Here at the Autonomy Acres urban homestead, we tend to eat quite a bit of yogurt. So much in fact, that for a long time we special ordered it by the case from our local food co-op. A case of organic, Stoneyfield yogurt would cost us around $21.00, and that was with a ten percent discount because of our membership and by ordering in bulk. A case consists of six, 32 oz. containers, and we could burn through those in about two weeks depending on our routines and schedules. That got to be a pretty expensive yogurt habit. We knew about makings our own yogurt, and even tried it once about a year ago and did not have very good luck. That all changed this past Christmas when we received the book Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea. It is a cook book dedicated to cooking with a crock pot. My wife came across the crock pot recipe for making yogurt and that rekindled our interest, so we gave it a try. I was a little apprehensive at first, but soon got over that by the time I tasted our first batch. We did it! We made our own yogurt and it turned out great! We followed the recipe as it is written and did not deviate at all. O’Dea’s recipe is based on one half gallon of milk, yogurt starter, powdered milk/gelatin (optional), a crock pot, and about twenty-four hours of spare time. Using this recipe was a great starting point for us, but we soon realized that starting with one half gallon of milk was not enough for our family, and figured out a recipe using a whole gallon of milk. To help us with this, Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheese Making, filled in the missing gaps that O’Dea’s book did not cover. The key to making yogurt is bringing your milk up to about 180 degrees F and then letting it cool to about 116 degrees F. O’Dea’s yogurt recipe was based on times rather than temps, and if you are only making a half gallon batch, that works. However, when you add more milk and bump the recipe up to one full gallon, you need to go by the temperature instead. So the combination of the two recipes works this way: pour 1 gallon of whole milk into your crock pot, (on high) warm up the milk to 180 degrees F (this will take a few hours), once 180 degrees is reached, turn off your crock pot, crack open the lid and let the milk cool down to around 116 degrees F. This is where the other ingredients are used. From your cooled down milk, remove four cups of milk and put into a mixing bowl. If you want a thicker yogurt (which I do) add one cup of powdered milk, and your yogurt starter (use the directions included with the starter to determine how much to use). Mix these together and then add back to the rest of your milk. Cover with the crock pot lid, wrap it in a towel and let it sit over night (you want the ambient air temp to be around 65 degrees F). In the morning you will have yogurt. We drain ours using a colander and cheese clothe for about an hour and you will end up with about a pint and a half of left over whey (save the whey – it can be used in other things). A few important things to keep in mind – if your attempt at making yogurt is successful, you should only need to purchase yogurt starter once, from there on out substitute one half cup of yogurt in place of the starter (your home made yogurt has all the beneficial bacteria still in it – it is alive and wants to reproduce itself). The left over whey after draining the yogurt is not garbage! Whey can be used in baked products like bread or muffins, we have used it in soap making (in place of the water), or just feed it to the chickens or pigs if you have them (they will love it)!
The yogurt we make tends to be a bit thicker than your conventional store brought brands, and also a bit more tart. We like to add a little honey or fruit to cut back on the tartness, and if you don’t want it so thick, just don’t drain it as long. Looking at home yogurt production from an economic standpoint, we are now saving a ton of money by doing it ourselves. We use chemical/growth-hormone free whole milk, and it costs about $4.50 a gallon. We end up with just shy of three quarts of finished yogurt and are now saving a lot of money. We make our yogurt about every other weekend (sometimes every weekend if we have been eating a lot), just remember to save one half cup for your next batch. I suppose now the only thing we are missing is a goat to produce milk for us! Maybe that will happen sometime in the future when we are sick of taking vacations! If you like yogurt, I recommend making your own – it is fun, easy, and cuts out some of the middlemen in food production. Happy eating! Cheers!