Making yogurt is easy. Really. Really easy. But I’m guilty too. Despite the ease with which yogurt is made, I’ve wasted as much money and plastic by buying store bought yogurt as anyone. After some brief attempts over ten years ago, I stopped trying to make yogurt for ten years, continually putting it off by means of one lame excuse after another. But really, it’s easy. And I’ve finally gotten over my inertia and committed to never buying yogurt again. Buying yogurt is a little like buying a pancake mix. There’s just no good reason. Here are 4 great reasons to make your own.
1) It’s easy. We’re talking 10 minutes of effort per week, max. Heat the milk to 180 degrees, cool it to 110, mix in culture, keep it warm for six hours or overnight. See recipe below for more details.
2) It saves plastic. Count the number of #5 yogurt containers you’ve sent to the landfill in the past year. They can be recycled, but with much hassle (mailing them off to a special recycler). Some waste is unavoidable, of course. But here’s an easy place to draw the line.
3) It gives you control. The best yogurt I’ve ever had is Seven Stars Organic Yogurt from Kimberton, PA. It used to be thin enough to drink out of a cup — which I did for a whole year for breakfast when I first started working on farms. Making your own yogurt lets you control thickness, texture, and sweetness. You can choose your own sweetener (honey, maple syrup, etc), or none.
4) It’s satisfying. Making anything from scratch is a thrill, and it frees you from dependence on some manufacturer somewhere. How sad is the invention of the pancake mix when making pancakes from scratch takes exactly 15 more seconds of effort. Break those ties.
5) It’s cheaper. Good yogurt costs $3 per ½ gallon. ½ Gallon of milk only costs $2. Even worse are the little yogurt containers which convenience often dictates. Those cost about $6 to $8 per ½ gallon. It’s a nice change when the environmental thing is actually cheaper than the alternative!
So here’s how to do it:
1) Heat milk to 180 degrees, stirring to keep it from burning, and let cool to 110 degrees. I use to think this was just sanitation paranoia, but heating to 180 actually changes the nature of the milk and allows it to thicken when cultured. I don’t understand the science, but when I skipped this step I got very runny (but delicious) yogurt.
2) For every quart of milk, add 1 tablespoon of live, active yogurt (from the store or your last batch of yogurt) and mix in thoroughly and fill as many containers (I use glass canning jars) as you need to contain all the milk.
3) Hold at 110 degrees for six hours. This is the tricky part which discourages many people. But there are a few ways to achieve this:
a) Use a heat mat.
b) Warm the oven to 170 degrees, then turn it off, place the containers, wrapped in towels, in the oven.
c) (My favorite) Fill a large pot of water with water and warm to 120 degrees or so, place the jars in the water bath and cover. If the water cools rapidly, you could turn the burner on occasionally to keep the temperature up, or you could start with 130 degree water. Although I haven’t done this, I think it would work to leave it overnight.
4) When the yogurt is thickened to your liking (less time means less thick), refrigerate and serve once cool!