Experiment Kitchen: Making Raw Milk Yogurt and Kefir

I feel like my kitchen has become something between a test kitchen and a science lab.

Not that what I’m doing hasn’t been done by thousands, likely millions, of people over centuries; it’s just never been done by me, in  my kitchen, for consumption by my loved ones.

I’m culturing raw milk. Yes, I now have a weekly source for raw cow milk . . . unpasteurized means it hasn’t had the protein damaged by the high heat (researchers now believe that the damaged milk cells left in pasteurized milk are a top reason for allergies to it) plus all the immune boosting enzymes are left alive and intact to boost our immune systems. AND, there is quite a quantity of probiotics in the milk, which has been proven by the easy time I’ve had culturing it.

I have made yogurt and kefir in the past with pasteurized milk, but it was a bit of an exact science with heating the milk properly, adding just the right amount of starter culture, blending it in, trying(!) to keep it at the right temperature for 12 hours or so (I don’t have a yogurt maker). My results were less than satisfying: the flavor was there, but the texture was always too liquid, and if I left it any longer then I had cheese at the bottom and whey on top.

Well, with raw milk from a pasture fed cow (read: healthy cow with healthy stomach flora = healthy milk with lots of probiotics) yogurt making is as simple as setting the fresh milk on the counter. No joke.

And it worked: the first week I cultured 2 qts of raw milk by placing it, covered, on the counter for 48 hours. However, I wanted to know what would happen if I introduced some of the cultures I had previously used for culturing. So the second week I did 3.5 qts with 4 different cultures.

From left to right: European, Natural Culture, Kefir, Yogourmet

In the first culture (left), I added a heaping Tablespoon of plain European Style yogurt (from Trader Joes). I love this yogurt as a protein snack, and would love to be able to make it from raw milk.

In the second culture, I added nothing, allowing the natural probiotics to be the only culture.

Kefir grains

In the third culture, I added kefir grains I have on hand. These are squishy tapioca-like curds which are actually both yeast and bacteria that can be reused again and again to make kefir. At right is a picture of about half of the grains after I removed them from the finished kefir and rinsed them in filtered water.

In the fourth culture (which was a pint rather than a quart) I added the commercially available Yogourmet yogurt culture. This culture is a powder, sold in boxes with individual packets. I had to use half a packet, as a whole is meant for 1 quart.

Velvet texture of cultured top cream

Of course each culture retained the original natural probiotics which actively culture the milk along with the added culture. I did not heat the milk or warm it at all: it came directly from being refrigerated for 12 hours after coming from the cow. I also did not skim the milk, so the cream rose to the top and was cultured with the milk. You can see the velvety texture of the top cream in the photo at right.

And here are the results (drumroll, please!):

European: more distinct yogurt flavor than the others, texture resembles starter (creamier, and less slippery solid than others) but still some of the slippery curd texture; will try 2 Tbs. starter next week.

Natural Culture: solid slippery curd, with whey separating distinctly (see photo with yellow whey separated), has a slight fermentation “sparkle” on the tongue

Kefir: sourest in flavor, but with a true kefir texture—smooth and thick

Yogourmet: yeasty, fermented flavor with sparkle, yet not too sour with hints of fennel (Hints of fennel? I know . . . this is getting as ridiculous as wine reviews . . . but I tasted them all again, and sure enough, there were hints of fennel.)

My raw dairy shelf

All of these cultures were a success! Now I have plenty of cultured milk products for smoothies and soaking grains all week long. I decided to devote the top shelf of my refrigerator to my raw dairy; gallon of goat milk on the left with its pouring pitcher in front, gallon of cow milk on the right with its pouring pitcher in front, cultured cow milk in quart jars as they fit.

To recap, here is my procedure:

  1. Pour raw milk into freshly clean quart jars (straight from the dishwasher is best, don’t use a dish-towel to dry, as this could introduce a negative bacteria)
  2. Add new culture to milk, if desired. Try 2 Tbs. of a plain live active yogurt, 3-6 kefir grains, or commercial powder to instructions.
  3. Set open jars, covered completely with a clean dish-towel, on counter in an out-of-the-way area, protected from drafts is best. They don’t need to be in the kitchen, but should not be in an area where they could absorb fumes, such as a laundry room (detergent fumes) or garage (gasoline, etc.).
  4. Wait 48 hours. You can check the culture and stir it during this time: this may be beneficial for the kefir to move the grains around.
  5. Straining kefir grains from finished kefir

    When yogurt is finished, cap with the jar lids and return to refrigerator. For kefir, straining will be necessary to remove the grains. This can be done with a funnel fitted with a filter, or with a sieve held over an open funnel. Rinse the grains in filtered water and store in a small jar of filtered water in the refrigerator.

0 thoughts on “Experiment Kitchen: Making Raw Milk Yogurt and Kefir

  1. Bronwyn,

    Your kefir looks so pretty!! I have yet to get whey out of mine to add to mayo, but surely I’ll figure it out. Beautiful site! I love cleaning my whole house with vinegar and baking soda, too! Just let the 5yo loose with the vinegar/water sprayer and don’t have to worry about the 18mo drinking it. What’s not to love! 🙂

    Beautiful blog you have!
    Wendy (Herdlein) Baker

  2. I just made some raw milk yogurt for the first time, and I’m a little afraid to eat it all of a sudden. I went online and looked up potential risks of ingesting raw milk yogurt, and I came across a few warnings that raw milk yogurt is much more dangerous than just plain raw milk. Do you think I am being overly paranoid, or are there some risks?

  3. I’ve seen the warnings online, too @StevenPine. I went and visited the farm where I get raw milk and after seeing their processes, I felt safe. However, you can always pasteurize the milk yourself if you have any concerns by heating the milk.

  4. Bronwyn,

    Just clarifying…you don’t heat the milk…just add two tbspns of yogurt and let it sit for two days?? Wow. That is simple. Is the yogurt thick? I wonder if I could add gelatin to make it a little thicker.

    1. Paula, this post was two years ago, and I don’t use this method any longer. You can use yogurt as your starter as the post says, but it isn’t as reliable as using a starter powder (but then again, it’s what housewives have done for millennia!). At t hat time, I was then heating the yogurt to make cottage cheese, so there was a later pasteurization coming too, although we did eat some of the yogurt straight, too.
      I currently use either Yogourmet starter, which can be found in grocery stores, or a bottle of culture I got from giprohealth.com which is a strain of bacteria esp. good for the gut. Since I like to rotate my probiotics over long lengths of time (to let one get established, then give it something to balance out with), I will be trying the starter from bodyecology.com next.
      Also, I am now careful to culture between 100 and 110 degrees, which is where yogurt bacteria like to grow. I had to experiment with my own oven since it won’t run that low, but finally figured out that turning the warming drawer on low under the closed over brings the oven up to 106. The drawer itself is too hot. Also, I do warm the milk before adding the culture. I mostly use raw milk, so I only warm it to about 100 so the enzymes are still intact. If I use pasteurized, it’s best to bring it to a boil to kill any bacteria which has contaminated it since pasteurization, and then cool it to 100 before adding the culture. This factor (raw milk protecting itself with the live immune cells in the milk) is the factor which anti-raw warnings often overlook. Pasteurized milk is actually much more risky, since there is no internal protection after it’s been “killed”. Hundreds of Americans are poisoned by pasteurized milk each year, and it is very rare to hear of an incident from raw milk.
      I culture for 24 hours in the oven to achieve a lactose free yogurt for SCD diet compliance. You don’t have to go that long if you’re not on a special diet, but at least you now know it’s OK if you forget about it for a day! 🙂 ~B

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