Last Thursday, I was having tea with a new friend Elena, who is Bulgarian and she was telling me how she learned to make traditional Bulgarian yogurt from a Baba (Bulgarian for “grandmother”) that lives in her village. She offered to demonstrate for me how she does it and I couldn’t resist.
On Monday, she received her raw milk from one of the local farmers, so I went to meet her at the shop near her house in Droogan (Друган), which is located about 26 miles (42 km) northeast from Kyustendil. Being the nerd that I am I brought my notebook, camera, digital thermometer, a copy of On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and a scale just in case.
Elena was using four liters of raw milk (about 135 oz), she suggest using a heavy bottom pot, so that the milk heats evenly and does not burn on the bottom. Also, stir the milk often to prevent sticking. Her stove has a temperature gauge of 1 – 9, so she starts the milk on 9, till it begins to steam. Then she lowers the dial to about 5. She heats the milk till it is just about to boil over. You must watch the milk carefully because when it does over boil it can be quite messy. For the sake of my own curiosity, I had put my thermometer in the pot and she removed the milk from the heat at 200 F (94 C) and the temperature continued to rise, topping off at 208F (98 C).
Once the milk was off the heat, it needed to be partially cooled and skimmed of the cream, which formed on top. The Baba’s way of making yogurt is to let the milk cool, only to the point where you can stick you finger in the milk and it is hot, but doesn’t burn after a few seconds. Elena on the other hand found this method to produce very loose yogurt, which was full of whey (цвиг). In her experience, she found that if she let the milk cool longer, the texture of the yogurt became firmer.
So, she let the milk cool to 100 F (38 C), then poured the milk into 3 glass jars. To each jar she added 2 teaspoons of yogurt from the last batch, stirred them and tightly screwed on the lids! Voila… no, not just yet. The next part is tricky. You need to keep the jars warm for a few hours to ensure that the bacteria grow and make the yogurt yogurt-y (a new adjective).
I had a taste of the yogurt from the last batch and it was delicious and creamy. These was something satisfying knowing that I now have the knowledge to provide my family with homemade yogurt, which is a huge favorite in our house. My girls eat it like ice cream! I am very excited about making my own. So, in Part 2 of Homemade Bulgarian Yogurt, I will make my own yogurt using raw milk. I will use the observations from my experiences with Elena, but also cross reference that information with McGee to get the best possible outcome.