This year (okay so next year, 2011... in like 2 days) we have decided we want to learn how to make more dairy products. Apart from making homemade butter (which is as simple as putting heavy cream in a lidded jar and shaking), yogurt was the next easiest dairy product to make at home.
I started my online search looking for a 'yogurt machine' for hubby for Christmas, but quickly saw that actually buying a machine was overkill for just how simple the process seemed. Basically it is as simple as this: heat milk, add a cup of starter yogurt, keep warm for a few hours, and... yogurt.
Back when I was a kid, my paternal grandparents used to make yogurt on the back of their stove top at night (I guess the pilot light kept it warm enough). I don't remember eating it, but everything I ate at their house was delicious.
We heated 1/2 gallon of whole milk on the stove (the milk was from Sprouts, not sure all the details, rTBH free?).
We cooked it until it was at 180F. (I think this is to kill any bacteria in the milk)
We then cooled it quickly to 120F by putting the pot into a sinkful of cold water. (this brings the milk back to a hospitable temperature for the good bacteria we are about to add)
We then stirred in 1/2 cup of the starter yogurt into the 120F milk. In this case, I used Stoneyfield plain cream top (this stuff is SOOO good).
Meanwhile, I also sterilized a random collection of canning jars to put the finished yogurt into. (not sure if this step is necessary. I figured we were intentionally creating the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, I wanted to make sure it was the 'right' kind of bacteria and not some random bad bacteria from my jar storage box)
We ladled half of the new yogurt into jars as is (just hot milk and yogurt).
We put the filled, lidded jars into a cooler filled with about 3 inches of hot water (target temp 120F).
This water and cooler will help to keep the new yogurt at a warm constant temperature for several hours to allow the bacteria to grow.
(I don't have a lot of kitchen gadgets, but I really love my digital thermometer.)
As an experiment, we added honey and vanilla to the second half of the batch.
These were lidded too and placed into the cooler to begin the yogurt incubation period. The recipes I found online all called for warm incubation periods of between 3 hours and overnight. Since we finished the cooking and mixing portion of this experiment at 9pm... and we are big babies who go to bed at about 9pm... we opted to allow it to incubate overnight. I read that the longer the incubation period, the tangier the yogurt would taste.
The next morning...
Side Note: In all honesty, I only tipped the jar like this because I saw a picture of someone else doing this online to show how lovely and thick their yogurt was. I did it and was so thrilled that ours was that thick too. I snapped a quick picture then in the two seconds it took me to turn back around to put the camera down, the thick creamy top on the yogurt had given way and the sort-of-thick yogurt had poured out and pooled all over my counter. Oops.
Once stirred, the consistency was like a thin smoothie, not terribly thick, but no where near as runny as milk.
We ended up with about a half gallon of homemade yogurt and it was yummy. It was a tiny bit tart, and we all preferred the sweetened version to the straight plain yogurt we made.
By far, the best way we have found to eat this is to mix in a giant glob of my runny homemade peach preserves. Mmmm.
I was a little bit worried that the kids would not care for the tanginess of it, but they really loved it. Since it was so runny, I served it to them in cups with a straw and they slurped it right up. It is basically the consistency of the smoothies we make.
Considering the fact that the Stoneyfield yogurt we all like so much costs between $3.99 (on sale) and $5.00 (ouch) per quart this is a huge cost savings. In Dallas right now, a grocery store price war with the new Aldi store has milk going for around $0.99 per gallon! Even at the usual price of $1.99 per gallon (and with four quarts to a gallon) making our own saves a lot of money.
1 gallon of milk
1/2 cup of live culture yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sweetener (honey or sugar)
1) heat milk to 180F
2) cool milk to 120F
3) stir in starter yogurt
4) sweeten if desired
5) ladle into sterilized jars
6) place in warm spot for 3-8 hours to incubate
7) refrigerate after incubation period is complete