As I mentioned in my post about making butter, organic dairy products can be had for a lot less money by making them yourself using organic milk and cream, which usually cost much less than the equivalent amount of organic yogurt or butter (this is also true when using conventional milk and cream).
Before we get started, here's a basic ingredient list:
- 1 liter (quart) of milk or cream (I like to make it with at least 2% milk, not low fat).
- 1/2 cup of powdered milk (optional, but will help make the yogurt nice and thick; this is less necessary with higher fat milk).
- 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup of plain yogurt as a starter. This can either be store bought (make sure it says it's made with "live" or "active" bacterial culture), or saved from your previous batch.
- heavy bottomed pot, whisk, thermometer, and jars or glass/ceramic container.
The first step in making yogurt is to scald the milk (make sure you mix the powdered milk in while it's still cold, or it might go lumpy). Heat the milk in a heavy bottomed pot or bain marie, which can be made by putting a bowl over a pot of water, until it reaches 185 degrees F. If using a bain marie, you can pay less attention to it, but when using a pot, be sure to stir it almost constantly to avoid scorching the milk. Scalding will kill any bacteria in the milk. I broke my candy thermometer years ago, so I just go by sight. The milk is hot enough when it's steaming and frothy, but not boiling.
When the correct temperature has been reached, remove the milk from the heat and let it cool to below 120 degrees, but not lower than 90 degrees. Using my "built in" thermometer, I usually wait until it's just slightly warmer than body temperature. You can speed this process up by immersing the pot in a sink filled part way with cold water (usually about 10 minutes), or just let it sit on the stove (about 30 minutes). While the milk is cooling, take out your starter and let it come up to room temperature.
When the milk has cooled, stir a couple of tablespoons or so into a small bowl with the starter. Whisk until smooth, and then stir back into the pot. Pour the milk into your containers.
Check the temperature of your oven. You want it to be as close to 100 degrees as possible; any warmer, and you risk killing the bacteria in the starter. If it has cooled too much, turn it back on low for a few minutes to warm it up. I incubate my yogurt in the oven with the light left on.
It's a good idea to lay a towel or something over the oven controls during incubation to remind yourself not to turn it on. The one time I got lazy and didn't bother, the yogurt was boiling in its jars before I remembered it was in there (it ended up being nice and thick and tasted fine, but was no longer suitable as starter).
If all goes well, after 6 - 8 hours, your milk will have turned into delicious yogurt. The longer it incubates, the thicker and tangier it will be. When it has reached the desired consistency, put your yogurt into the fridge to chill. It will continue to thicken slightly in the fridge. If you find the resulting yogurt to be thicker than you like, stirring will break up the structure of the milk solids and loosen it up (likewise, if you like a thicker yogurt, avoid stirring it as much as possible). Yogurt will keep up to two weeks in the fridge, but use it sooner if planning to use it as starter.
While you can use lower fat milk to make yogurt, lately I've been making it using half and half (10% MF). This might sound ridiculously rich and decadent (which it is!), but it results in a yogurt that's unbelievably thick, mild and delicious, like a very good Greek yogurt.
I honestly believe that the decadent nature of a higher fat yogurt doesn't actually contribute any more calories to one's diet than low fat, since you're usually satisfied by a much smaller portion (and just for the record, I recently had a physical and my cholesterol levels are excellent!).
This yogurt is a fabulous addition to things like muesli or pancakes with fruit, and it's great for making parfaits with granola. I often to eat mine with a drizzle of syrup.
If you prefer the flavored variety, it's really easy to make fruit sauces that can be stirred into your delicious homemade yogurt. Just stew the fruits of your choice with powdered sugar to taste (powdered sugar contains cornstarch which will help thicken the sauce). You can also use granular sugar and a bit of cornstarch. This is a great way to use up all of that frozen fruit at the bottom of your freezer.
Even if making your own yogurt didn't save you any money, it would still be worth doing. The active bacterial cultures in homemade yogurt are very good for you, and the taste is beyond anything you can buy in the store.
While it may sound like there are a lot of ways that making yogurt can go wrong, it's actually a very forgiving process. If it's not already part of your repertoire, I hope you'll give it a try!