Homemade Yogurt: All the Other Bloggers Were Doing It

My kids eat a lot of yogurt. I mean, a lot. My mother used to buy them YoBaby when we would visit, for a treat, but she had to give that up when they wanted two and three cartons—each. They easily go through an entire quart-size carton of plain in one long weekend visits.*

As you can imagine, even plain yogurt by the quart adds up when you are buying up to two quarts a week. As I struggle to get my grocery bill down, it seemed like a good time to reconsider my position that homemade yogurt was not worthwhile. After all, all the other bloggers were doing it. Not just the Prudent Homemaker, with her nine mouths to feed on a shoestring budget, but even Mrs. PoP at Planting Our Pennies, who works full time and could clearly afford to buy yogurt. Maybe they’re onto something.

The potential savings were significant, if not huge. I usually buy yogurt for $2.78 per quart, although I sometimes find it on sale for $2.50 or even, once, $2.25 (I had to buy five quarts for that price). The milk we buy, on the other hand, is anywhere from $2.08 to $2.49 per half gallon, depending on where we happen to be shopping. That would make my per-quart cost more like $1.04 to $1.25, plus a spoonful of old yogurt (about nine cents).

My first few efforts were, as I suspected, a tremendous pain in the ass. I heated the milk in a pot on the stove up to 180 degrees, which was time-consuming, then had to wait for it to cool down to exactly 110 degrees, which takes a surprisingly long time and requires constant monitoring. Then I kept obsessively checking it during the day to make sure I was keeping it warm but not too warm.

Something had to change. Two key realizations pulled it together for me:

  1. Ultra-pasteurized milk does not have to be heated to 180. You can heat to just 110 and go straight to the next step.
  2. You can heat the milk in a glass jar in the microwave. Fewer dishes to clean (no pot) and much easier. Plus, it won’t burn the hell out of your pan if you forget about it.
This is regularly pasteurized milk, so I propped up a meat thermometer for easier monitoring as it cooled off.

This is regularly pasteurized milk, so I propped up a meat thermometer for easier monitoring as it cooled off.

So here’s my method so far:

  1. Fill a glass jar nearly full of milk. I’ve been using an old forty-ounce jar that used to contain Costco strawberry spread.**
  2. Heat the jar in the microwave until the milk is 110 degrees, if it’s ultra-pasteurized. If I happen to have milk that is just regularly pasteurized, then I do 180. I do longer increments at first, say a minute, and then shorten the intervals as it gets warmer. Each time the microwave bings, I stir the milk (to prevent hot spots as well as skin formation) and check the temperature. A candy thermometer would be good, and maybe I’ll get one, but I’ve been using an instant-read analog meat thermometer.
  3. If necessary, wait till it cools down to 110. Then I pour a little milk into the old yogurt carton (if I am starting from commercial yogurt) and mix it with the last dregs of the old yogurt, generally a couple of tablespoons’ worth. Pour the milk/yogurt mixture back into the jar (don’t stir!) and cap it.
  4. Put the jar someplace warm. I sometimes put my oven on “warm” for a few minutes, then turn it off and put the jar in. Or I often put the jar in a sunbeam, since I tend to mix this up in the morning.
  5. Wait a long time, at least eight hours. Last time I forgot about it and it went more like fourteen with no ill effects.
  6. Pour off any visible whey and put in the fridge.

Now, here’s something you need to know about homemade yogurt: It is very thin. I have just been using it that way. The kids don’t mind, and anyway I usually use it for making their overnight oatmeal. I just omit the milk and use extra yogurt. I tried straining it once, but I (a) made a giant mess and (b) let it sit too long, winding up with a teeny tiny portion of extremely sticky yogurt and a whole lot of whey for which I had no use. I’ll probably try straining again in the future. I like Greek yogurt for myself. Since I buy this for either three-fifty or four dollars a quart, I can lose some volume and still save money.

Do you make your own yogurt? What’s your favorite method?

*They are happy to eat plain yogurt with Cheerios or fruit in it, and I have found, too, that plain yogurt is much less sticky in the clean-up phase than commercial sweetened yogurt.

**Coincidentally, this is an excellent thing to spoon into your yogurt. Like fruit on the bottom yogurt, but much cheaper!


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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

11 responses to “Homemade Yogurt: All the Other Bloggers Were Doing It”

  1. Rachael says :

    I too got tired of all the temperature measuring and worked out a simpler way. I use powdered milk, about 300ml, and I put it in a 800ml container. I have an easy yo incubator, which is basically a plastic thermos into which you put a plastic container with the soon-to-be-yoghurt inside and fill the outer container with hot water. I got mine from the op shop for a couple of dollars. It keeps it warm for quite a while. I add some cold water until the milk powder is mixed. Then I add enough hot water from the kettle to get it to a warm state and mix in a spoonful of yoghurt. I don’t measure it with a thermometer, I just dip a clean finger in. Then I use the rest of the kettle water to fill the thermos/incubator and put the container inside. If the weather is cold, I might add more hot water while it works its magic. It takes 8-14 hours as you suggest. Sometimes it’s thicker than others and I haven’t figured out why that is, but I don’t really mind.

    Much simpler and works well.


  2. DeerFarmer says :

    So with your comment about thin yoghurt- thickness depends on a lot of factors, including:
    – The strains of bacteria in your yoghurt culture;
    – The fermentation time (longer fermentation time is thicker, although somewhat more ‘sour’);
    – The properties of the milk itself (what is the protein content, or the butterfat percentage? These things make a difference. This is why adding milk powder is advocated by some, as it increases protein content)
    – The manner in which the milk is heated up.

    I focus on the latter, because that’s where I found the best success in making my yoghurt thicker. I found a slow and low-temperature pasteurisation technique and a slow cooling down resulted in thicker yoghurt, which is apparently due to differences in protein denaturation from different temperatures.

    If all else fails, have another go at straining through cheesecloth- strained yoghurt is very popular in some parts of the world and if you strain it enough you can make little cream-cheese like balls (called labneh- it’s a Lebanese thing).

    Hope this helps.

  3. Cheryl says :

    I was always taught that the changed nature of the protein in ultra pasteurized milk made it not a good candidate for yogurt making. It will result in exactly what you experience, thin yogurt. I have always used regular pasteurized whole milk and sometimes if I wanted a thicker yogurt, I would add non-instant milk powder.

  4. Chris says :

    Google crockpot yogurt and you’ll never go back to the other way. I love it.
    1. Put half gallon milk in crock pot and turn on high for 2 hours and 45 minutes.
    2. Turn off for three hours.
    3. Whisk in 1 cup or more of yogurt.
    4. Cover crockpot with two thick towels for 8 to 12 hours.

    That’s all. If you want it thicker, you can strain it with coffee filters. I usually don’t strain it because we use it for green smoothies.

    • frugalparagon says :

      I know a lot of people like the crockpot style, but I like a shorter time frame! I like to be done in 10 minutes and then forget for 8 hours. Also, we have like six square inches of counter space, so it’s hard to have the crockpot out :-). But I might try it sometime when I know I’m going to be home all day. We definitely eat enough to make half a gallon at a time.

  5. Mrs PoP says :

    Late to the party here, but congrats on the yogurt successes =)

    Like others have mentioned, I stir about 1/2 tsp powdered milk per 8ounces of milk into the whole milk before steaming it and that seems to make a big difference in how thick it gets. Makes it more like the yoplait thickness (not greek, but regular yogurt). Then to get it to Greek Yogurt (or even thicker), I have a wire mesh strainer that I picked up at the $ store that fits nicely in a mug, and I stick a coffee filter in it. Then I put about 8 ounces of yogurt in it and let it sit for at least 4 hours to strain the whey off. I end up with probably 5-6 ounces of very thick creamy yogurt after that and try and reuse the whey within a couple of weeks in bread or something.

    • frugalparagon says :

      Maybe I’ll try that powdered milk trick to help thicken while losing less volume. Will definitely try straining next month as I’m doing an “uber-frugal month” challenge!

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