I'm still making yogurt about every two weeks -- two quarts at a time. A couple of months ago I came across a new method on Passionate Homemaking, and it is so much faster than what I was doing! Yesterday it only took me about 30 minutes to go from milk in the refrigerator to milk culturing on the counter. With the old method, I heated and cooled the milk in the jars which took for.ev.er. This method heats and cools the milk in the saucepan, so it takes a little bit more attention to make sure that I don't burn the milk. However, the added speed and convenience are totally worth it.
I start with a half gallon of the best quality milk I can find. This week it was Natural by Nature Grass-fed Milk, but I prefer to use PastureMaid's non-homogenized milk in glass bottles that I can get at the indoor farmer's market.
I pour the milk and 1 T vanilla into a 3 1/2 qt saucepan and heat over medium until it reaches 180 degrees (about 20 minutes). Next I set the saucepan in a sinkful of cold water and let it cool (about 10 minutes) to about 112 degrees. Per the instructions on my culture packet, I sprinkle the culture over the milk and let it rehydrate for two minutes. Then I gently swirl the culture into the milk.
I carefully pour the milk into two quart-size canning jars and screw on the caps. Then I place both jars in my largest stockpot and fill it with hot tap water. Then I set it on the counter and let it culture for 12+ hours. Since I tend to make this in the early evening and let it culture all night, I usually refresh the hot water before I go to bed.
Technically, I'm supposed to culture the yogurt at 110 degrees. My yogurt would probably turn out thicker if I did so, but that temperature is difficult to maintain without a yogurt maker. The best way to come close to that is probably to use the cooler to incubate the yogurt. Per Kitchen Stewardship's instructions, I fill my stockpot with water and bring it to a boil. Then I line a large cooler with a towel (so the pot does not melt the plastic) and place the pot of steaming hot water and the yogurt jars side-by-side in the cooler. With the lid on tight, it stays moist and steamy in there for a long time. Once it's done incubating, move the yogurt to the fridge to chill. I really can't be bothered to dig out the cooler right now, but as we move into fall and winter, I'll probably have to do so.