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!
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.
So, 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?)