Homemade Bulgarian Yogurt (Part 1)

I have been slightly obsessed with raw milk.  In the last few months, I have unsuccessfully attempted cheese and butter.  Well, to be honest, I did make butter, only the quantity was about the size of a small gum ball, so I decided that it would be best to find someone experienced at making dairy products and start smaller.  I had set my sights on traditional yogurt making.  What better place to discover yogurt making than Bulgaria, which has a wonderful cultural history and even have a unique strain of lactic acid bacteria called lactobacillus delrueskii subspecies bulgaricus.

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.

Друган/ Droogan town sign
I couldn’t resist this shot of the mountains in Droogan.  They were so amazing in person.
The process begins by pasteurizing the milk, which is essentially bringing it to a near boil and keeping it at a certain temperature for a period of time.  Most of the specifics such as the exact temperature and times are learned from experience, so many of the cues are you need to learn from observing someone else or trial and error.

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.

Skimming the cream, which can be saved for butter making!

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).

Into the jars.
Adding the bacteria from the last batch of yogurt.
Stirring it up!
Elena was taught to let it set for 2 – 3 hours, but this was one of the causes of the excess whey in the yogurt (I will go into further detail in my next post), so she keeps hers warm for 8 – 9 hours.  In order to keep the temperature optimal for bacterial growth, she wraps the “baby” in woolen blankets and sweaters, which are clipped together tightly to keep the heat in. I would have like to have kept my thermometer inside “the baby” to know the exact inside temperature, but I needed to get home.
“The Baby”
Layer 1 – Baby Blanket
Layer 2 – Woolen Sweater
Final Layer … just in case!

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.

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Author: caseyangelova

Eating, Gardening & Living in Bulgaria www.caseyangelova.com

14 thoughts on “Homemade Bulgarian Yogurt (Part 1)”

  1. That is so interesting! It sounds pretty simple but I am sure to get it exactly right will take quite a few tries. I currently have some Bulgarian feta in the fridge and it is delicious. It is less salty and more creamy than Greek feta. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  2. VERY impressive. I like the science experiment quality, and I applaud your spirit of adventure. But after trying to make my own kenkey (a fermented corn meal eaten in Ghana) and ending up with nightmarish pile of mold, I think I may just stick to a yogurt machine!!!


  3. Biren – I agree 100% about the Bulgarian feta. I don't like the Greek variety. I also find the French feta quite creamy. Thank you for the award. I really appreciate it!

    Kathy – I am working on part two, now. It is not going so hot! I am determined to make it happen. Wish me luck!

    Trix – Yogurt machine? They have those! Oh well, I am already on my mission to make yogurt. I have 4 jars in an insulated bag in my closet at around 94 F… correction 92 F. They should be ready at 6am if all goes well. You should try the kenkey for Africa Day!

    Denise – Part two is a work in progress. I screwed up today's batch by over boiling the milk, which I attribute to crappy multitasking skills on my part.

    Kitchen Masochist – Raw milk is straight from the teat! I like the word teat! Yes, un-pasturized, but I pasteurize mine at home.


  4. I love this blog post. I bought a yogurt maker a year ago, and I love it. All it really does is keep the yogurt at a certain temperature. Thank you for the great information. Hopefully it will improve my yogurt making skills. 🙂


  5. Mother Rimmy – I am having a bit of trouble regulating the temperature, which is why I might use a heating pad…

    Thanks Cinda! I think it is important to be familiar with the basics… you never know!

    Joy – it is worth a try and not really labor intensive, just watching the milk, so it doesn't boil over.

    Penny – I will need to check out your paneer. Did you blog it? I don't recalling seeing it, but I will go back and check.

    Thanks Emily! Enjoy being a newlywed!

    Brie – I am loving everything homemade, but I have to have limit. Butter making is a bit much. For all the milk, the yield is like a few tablespoons for a lot of effort.


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