yogurt economics

Several weeks ago, Harold McGee wrote about making your own yogurt in the New York Times, and Mother’s Kitchen happened to  post about it.  It got me thinking I should give it a whirl, seeing as how I almost always have yogurt in the fridge and use it for a variety of purposes.  It took me a few weeks to get around to it, but once I did, I wondered what on earth I had been waiting for.  Call me converted!

yogurt bowl 2

The process itself couldn’t be simpler: just heat some milk to about 180 degrees (it will just be starting to steam), let it cool down to about 110, stir in a spoonful of yogurt, let it sit in a warm place, and let nature take its course.  McGee provides specifics for keeping your yogurt warm, how long to leave it out, etc. but I found the “recipe” to be forgiving- I accidentally left my yogurt on the counter overnight rather than the 4 hours prescribed, to no ill effect.

McGee suggests that if you don’t have an “heirloom” starter, the major supermarket brands are actually the most reliable as they contain the most active cultures. I wanted to experiment a bit, so I bought small containers of both plain old Dannon and Fage Greek yogurt so I could taste-test and compare.  For the milk, I just bought a gallon of organic milk from Meijer*.  I made 2 cups of each type of yogurt.  I obviously had lots of milk left over because I had planned on making homemade ricotta as well, but that’s another story.  I taste-tested the two after they had chilled, and I couldn’t detect a huge difference- they both tasted more mellow and less sour than their originators, and both had a pleasant texture.  Obviously, the yogurt from the Fage starter was unstrained, so it didn’t have the thickness of the purchased product, but that can easily be obtained with some cheesecloth and a strainer.

yogurt with jarsSo, on to the economics:  My total investment was about $3.35 for 8 cups of yogurt (actually, almost 9 cups, if you count the cup of purchased yogurt).  Now, I don’t know where you shop, but the cheapest I have seen organic yogurt is at Trader Joe’s for $2.99 for 32 oz (4 cups).  As you can easily see, this works out to about half price, especially when you consider that once you have your yogurt going, you can use that to start the next batch, so future batches would only cost as much as your milk.  If you compare price to the individually-sized containers, the savings get even more ridiculous.  And if you’re wondering whether it’s worth it time-wise, I really only spent a few minutes actively “doing” anything.  As an added bonus, I love the thought of all the plastic containers it will save.  I do recycle them, but even still.

Of course, over and above all of this, the satisfaction of knowing you made something from scratch is (as the ads would say) priceless.

*random linguistic aside: For some bizarre reason, many Southeast Michiganders feel compelled to add an “S” at the end of some business names, as in “I work at Ford’s”, or “I shop at K-Mart’s”.  (In trying to avoid this awkward-sounding linguistic oddity, it even feels unnatural for me to say “Trader Joe’s”, and I sometimes overcompensate and call it “Trader Joe”…)  So when typing “Meijer”, I actually had to check to see if it was in fact Meijer or Meijer’s.  (It’s Meijer now, but it actually DID used to be Meijer’s, because the full name of the store was Meijer’s Thrifty Acres… anyone remember that?)


17 responses to “yogurt economics

  1. We used to call it “Meijer Shifty Takers” instead of “Meijer Thrifty Acres” (I don’t remember the “s” but I’ll take your word for it). We eventually called it “Shifty’s” which is what I call it to this day.

    • My dad used to call it that, too. I guess the ‘s makes sense if you think of it as “the store belonging to Fred Meijer”. And I suppose in a convoluted way, the same could be said for Ford… it was, after all, Ford’s factory… but I still don’t get it for stores like Target (I have actually heard people say “Target’s”). It seems like a particularity to the Detroit area, since I never heard it before moving here.

  2. Homemade yogurt is wonderful!
    I’ve found that if you leave the yogurt for longer (or add in more yogurt to begin with), the final product is tangier. You could also make it thicker by adding a bit of powdered milk before you heat up the mixture to 180F.
    and yes, I’m really loving the savings and feeling of making yogurt from scratch! 🙂

  3. Oh, it’s not just SE Michiganders who add an “s” to words! I hear it all the time in KY & TN. Seriously, it’s Kroger, not Krogers… Grr…

    But thanks for the informative piece on making your own yogurt!

  4. Wow
    It looks so good and beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. I’ve been wanting to do this. I did make ricotta (I don’t think it’s technically ricotta) and I was amazed at how wonderful and easy it was. Yogurt has been intimidating to me… I really need to try this. Thanks for the push…


  6. bluejeangourmet

    I love making yogurt at home! I grew up with my mom doing it and swore, of course, that I would never go through so much trouble. ha!

    now I make it every other week, and it just tastes SO much better. I am lucky enough to have a heritage starter (all the way from India), and have friends who have been able to acquire one when asking at Indian grocery stores or restaurants.

    when I first successfully made yogurt at home, I felt like a rightful inheritor of my Indian heritage! and I also find it’s very forgiving–I usually wrap mine up in towels and leave it in the microwave overnight.

    • Hmm, this gets me thinking- do you suppose if I ordered a side of plain yogurt in an Indian restaurant, I could use that for the starter? Would it be any better/ different than using a store-brand starter?

  7. I love your side note about Meijer, too funny. It reminded me of my conversation with People’s Gas when they told me someone had to come out and read the “meters numbers” Haha.

    I was watching Oprah the other day and Dr. Oz said that eating more calcium helps you lose weight. I am trying to eat more yogurt and milk, so I will try your recipe (once I have unpacked my kitchen supplies)

  8. Rick Anderson

    I lived with a couple of vegetarians years ago and they just blended equal amounts of store-bought yogurt and whole milk to make their own. Is that a good recipe or not?

    • Rick- I have no idea, I’m pretty much a novice to this. Did they let it sit out? I think it needs a somewhat warm environment for the cultures to grow, though. That sounds like an easier “recipe” than the one I did, only it uses more store bought yogurt which is more expensive than milk.

  9. Noelle, that’s really funny what you said about “Ford’s” and “K-Mart’s”! I can so relate to that (and that associated annoyance). And yes, I remember when it was called Meijer’s Thrifty Acres. 🙂

    To Beth – I heard about that Dr. Oz thing on Oprah. My roommate DVR’d it for me, to help refute my mistaken belief that “milk and yogurt make you fat”. I’m working on dispelling that belief! But what he said makes sense. Plus he’s Dr. Oz, LOL.

  10. Hey Noelle, FYI, this is Diane from the Drink Tank. I mistakenly posted that last comment (and now this one too – but intentionally) while logged in as my alter-ego, Dr. Philm. 🙂

  11. I love making yogurt. Homemade yogurt with organic whole milk is the best. I also have the MeijerS and FordS pet peeve! It drives me nuts. My BF started calling my dog Hobarts just to bug me too…but of course I find that kind of cute!

  12. How about using raw milk when making yogurt. I think it’s supposed to be much easier and quicker, probably tastier too. Anyone tried it yet? I’m inspired by the post and think I’ll give it a try. We drink raw milk here in CA.

    • Kathryn,
      As far as I know, raw milk is not legally available here. I believe the only way to get it is to own a share in a cow (that way you’re not “technically” buying the milk). I bet it would be a treat though!

      • Updated reply re: raw milk (via my business partner who makes it all the time): It works better to pasteurize it because you don’t want the yogurt cultures to have to compete with any bacteria that may be present in the milk. But it’s not strictly necessary. She says you get a thicker yogurt by pasteurizing it first.

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