My fave has always been the Byblos brand, but any old yogurt with the Armenian squigglydoodles on the carton will work just as well. Just look for the Hyestani label and you cant go wrong.
So you dont want to go out and buy a yogurt maker, eh? Well, my great grandmother and generations of Armenian women before her did just fine without them, in addition to doing without thermometers or even gas stoves. Just heat the milk to the appropriate temperature, add the starter, and keep it warm enough until the little yogurt critters are done doing their thang. How do you know when its the right temperature? My grandmother would heat the milk until two drops dripped on the back of her wrist felt warm. Good enough for government work, if you ask me. How do we keep the culture warm for the necessary period of time? Well, my grandmother had a gas pilot oven, but her
mother didnt. SOP back in the day was to put the warm culture in a heavy container, wrap a thick blanket around it to insulate it, and put it in a draft-free location (like the inside of a cupboard) for a few hours until it curdled. Cant get much simpler than that.
So, what are we going to do with our plain, unflavored yogurt? Well, we can do what Armenians have been doing for centuries and add fruit. Or we can (GASP!) learn to like it plain. But if youre hanging with the homies in Yerevan, youre gonna have to learn to eat jajik and drink tahn
(scroll to the bottom for tahn). Mmm, mmm, good.
A word about starters: most people stir the starter into the warm milk and mix it until it is completely dissolved into the milk. Ive had mixed results using this method. I prefer to just drop the starter into the milk and simply let it sink to the bottom in one large glop. This seems to give more consistent results. Someday I think I'll try doing bothdissolving half the starter and letting the other half just sink to the bottom.
Another word concerning tartness. As far as I know, the length of time the yogurt is kept at incubation temperature controls the level of sourness. However, I cant remember if the sourness increases with time, or decreases. Im pretty sure it increases, but Im not 100% positive. Normal time is 8 12 hours; after 12 hours I think it can spoil. Try playing with it and seeing what you come up with.
One wonderful thing about making your own yogurt in a large quantity is that you can make it thicker with time. Every morning, open your container and you will see water (this is actually whey) floating on top. Pour this out every day, and your yogurt will get thicker and thicker until it is like stiff custard. I use it like sour cream in rice & bean burritos. One of these days Im going to try to make an Indian burrito with white basmati, chana dal, various authentic spices, and a thick yogurt dressing. Bet its gonna be killerIll let you know after the fact.
Thats about all I can think of to say for now. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot. If I think of anything more to add, Ill post it when it comes to me.