Monday, May 2, 2011


Confession time. It's hard for me to admit, but ... I ... don't like yogurt. I mean, I use it for a lot of things: in place of sour cream, on spicy food. Generally as a condiment I like yogurt just fine. Frozen yogurt is amazing. But eating a bowl of yogurt by itself? I can't do it. Only total desperation and a lack of food in the house can drive me to such an extreme and masochistic act.

Om nom nom.

My partner, however, loves yogurt. He can eat a tub or two a week, easy. Before I learned to make yogurt we were spending about 3.50 a quart for maple flavored yogurt - two of those a week can add up pretty fast in the grocery budget. Homemade yogurt costs the same as milk, though to start off with you need either a bit of yogurt or a yogurt culture. If you know someone who makes homemade yogurt already I bet you could beg or barter a bit off them for free. I started with a couple spoon fulls of store bought. After you have home made yogurt on hand, you can use that as a started for your next batch. If you can keep up this endless cycle, you will never have to buy yogurt again! As for me, I occasionally forget to reserve some for the next round and end up buying a little cup of yogurt. 

Making yogurt is ridiculously simple. There are a couple tools that make it easier but are not essential, like a thermometer and a heating pad. I don't have a heating pad, so I use the oven with the light on for incubation.

What you need:
Milk - I use whole.
A few spoon fulls of plain yogurt
Quart size mason jar(s)
A large pot, big enough to hold however many jars you are making.
A thermometer (optional)
A jar lifter (optional) - a common canning tool, but you can use a potholder.

A half gallon of milk will make two quarts of yogurt, but of course you can make just one quart, or four, or however many you can fit in your pot. Now is a good time to take your "starter" yogurt out of the fridge.

Fill the jars with milk, put them in the pot, and fill the pot with hot water. Heat on medium until the thermometer in the milk, not the water, reads 180, or, if you are not using a thermometer, until the milk starts gently boiling. The double boiler technique keeps the milk from actually boiling, but allows it to scald which both kills bacteria and denatures some proteins to make the yogurt smooth. If the milk forms a skin, skim it off with a spoon.

 Remove the jars from the water once 180F is reached. Allow the milk to cool back down to 110F - I usually accomplish this by removing the jars from the pot, refilling it with ice water, and putting the jars back in until they drop to110F. If you are not using a thermometer, 110F is the temperature at which you can comfortably dip your finger in for ten seconds, about the same as hot bathwater. Add a spoon full of yogurt to each quart, stir, and cap.

Now you need to make sure your yogurt stays at a constant temperature of 110F, for 7 - 12 hours. You can use a heating pad, or the oven with the light on. I preheat the oven for a minute until the oven thermometer reads 110, and leave the yogurt overnight with the light on. Once I accidentally left it in the oven for a whole day and a half, and I was sure I had ruined it, but the yogurt was super thick and creamy, and still good! Cheese may be milk's leap toward immortality, but yogurt is much easier to make and extends the life of milk by weeks. Not bad. After your yogurt is done incubating, refrigerate it to cool it down. It will continue to thicken in the fridge.

 Microbiotic alchemy!

 Of course, it's not even worth mentioning that store bought yogurt usually contains all sorts of things that aren't milk, right? In case you need more incentive, here's the breakdown.

1 gallon organic milk, not on sale - $5.00
Home made yogurt - $1.25 a quart
1 quart of store bought yogurt, not on sale - $3.50

Thanks, Lactobacillus!
 P.S. The health benefits of yogurt are not to be scoffed at. However I do not recommend trying to get your probiotics from yogurt flavored Pepsi. 

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