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DIY: The Mysteries of Yogurt

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About this time last year, I started riding my bike to work every day. Then I got a basket to carry packages in. And then I brought home a Cuisipro Donvier Electronic Yogurt Maker.

My family eats approximately five or six hundred quarts of yogurt a week, between the three of us, and I'd had it with plastic tubs spilling out of the cupboard. We were going to make our own. The recipe called for starting yogurt the old-fashioned way — with more yogurt. But I quickly discovered that the stuff you buy off the shelf, even from cows that roamed free and studied Suzuki violin, doesn't always pack enough active culture to turn milk into yogurt.

We turned to off-the-shelf yogurt starter, a powder that is to yogurt what yeast is to bread. That stuff works, every time. But then came the mystery, or mysteries.

In an effort to save money, or something, I decided to try making two batches from one dose of powder. I'd make the first batch, then immediately use a bit of that yogurt — still warm from the maker — for a second batch. It should have been fresh, but it often failed. Why? Does anyone know why?

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Second mystery: Lately, I've had trouble finding starter in the store, enough that I dipped into the last of the yogurt I'd made from starter and used that instead. It worked, but the yogurt wasn't as tart as I'd like. Days later, I started a batch using the not-quite-tart yogurt, and I cooked it for a looong time — maybe 15 or 16 hours. My hope was that the extra time would let the culture grow and result in tarter yogurt. It didn't. What we got was not-quite-tart yogurt that had a somewhat mealy texture. Does anyone know why? Had the milk fats begun to separate?

Third mystery: This weekend, I started a batch with the mealy, not-quite-tart yogurt and cooked it for 12.5 hours. The result was close to perfect. It's still not as tart as what you get with starter, but it's tart enough and the texture is so smooth. What went right?