An easy way to save money is to make your own yogurt at home. All you need is:
- a yogurt starter
- a double boiler (or two different-sized pots where one can sit inside the other)
- a thermometer (I use a meat thermometer)
- a way to incubate the yogurt (keep it warm)
- possibly a system to strain the yogurt to make it thicker.
If you strain the yogurt, you will get less yogurt. But, you will have a golden liquid called whey that has many great uses. Even if you strain most of the whey for a very thick yogurt, you will still end up with about 8 cups of yogurt from every gallon of milk. So, if a gallon of milk goes for about $3.50, you can get 8 cups of thick, strained yogurt (or more cups of thinner yogurt), for about $0.44 per cup.
What Kind of Milk to Use
While you can use milk from the grocery store, please consider getting your milk directly from a local dairy. Check web sites, like Local Harvest, and find a dairy near you. Pasteurized milk from the grocery store, however, will usually be sufficient. Never use “ultra- pasteurized” milk to make yogurt. There simply isn’t enough life left in the milk to make yogurt or any other cultured product. My preference is for raw milk, which is not available everywhere. It does create an extra step in that you have to pasteurize some of the milk to keep a viable yogurt starter for each batch. The starter can then be added to the raw milk to make raw yogurt.
What Yogurt Starter to Use
Starter cultures can be purchased powdered, and you can even find heirloom variety cultures from web sites like Cultures for Health. Or, you can use yogurt from the grocery store, as long as it is plain, unsweetened yogurt. Any flavorings will transfer into subsequent batches. If you use a store-bought yogurt, just add a few tablespoonfuls to your milk. If you use the powdered starter, follow the instructions on the packet for the correct amount. For all future batches, however, you will use your own, fresh yogurt as the starter. The only problem with store-bought yogurt is that you don’t know how long it has been sitting around before it made it to the shelf, and it may be a little on the weak side. It may take a couple of batches to get a good, thriving culture going. Try to make yogurt at least once a week to keep the good bacteria strains in the yogurt live, viable, and strong. If you let it go too long, just buy another batch of yogurt and start the process again. The stronger the bacteria, the easier and faster the yogurt will set (become firm).
Types of Yogurt Makers
There are high-tech and low-tech options for yogurt makers. Fancy, electric makers will incubate your yogurt at a designated temperature, can be set for a predetermined time, and may come with storage/serving containers. There are also nonelectric yogurt makers on the market that are essentially insulative canisters with an inner container, which holds the milk (this is what I use). Other people use their crockpot on the lowest possible setting (may not work on all crock pots), with the milk and starter in glass canning jars. Some people used styrofoam coolers with good results. I prefer to keep my kitchen as non-electric as possible, so I have two Easiyo yogurt makers, which operate like a thermos to keep the yogurt warm while incubating.
OK- Tell Me How To Make Yogurt Already!
Here’s how I make yogurt with an Easiyo with store-bought yogurt as a starter:
Step One: I take two pots, a larger pot (dutch oven) and a medium pot. I fill the large pot with water, and set the medium pot inside, making a double boiler. In my set, the handles actually keep the medium pot from touching the bottom of the larger pot. Put the pots on the stove top, and bring the water to a boil.
Step Two: I measure out the milk into the inner container of my yogurt maker. If I were using a powdered starter, I could measure the milk right to the top. If using store-bought yogurt as the starter, I measure less milk, leaving about an inch of head space at the top of the container to allow room for the added yogurt.
Step Three: Pour the milk into the double boiler. You only want to warm the milk, not cook it. Use the thermometer, and only allow the milk to come up to 90 degrees (Fahrenheit). Take the milk off the heat.
Step Four: Add about 3-4 tablespoons of store-bought, plain yogurt to the inner container. (In the future, you will be using your own yogurt as the starter.) Pour in half of the milk, and stir well to blend the yogurt into the milk. Add the rest of the milk to the container, and screw on the lid.
Step Five: Bring the water back up to a boil. Pour water into the Easiyo up to the marked line.
Step Six: Put full inner container inside the Easiyo, twist on the top, and set aside for 12-24 hours.
Step Seven: Remove inner container and place in refrigerator for at least an hour. (It continues to get firm)
Step Eight: Totally optional- strain the yogurt. I have a muslin bag that I pour the yogurt into and hang over my sink. I put a storage container under to catch the dripping whey. My kitchen stays cool, even in the summer, so I don’t worry about spoilage while straining. Fresh cultured yogurt doesn’t go bad quickly anyway. You could also line a colander with paper towels (messy, but works) or a tea towel and. You could also tie the ends of a tea towel together around a dowel, suspend into a pitcher, and let strain in the refrigerator. There is also a gizmo called the Cuisipro Donvier Yogurt Cheese Maker. It strains out the way to a point that the yogurt is more cheese like in texture. If you add table sugar at this point, you get something very similar to cream cheese.
Step Nine: Total Optional- flavor your yogurt. I use maple syrup. Just drizzle a few teaspoons, stir well, and taste heaven! I know a lot of people sweeten yogurt with honey. Honey is naturally antibiotic, which means that it kills bacteria. The beneficial bacteria in yogurt is what makes it so healthy. Why kill it with honey? You can always add fruit, make a warm fruit topping, drizzle chocolate sauce, or just slice a banana into it. I also sometime add hulled hemp seeds.
Special instructions for raw milk users…
You can use raw milk to make yogurt. But is you use yogurt made from raw milk as your starter, the healthy bacteria in raw dairy, over time, will overpower the bacteria in the yogurt, and it will not culture properly. Make and keep a small batch of yogurt made from pasteurized milk to use as are your starter. Remember to make a fresh culture at least once a week.
I have some pictures I took of making yogurt. I will upload them later today.