I have and always will be a lover of dairy.
Right now my fridge contains several Picky varieties of cheese: one for soup, one for grilled cheese, one for pasta, and two for pizza. I even have two gallons of milk in there right now, as well as a jar of whey and two jars of yogurt. Needless to say, my dairy habit can get expensive.
For example, every week I would buy a $5 jar of HEB store brand Greek yogurt. I used it in smoothies, for sauces, for breakfast, you name it. But once we started our frugal journey, I took a hard look at the foods we buy. I realized that my yogurt habit alone cost us $20 a month. Over a year, that adds up to $240. While that isn’t a staggering cost to everyone, I was determined to reduce it. I also started scrutinizing food labels more closely. I didn’t like the artificial sweeteners and preservatives that you find in grocery store staples like Yoplait, which are not Picky Pincher approved. After checking out a recipe by The Frugal Girl, I realized I could easily make homemade yogurt.
Why I Started Making My Own Yogurt
- It’s cheaper. To make this yogurt, I buy one gallon of organic milk twice a month, which costs $10. And that’s it. Outside of electricity and time, that’s the only cost I have for yogurt.
- It’s healthier. Because I made my yogurt with an organic, grass fed starter and use organic milk only, I know I’m putting good things into my body.
- I know what’s in my food. I don’t like the idea of eating unnecessary artificial sweeteners and colors in my yogurt. My homemade yogurt is made from a yogurt starter and organic milk, and that’s it.
- It tastes sooo friggin’ good. Homemade yogurt doesn’t taste exactly like yogurt from the store. I think it tastes wayyyy better than anything I’ve ever bought. If you have ultra-Picky little ones, this might be a tougher sell, since the yogurt is not sweet, tangier, and has a silkier texture. Read on to see how to sweeten your homemade yogurt.
How to Make Homemade Yogurt
While The Frugal Girl was my inspiration for this yogurt recipe, the recipe itself is a combination of different techniques I’ve found to work best. If organic ingredients aren’t in the cards for you, non-organic is fine (and delicious!) as well.
Each batch will require one cup of yogurt. This is because it needs the bacteria in the yogurt cup (or “starter”) to ferment the milk and turn it into yogurt. Since the process involves heating, cooling, and allowing milk to set overnight, the recipe does take some time to do, so it isn’t a “set it and forget it” kind of deal.
1 gallon organic milk
1 cup yogurt (I used a hard-to-find organic, grass-fed variety from a fancy grocery store)
- Pour one gallon of milk into a crock pot on high.
2. Heat the milk in the crock pot until it reaches 185 degrees Fahrenheit. This will take about 2 hours. Remove any skins that form.
3. Turn off and UNPLUG the crock pot.
4. Cool the yogurt to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. It can take some time to cool on its own. To speed up the cooling process, take the pot and place it in a sink filled with cool water and ice. Refill as necessary. It takes about 45 minutes to cool like this instead of 4 hours on its own.
5. Once the yogurt reaches 110 degrees Fahrenheit, remove it from the sink and carefully wipe the water off of it. Place it back into the UNPLUGGED crock pot shell.
6. Put your yogurt starter into a medium sized bowl. Ladle some of the hot milk mixture from the crock pot into the bowl and stir. Make sure you have completely incorporated the yogurt starter with the warm milk, so that it’s liquid with no clumps.
7. Carefully pour the starter-milk mixture into the crock pot. Gently stir with your ladle to incorporate the yogurt starter throughout the hot milk. Put the lid back on the crock pot.
8. Get 3 towels and wrap them around the UNPLUGGED crock pot. The towels retain the heat and allow the yogurt to form. Because you’re wrapping towels around it, it’s extremely important to not have your crock pot plugged in, due to fire hazards. Allow the mixture to set overnight.
9. Get a good night’s sleep!
10. Wake up and check it out. Inside the crock pot you will have a thin yogurt. Remove any skin that has formed.
11. If you like your yogurt thin, then you’re done! If you like a thicker yogurt, read on.
12. To thicken the yogurt, put a sterilized, thin cotton t-shirt into a colander over a large bowl. You can use cheesecloth as well, but I think it’s expensive and it doesn’t do as good of a job straining the yogurt as a t-shirt. You need to make sure the t-shirt is thin enough for liquid whey to leak through; cotton is a good fabric for straining. Make sure the t-shirt has been thoroughly washed, dried, and cleaned. To sterilize it, I put the shirt in my pressure cooker to steam it. If you aren’t comfortable with the shirt approach, you can always use cheesecloth.
13. Ladle the yogurt into the t-shirt/cheesecloth and allow the liquid whey to drain from the yogurt. This can take about 45 minutes, depending on how thick you want the yogurt. Check on it regularly to see if it’s at the desired thickness. Occasionally you may need to empty the whey from the large bowl. But don’t throw the whey away! It has a lot of other great uses, like baking bread and making protein smoothies. Waste not, want not, after all.
14. When the yogurt is successfully strained, pour it into clean jars with a funnel. The jars don’t have to be completely sterilized, but they do need to be clean so the yogurt won’t be contaminated. For my yogurt, I sterilize three 24-ounce mason jars and lids in my pressure cooker, just to be on the safe side.
15. Let cool in the refrigerator three hours before serving. Reserve one cup of prepared yogurt for your next batch and freeze it.
This yogurt costs $5 to make, and yields about 60 ounces of yogurt. 30 ounces alone would cost $5 at HEB. So making it at home is half what you’ll pay in the store. Aaand I end up with tasty whey to use in other frugal cooking projects.
Don’t forget to save one cup of yogurt to start your next batch of yogurt! After the first batch you shouldn’t have to buy a yogurt starter ever again. If you’re worried about the starter keeping, store it in the freezer. Yogurt can be stored in the freezer in non-glass containers, but it tends to have a weird, grainy texture after it’s defrosted. If you have more yogurt than you can eat, give it to a friend or donate it to the hungry.
How to Sweeten Homemade Yogurt
This yogurt can taste savory when left untreated. I recommend storing it without adding flavors to an entire batch, so you can take advantage of its versatility for sauces, smoothies, and baking. When I’m in the mood for something sweet, there are a few things I do to add sweetness to this yogurt.
- Mix in some jam. Extra points if it’s homemade! Jam gives yogurt a good amount of sweetness and flavor that outpaces any supermarket brand you’ll find. My favorite is stirring in a tablespoon of homemade plum jam to my yogurt.
- Add honey. When in doubt, add honey. I think honey has a lot more character than sugar alone. I love getting local honey that has crystallized. I take a big spoonful from the jar and mix it in with the yogurt. This does two things. One, it makes the yogurt taste delicious. Two, since it’s crystallized, it adds a slight crunch to the yogurt, which is delightful.
- Exciting extracts. You can also add sugar and a small amount of extract to your yogurt for flavor. Since extracts can be quite powerful, I would recommend starting with adding 1/4 tsp increments to a whole jar of yogurt for flavor, adding more as necessary. To sweeten, add sugar or honey to taste, and viola! You have delicious, flavored yogurt that is leaps and bounds healthier for you than store bought.
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