Since the original recipes were developed in Iceland, it also cultures at room temperature.
The process is a bit more involved, and I’d suggest starting with something simpler like Matsoni. (Unless you’re ready to dive into home cheesemaking, in which case, I’d suggest reading this beginner’s guide to cheesemaking to get you started.)
Still, if you’re ambitious, the culture packet comes with everything you need, including recipes and instructions, as well as rennet tablets. (If you’re curious, here are basic instructions for making skyr.)
You can purchase Skyr culture here.
Fermented Food Tutorials
Looking for more ways to make homemade probiotic foods?
- How to Make Sauerkraut
- Lacto-Fermented Pickles
- How to Make Cider Vinegar
- Fermented Turmeric (Natural Anti Inflammatory)
- How to Make Gravlax (Salt Cured Salmon)
- Beginner’s Guide to Lacto-Fermentation