Healthy, creamy, thick and rich, GREEK YOGURT has my heart. Add just a drizzle of sweet honey on top, and your taste buds will scream for more. Yogurt has been made for thousands of years in many cultures, so let’s thank whoever originally thought that consuming “spoiled” animal’s milk was a good idea. It was a brilliant idea. In the last decade or so, Greek yogurt has skyrocketed in popularity and dominates the dairy sections in grocery stores worldwide. Basically, the difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt is thickness and fat content—makers strain Greek yogurt multiple times to remove the liquid whey which makes it thicker than regular yogurt. It’s packed with more protein and fewer carbohydrates, and yes, the process increases the fat content. It’s easy to find dozens of Greek yogurt options these days as many manufacturers have been putting “Greek” on their yogurt labels to join the obsession—but don’t let the label fool you.
If you’re like our family, Greek yogurt is constantly consumed, meaning big time strain on the wallet. Although you can quickly pick up yogurt from the dairy aisle, I recommend making your own. It’s so simple to make and definitely much more rewarding to eat—plus you’ll be getting more bang for your buck.
For just the price of one gallon of milk you can make your own giant bowl of Greek yogurt that triples the amount of creamy decadence. Fair warning though—after you make your first batch of Greek yogurt, you’ll be getting weekly requests to make it for friends and family.
I first learned how to make Greek yogurt from the Katsanevas family (a family that makes up about a quarter of the Greek population in Utah, it seems). In the mid-1950’s, nine Katsanevas brothers and sisters immigrated to Utah from Crete. Just one brother, George, decided to stay back in their family’s horio (village) of Kampous, Crete—a small but beautiful mountain village outside of Chania. I met George in his horio during the summer of 2014 with my cousin Chris Metos, who is a Katsanevas on his mother’s side. Extremely humble and generous, George served us four different and filling Greek meals during our one-day visit.
I love a good chow down. But I felt certain that if I took one more bite of anything I’d turn into Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—and would have to be rolled out of the village. Suddenly, George brought out his homemade yogurt. My eyes lit up. My spoon made short work of his masterpiece. In my broken Greek, I told him I wanted to learn how to make Greek yogurt just like him, and in his broken English, he told me his family in Utah makes it just the same and to learn from them.
Two years later, two important things happened. I met Louie Katsanevas, George’s brother, while eating a jalapeno burger at Crown Burger (a famous Katsanevas family burger joint). Louie was overjoyed to share his yogurt-making tips and proud to learn I had long sought his recipe. Turns out, that life-changing yogurt truly is easy to make. The basic principle is this: If you like yogurt runny, strain less; if you like it thick, strain more.
That same year, dear George passed away. I think of him every time I stop at the grocery store for a few gallons of milk to create more batches of his splendid yogurt. I hope you appreciate how easy and how packed with family love this truly is.
Dedicated to George Katsanevas, who passed away in 2016.
* Below I have two methods for making Greek yogurt. One is the one from Louie Katsanevas, and the other is the one I now use based on Louie’s recipe. *
-1 Gallon whole milk
-3 Tablespoons Fage Greek Yogurt or other plain yogurt as your starter
1. Pour milk into a large pot, and bring to a boil.
2. As soon as the milk boils, take off heat and pour into a large glass bowl.
3. Let cool for 10-15 minutes. Using a thermometer, let the liquid cool to 130 degrees.
4. Stir in the 3 tablespoons of yogurt starter. (After your first homemade batch, you can use your homemade yogurt as your starter).
5. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and put a blanket or towel over the whole bowl to keep warm, and place on your counter at room temperature or in the oven with nothing but a light on.
6. After letting the yogurt sit for 20-24 hours, uncover bowl.
7. Wet a large dishtowel and squeeze out until damp then place on top of the yogurt to absorb the whey.
8. Every 2-3 hours, remove the towel and squeeze out the liquid, and replace the towel back on top of the yogurt. Repeat 4-5 times depending on the thickness you want.
9. Check with a spoon or fork for desired thickness.
10. Once the desired thickness is met, refrigerate and enjoy!
*Shortcut: After the yogurt sits for 12-24 hours, line a strainer with cheesecloth and pour the yogurt into the strainer to remove excess whey. Keep in the refrigerator until desired thickness.
Dedicated to George Katsanevas, who passed away January 4, 2016. May his memory be eternal.
-1 Gallon whole milk
-2 Tablespoons Fage Greek Yogurt or other plain yogurt as your starter
-1 cup water
1. Pour water into a large pot, and bring to a boil. Add the one-gallon of milk.
2. Cook on medium heat for approximately 30 minutes, or until temperature reaches 180 degrees.
3. Take off heat and pour into a large glass bowl. Let the milk cool to 118 degrees (approximately 90 minutes).
4. Stir in the 2 tablespoons of yogurt starter. (After your first homemade batch you can use your homemade yogurt as your starter).
5. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and put a blanket or towel over the whole bowl to keep warm, and place on your counter at room temperature or in the oven with nothing but a light on for 20-24 hours.
6. Pour liquid into a milk bag to strain or a few layers of cheesecloth in a colander. Strain in the fridge for 6-8 hours or to the thickness you prefer your yogurt. The longer you strain, the thicker the yogurt will be.
7. Once you’ve reached the desired thickness, enjoy your yogurt plain or top with honey or fruit!