9 - 2007

Dealbusters: Homemade yogurt

This Monday series checks out whether something that sounds like a good deal — or takes a bit of extra work — is a good deal. We’ll look at cost and benefit — with everything filtered through my individual experience. Please chime in with your take.

This post is appearing rather late in the day, but better late than never. It’s been fermenting … just like yogurt.

For a couple of months now, I’ve been making homemade yogurt instead of buying it. I follow a loose combination of a recipe from our friend Dr. Fankhauser, the recipe followed by No Impact Man and a recipe from a 1970s children’s cookbook called Love at First Bite.

If I am honest with you, dear readers, I am far more lax than Dr. Fankhauser suggests. We haven’t died of food poisoning yet (or gotten sick), but it has only been a couple of months, so follow my technique at your own risk.

Now that the legal disclaimer is out of the way, I’ll tell you that my recipe is so simple that I can reproduce it for you here from memory after doing the process several times:

  1. Heat 4 cups of milk (1 quart for the measurement challenged) in a pan. Any type of milk will do; I use 1%. As it is heating, whisk in ½ cup of dry milk. (Some people say you can add honey or vanilla at this point to flavor the yogurt; I tried honey and found it yucky.) Let the milk heat until very hot — just about boiling or just over boiling — a skin will probably form on top, with the boiling bubbles around the edges.
  2. Turn off the heat. Let the milk sit until you can stick your finger in it without it being painful. At my house in this warm weather, that’s about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Have ready about 2 tablespoons of other yogurt for a starter. Dr. F. suggests Dannon Plain. I used an amazing buffalo milk yogurt that was very very thick.
  4. Whisk a little of the warm/hot milk into the yogurt starter to warm it up (this technique will be familiar to those of you who have warmed up eggs to mix them into a dish without curdling them; this is to not kill the yogurt cultures).
  5. Then whisk the warmed-up yogurt starter into the warm/hot milk. Whisk well to combine thoroughly.
  6. Pour the inoculated milk into a large jar with a tight-fitting lid, or you could use several small ones.
  7. Place the jar(s) in a pot or cooler. Fill the pot or cooler up to the level of the top of the yogurt in the jars with very warm water from the tap.
  8. Put a lid on the pot and wrap the pot in a towel to keep it warm.
  9. Let it sit for about 4 hours. Check by lifting the jar(s) carefully out of the pot to see if the yogurt is thick enough. Try not to disturb it too much, as some people report that disturbance makes the yogurt not set up.
  10. When it’s done, put it in the fridge. My yogurt has a liquid all around an inner “solid” when it is done. After it cools in the refrigerator, it sets together.

These steps are provided to give a clear recipe, but it’s really a simple process.

The cost breakdown:

  • Organic milk = $1.64 per quart
  • Powdered milk = $0.19
  • Yogurt for starter (1/4 container) = $0.16
  • Natural gas for stove = $0.14

Total: $2.14 per quart (for the first batch; now that I’m using my own yogurt for a starter, it’s $1.98 per quart)

The best price I’ve seen on a quart of yogurt in the store is $2, so homemade is comparable to that. I usually have bought yogurt that might go on sale for $2.50, and homemade is 20% cheaper than that price.

The winner: Homemade.

The priceless factors:

  • I can use whatever milk I like, including organic. (I have been buying a delicious organic milk from Farmers Creamery in Iowa. It isn’t local, but boy is it good. I would love to find as good a milk from a local source.)
  • No yogurt tubs to discard — they are not recyclable in Denver.
  • I like the mellow flavor of the homemade yogurt.
  • No preservatives or unexpected ingredients.

A couple of caveats:

  • It took me a few tries to get it right. I threw out a few batches first. (Try a half batch to minimize waste … or if you like the liquid “yogurt,” throw it into a smoothie, I suppose.)
  • The big pot of hot water is bulky, but I try to use it when I’m not doing anything else in the kitchen.

The verdict:
Sticking with it.

Grade: A

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