Sunday, July 30, 2017

Yogurt Making Revisited

It's no secret that I love yogurt.  In recent years there has been an influx of some really good organic (or at least, premium) yogurts out there.  But like most organic and natural things that taste terrific, they come with the natural/organic price that makes me wince.  A four pack of my favorite yogurt, Noosa, costs me about $5.99 when it is not on sale.  That's four 4-ounce containers.  I pay $3 per cup of the stuff!

Someone slap me.

Why am I Doing this Again?

Now, granted, it's good yogurt, but it's not $3-a-cup yogurt.  I would argue there is no yogurt worth $3 a cup, unless it promises me 100 more years of youth.  I've been eating yogurt at least since preadolescence, and now at my rather (ahem) more advanced age, while some people claim I look about 15 years younger than I am, I can't really chalk that up to yogurt.

To make this more ludicrous, I have three goats in milk (four, if you count Heidi, but her adult daughter insists on drinking from her).

Tell me again why I'm buying yogurt when I could make it?

Getting Back to Yogurt Making 

A few years back, I made yogurt, but found it runny.  I tried to increase the thickness of the yogurt by increasing the time it "cooked," but it didn't seem to help.  So a lot of the yogurt went bad because it was slightly thickened milk.

I brushed off one of my yogurt makers and located the jars.  I then had to find a recipe, since I had misplaced the booklet from the yogurt maker.  I found a recipe in Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making that made lots of sense.  She recommends adding dried milk and/or pectin to thicken the yogurt.  I opted for the dried milk, and had great success.  But let's get to talking about how yogurt is made, first.


 Basics to Making Yogurt

You need three things when making yogurt: milk, starter, heat.  Yeah, that's pretty much it. Oh, and you might want a container to put the ingredients in and a kitchen thermometer.  Just a suggestion, there.

Now, I know what's you're thinking: "That's it?  I don't have to buy fancy yogurt makers?"  Technically, no.  Our ancestors didn't have those things, but then probably making yogurt was a bit hit or miss.  Today we have scienced it out to the point where we can make decent batches of yogurt without a failure.  So, here's the basic procedure of yogurt making:

1 quart of milk
1/4 cup of dried milk (optional, but makes it thick)
yogurt starter (either premade or yogurt with live cultures)

  1. Heat the milk and dried milk (if you're using it) to 180F.
  2. Let cool to 116F.
  3. Mix starter or yogurt into the warm milk.  I use the entire cup of yogurt.  You can use only 2 Tbsp, according to the book.
  4. Keep at 116F for 6 to 12 hours.
  5. Stick in the refrigerator.  You now have plain yogurt!
An important note: you must get everything clean and sterilized.  After all, you're culturing a type of bacteria, albeit, a good bacteria.  The problem is if your jars or equipment has bad bacteria present.  You take the bad bacteria out of the equation once you heat the milk above 165F, but putting it in jars that aren't sterilized is a sure way to grow the nasty stuff.  I use bleach and rinse all my jars out well.

Now, Let's Talk Equipment, Here

Technically, you want a yogurt maker.  They're not too expensive, and you can even purchase them at second-hand shops, if you're in a pinch.  My first yogurt maker is a Deni 5600 1-Quart Electric Yogurt Maker, which is about as inexpensive as they come. I think I got mine for around $15 from Walmart, but the price has gone up since I bought mine.  Basically yogurt makers only keep a consistent temperature so the yogurt can culture properly.

I've heard of other ways to keep the yogurt warm, like using heating pads around a jar of yogurt or using blankets.  If you feel inclined to try it, go ahead, but I can't recommend the results. You'll be probably putting the yogurt in one container rather than single servings (most yogurt makers come with glass jars for this). 

But honestly, the $20 investment is worth it. You don't have to take constant temperature readings, and you don't even have to keep an eye on the time with yogurt makers.  The Deni bings when the yogurt is done.

What About the Starter?

I swear I see starters available in stores, and I have to shake my head.  They're usually $5 to $15, and honestly, you don't have to spend that much for a viable starter.  Buy a good yogurt with live cultures in it. Get an organic plain yogurt (there are even goat's milk yogurt, if you wish) and use that as your starter. You won't need a starter again unless you let your yogurt go bad in the frig or if you eat all your yogurt and don't save any for the starter.

So, you'll spend maybe one to two bucks for your starter yogurt (if you get the good stuff), and then, you'll be using about 6 ounces of your homemade yogurt for your next batch.  So, plan that one of your yogurts will be the next starter.

How Much Does It Cost?

Assuming you have the equipment available like I do, the cost of making your own yogurt is worth it.  I used up the excess milk my goats produce, so my cost for the first batch was $1.25 out of pocket.  I already had the dried milk.  So, this has become a very cost effective way of getting my yogurt.  If you don't have a yogurt machine, you'll have to take into account the cost of the machine in your expenses.  If you don't have your own dairy animals, you're looking at spending maybe $1 to $2 per quart of milk for about six 6-ounce jars of yogurt.  So, at $1.50 a yogurt in the store, you're already saving about $7-$8 a batch.

So, let's say you do buy milk and you have to buy a yogurt machine.  We'll take $2 for the starter yogurt, $20 for the machine, and $2 per quart of milk. Each time you make yogurt, you save $9 you would have spent on commercial yogurt.  So, after you make three yogurt batches, making your own will earn out, and from then on out, you'll be saving money.

Okay, So I Have Plain Yogurt Now -- Now What?

Now that you have plain yogurt, it's time for the good stuff!  I love chocolate yogurt, so making chocolate yogurt with organic chocolate syrup, or mixing in a teaspoon of vanilla and adding chocolate chips is a favorite.  (Add honey or raw sugar to your taste for sweetness.)  Add the yogurt to a morning protein shake and fruit. Add a nut butter and chocolate chips -- yes, it is yummy!  Use maple syrup instead of honey and you'll have maple yogurt.  Mix in granola or muesli for crunch.

If you want to have something more traditional, use your favorite jams or canned fruit so you can have strawberry, blueberry, huckleberry, or cherry yogurt.  Yes, mmm, it is tasty!  Let me know if you try this and if you have favorite ways you enjoy yogurt.

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