The Easiest Way to Make Homemade Yogurt
First things first – why would you even want to make homemade yogurt, when it's so easy to buy in the store?
Easy answer, that; homemade yogurt does not carry all the starches, fillers, dyes and artificial flavors of commercial yogurts. You can easily make it from a homestead supply or purchased milk either from a grocery store or (better yet) a local farm. When you know the products you start with, you know the product you're eating and serving. And perhaps one of the best reasons is that homemade yogurt is cheaper, even if you do have to buy your milk.
Unlike some other homemade dairy products where you might lose some of the product to bi-products like whey or skimmed milk (unless you reuse them, which is totally possible, too!), yogurt is almost 100% yield to the milk you use. So if you use half a gallon of milk, you're going to come out with close to half a gallon of yogurt. Your cost is only your yogurt starter and your milk, so add those up and then compare by the ounce the cost of that chemical-filled store stuff. Easy answer!
Making Yogurt at Home
If more people knew how easy homemade yogurt was to make, more would do it. You can go the easy route and just buy a yogurt maker, such as this nice, inexpensive model from Amazon. Among the different methods and equipment possibilities, the easiest is the crockpot method. You can use a crockpot/slow cooker you already have, but purchasing a cheap two quart crockpot to dedicate to your yogurt making will quickly pay off. Two quarts is a good size for most homes to make a sizable amount without having it go bad too quickly.
Once you have your crockpot, you'll need a starter. You can either buy a yogurt starter (you can find powdered starters online through Amazon or www.cheesemaking.com, among others) or you can actually just buy a live-culture yogurt from the local grocery (check the label, but most are active live cultures anyway). Choose a plain flavor with as few additives as possible, or vanilla in a pinch (which won't really flavor your yogurt too much). Of course if you want a 100% organic yogurt, you need to start with an organic yogurt as your starter. (FYI – you can freeze the unused starter yogurt, so what you don't use in your batch will not go to waste – freezing in ice cube trays makes future use simple).
Now for the process:
· Pour 2 quarts of milk (whole or skim, but whole will be thicker) into the slow cooker.
· Heat until the milk reaches 185° (high or low doesn't matter – it's the temp, not the time)
· Turn off the crockpot and let milk cool for several hours until it reaches 115°
· Add powdered starter for 2 quarts milk as per package instructions, or add ¼ cup active live-culture plain yogurt
· Stir or whisk well to combine
· Place a couple of kitchen towels over the top of the post to help retain heat. If your kitchen is chilly, you can wrap the crock part of the cooker in a large bath towel, etc. as well.
· Keep in a warm, draft-free place for 6 to 12 hours (the longer it sits, the thicker it will be, but the more tart, too). Inside your oven (obviously off) is a good location.
· After sitting, place in the refrigerator to cool thoroughly, and enjoy.
Some Additional Tips & Tricks:
· Do not expect your yogurt to be as thick as "store" yogurt. There are a lot of added solids, fillers, starches, pectins, and other additives that make store yogurt the way it is.
· Homemade yogurt will have a thick mass of yogurt (basically curd) and will kind of "float" on a small amount of yellowy-clear whey. For a thicker yogurt, drain off the whey. It is easier to drain it after refrigerating so the curd firms, but before you do any stirring which reincorporates the whey.
· You can also strain and hang the yogurt in linen or cheesecloth for a thicker yogurt, but you will lose some volume. However, you can strain it to as thick as you like and even make a Greek yogurt or yogurt cheese.
· Drained whey can be used for other recipes (try it in bread or in place of buttermilk!) or fed to chickens or other livestock, and delivers to them a good source of probiotics and protein.
· You can easily flavor your yogurt with a tablespoon of jam or jelly, fruit, sugar, syrup, honey, vanilla…anything you like!
· If you save some of your homemade yogurt you can use it as the starter for your next batch, but eventually you will see the cultures weaken (after 2 to 3 batches) and the yogurt will not be as thick. Still, it does work and makes your yogurt even more pure and economical.