A Lesson in Making Yogurt in Kalofer, Bulgaria

making-yogurt-recipe-bulgaria

One of our favorite aspects of Bulgaria’s tasty cuisine is its yogurt, which is appreciated worldwide due to its health benefits and creamy texture. In Kalofer, a village nestled in the mountains of central Bulgaria, our wonderful hosts, Tony and Stefan, taught us how to make yogurt (Кисело мляко, or kiselo mlyako). The couple’s infant son, Iliya, also lent enthusiasm, in this sleepy town where it’s not uncommon to see sheep, goats, and cows freely grazing among the half-timbered brick barns and wildflowers.

It’s believed that the people of the Balkans have been making yogurt for more than three millennia. Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, the bacteria responsible for making Bulgaria’s prized yogurt, is appreciated as far away as Japan and China. Bulgarian yogurt dominates about 60% of the Japanese market and many believe that the yogurt is rich in probiotics (good bacteria) which aid in digestion.

As good as commercial Bulgarian yogurt is, it cannot compare to the homemade variety that we made with Tony & Stefan, which was rich, tangy, and creamier than its commercial cousins. When I asked Tony and Stefan their favorite recipes in which to incorporate yogurt made from their recipe (below), they said that they like eating it plain. When we tasted it, we agreed.

With commercial Bulgarian varieties of yogurt, we have grown quite fond of scooping a cup of the white goodness, then blending it with walnuts and honey (or a dollop of the homemade apricot or pair preserves we’d been given by locals).

However you enjoy yours, Добър апетит! (Dobãr apetit!)

Kalofer Mountains Bulgaria

Views of Botev Peak from our home away from home, Iliikova House, in Kalofer.

Kalofer bulgaria Horse Wagon

It’s common to hear the clip clop of horses’ hooves in Kalofer, as residents transport items to home or to the farming fields surrounding the village.

Goats eating Kalofer Bulgaria

Curious goats graze in the yard of a home, one street away from our guesthouse.

Kalofer Church Bulgaria

One of Kalofer’s churches. The town is also host to a historic monastery and convent.

Kalofer Bulgaria Wildflowers

On the right, the women’s convent at sunset.

How to Make Bulgarian Yogurt 2

Prepping jars to fill with the cooked sheep’s milk and yogurt culture.

How to Make Bulgarian Yogurt Boiling Sheep Milk

To prevent scorching, Tony used a double boiler to cook the sheep’s milk.

Lactobacillus Bulgaricus Bulgarian Yogurt

Here, we wait for the milk to sufficiently cool before mixing in two spoons of commercial yogurt, which will provide the necessary Lactobacillus Bulgaricus & Streptococcs Thermoophilus bacteria.

How to Make Bulgarian Yogurt 5

Tony spoons out the surface cream from the boiled milk (it’s a bit like butter) and evenly distributes it between the jars.

Making Bulgarian Yogurt

Spooning the yogurt mixture into jars. On the right, Tony and Stefan’s son, Iliya, lends a helping hand.

Making Bulgarian Sheep Milk Yogurt

How to Make Bulgarian Yogurt

The jars are then sealed after the sheep’s milk yogurt has been divvied up. (Note that these are recycled glass jars and that the lid from the past product reads ‘cow milk.’)

How to Make Bulgarian Yogurt 4

Tony bundles up the jars in two blankets, to ensure they stay warm. They’ll stand overnight for about eight hours and then must be refrigerated before consuming the yogurt.

Homemade Bulgarian Yogurt Recipe

Enjoying the finished project the next day. It’s slightly tangy, delightfully rich and creamy.

Kalofer guesthouse hosts

Kalofer bulgaria at sunset

Homemade Bulgarian Yogurt

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 1.5 liters milk (our hosts used sheep milk).
  • Starter culture (our hosts used commercially-available yogurt containing Lactobacillus Bulgaricus & Streptococcs Thermoophilus). 
  • Double boiler, ladle, glass jars with lids, & blankets in which to wrap the jars

Preparation:

1. Purchase milk. Tony and Stefan bought sheep’s milk from a dairy farm in Kalofer. The traditional process is to BYOB = ‘bring your own bottle’. The cost for roughly 1.5 liters of sheep milk was 3 Bulgarian Lev ($2 USD or €1,50).

2. Boil the milk in a double boiler. Let milk cool until warm. An easy test, Tony explained, was to put a pinky finger into the milk. If your finger can rest inside for a few seconds without feeling as though it’ll burn, the milk has cooled enough.

3. Remove the surface cream, which is similar to a light butter, from the pan, dividing it into roughly-equal amounts and placing one dollop into each jar.

4. Use ready-made Bulgarian yogurt as a starter culture. Combine about 2 Tablespoons of room-temperature yogurt into a bowl, along with about one cup of the sheep’s milk. Stir.

Tony pointed out that people who regularly make Bulgarian yogurt have their own starter culture in a jar, but she used a commercial container of yogurt. If you’re not in Bulgaria, an online search will show companies selling Bulgarian yogurt culture starters.

5. Evenly blend the sheep’s milk and starter/sheep milk combination. Then spoon the mixture into the jars. Cover them with lids.

6. Wrap the jars in a blanket or two to keep them warm. Let the covered jars stand overnight – about 8 hours.

7. In the morning, it’s time to refrigerate, then enjoy the yogurt.

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • Kalofer, a village of around 3,600 people, is located roughly 65 km. (38 miles) from Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Plovdiv.
  • We loved staying at the Iliikova House in Kalofer, because of Tony and Stefan’s warm hospitality, their home’s stunning forest views, and pretty garden courtyard.
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Bulgaria.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

21 Comments on “A Lesson in Making Yogurt in Kalofer, Bulgaria

  1. I’ve not tried yogurt from sheep’s milk but have made it from goat’s milk. We use to have a dairy goat herd many years ago. This region looks lovely, Tricia and having a warm, friendly, family to host your stay makes it all the better.

    • Hi Lynne, it would be fun to do a yogurt tasting and contrast goat-milk yogurt vs. sheep, etc. With all the animals here, I’m sure we could coordinate one.

      When you said that you used to “have a dairy goat herd many years ago” does that mean you and Ron, or your community? :) Was your yogurt-making procedure similar to this one? Where do you buy a starter culture back in the States?

      Indeed, we were quite lucky to have enthusiastic hosts to show us the ropes. We’re sad to be leaving tomorrow, but have a few more days in the area.

      • Although we had jobs, we lived on five acres and with the encouragement of friends, who raised goats, we decided to raise dairy goats. Our children were in 4-H. I used starters from friends and confess to using a small counter top yogurt making machine.i made blocks of hard cheese and made herb refrigerator cheese, similar to cottage cheese. That was our favorite and easiest to make.

      • Lynne, a fun tidbit to learn about you! :) The herb cheese sounds like it’d be our favorite too. What made it easier to make?

  2. Tricia, a great post as usual, I love, love yoghurt, especially just plain, or with a dollop of honey as you say. Do they also make the famous Bulgarian Feta Cheese, I wonder. On my list is to learn how to make soft cheese , like feta, and I found a local organic farm here, where they have classes to teach me. That Lactobacillus…. is so healthy for our digesting system, like for example when we have to take antibiotics. Happy Yoghurt tasting!!!

    • Cornelia, since Shawn and I are also quite enthusiastic about cheese, I asked our hosts about it. :) They said they haven’t made it homemade yet. The Bulgarians love their dairy though. The most common is white brine cheese, similar to feta. We’ve used it to make Shopska Salad (a salad that’s popular in the region, similar to a Greek Salad because it’s studded with cucumbers, tomatoes, and cheese) and Chushki Burek (peppers stuffed with cheese and egg).

      How lucky you are to have found an organic farm with cheese-making workshops! Now that I’ve gotten introduced to making yogurt, I’d love to try crafting cheese. I had friends in Germany who purchased kits to make their first Mozzarella, and said the process was actually quite easy. Apparently once you get going with cheese-making, you can later buy one of the starter cultures at the Apotheke. I have never tried it, so I’m not certain if it’s indeed there.

      I’m eager to hear how your cheese-making goes. Have fun! :)

      • Tricia , thank you for your quick respond on the cheese making. I am so familiar with the greek salad, though I haven’t made peppers stuffed with cheese and egg, I assume that it is a hard boiled egg. Unfortunately there is no place here like a Apotheke, where I could get the starter cultures, but I will find out about this at that organic farm. Sunny greetings from California to you both!

      • I should do a post on the stuffed peppers too. The egg and cheese were actually blended together, then stuffed into the pepper before roasting.

        Sending warm wishes your way too! We’d had quite a bit of rain here, something that our hosts said is unusual for the summer months, but today’s weather looks very promising and sunny. We’re off to the fresh market. :)

    • Bespoke Traveler, both are quite nice to eat here, but the homemade variety was much richer. It had such a complex taste that I wasn’t craving any honey or nuts to enhance its flavor. I’m not sure if this is because it was made with sheep’s milk, which tends to be higher in fat content? I also read that sheep’s milk is packed with more protein than cow and goat milk. Have you ever tried making your own yogurt?

      • Never! It sounds almost as difficult as making one’s own cheese. :) I’ll leave it to the experts for now….

      • We’re planning on trying to make our own again in the coming days. Fingers crossed that it’ll turn out as delicious as it did when our new Bulgarian friends showed us the ropes. :)

    • Juliann, I’m glad its tastiness came through in the set of images. :)

      I’ve since learned a few interesting yogurt-making tidbits from readers, some of whom suggested making yogurt with almond milk, even coconut milk, which should be more easily accessible back in the States.

    • I have to agree with you, Gerard! Wish us luck, for tomorrow we’re contemplating making our own batch without our local ambassadors to guide us in the process. :)

  3. Pingback: DIY: Homemade Yogurt – You Won’t Believe How Easy « Keitochan Says:

  4. I was surprised they didn’t use goat milk considering the daily goat parade :). Do they sell Bulgarian yogurt anywhere in the States?

    • 21timetraveler, that’s a good point considering how many goats reside in Kalofer! :) We were actually just back in the United States visiting my husband’s family, and were delighted to see that our Greek yogurt (from Costco) was made with the same strain of bacteria as in Bulgaria (Lactobacillus Bulgaricus). It got me wondering how many yogurt brands in the U.S. actually use that strain?

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