Maya loves yogurt. It was the first "real" (as in something grown-ups also eat) food that she ate. We started with the Stonyfield Farms Cream Top Vanilla (yum) and then switched over to Fage whole milk greek yogurt (which is much thicker than regular yogurt) when we wanted to help her progress to thicker textures. She still eats the Fage (plain, we add honey to it) several times a week. It's a big favorite, but it's $8 for a 32oz container.
Enter the homemade yogurt idea :)
I've heard of making yogurt in the crock pot, but without knowing anyone who had really tried it I was hesitant. So when a friend took the plunge and I was able to quiz her about the results (which seemed great!) I decided to give it a shot. Here's what I did: (You can browse around online, but all of the recipes are basically the same)
Half a gallon of milk (*I read somewhere not to use ultrapasteurized milk. My milk is just regular pasteurized and worked fine)
1/2-3/4 cup of plain yogurt (this is where the active cultures that turn your milk into yogurt will come from)
That's it :)
(Optional ingredients: You can add vanilla or honey to sweeten the yogurt during the production process---I don't do that, and I'll explain why later. You can also add powdered milk to up the protein content and help thicken it a bit, which I do.)
Other stuff you need
A strainer and/or cheesecloth if you want thick, Greek-style yogurt
1. Pour milk into the crockpot (mine is 4 qts and works well). Set it on low for 2.5 hours.
2. Then, turn the crockpot off. Let it sit (off and unplugged) for 3 hours.
3. Next, remove 1-2 cups of the milk and put it in a small bowl. Add the yogurt and whisk together to combine. (This is when I also add the powdered milk---I mix in about 2/3 of a cup.)
4. Dump the small bowl back into the crockpot and stir to combine.
5. Wrap a large towel around your (unplugged) crockpot and let it sit for 8 hours. (No, I'm not kidding. This looks weird, but this is where the magic happens.)
6. Now you have yogurt!
It tastes better than it looks, I promise. I don't think any type of yogurt photographs well. At least not with a cell phone camera and kitchen lighting.
7. If you want thick, greek-style yogurt, now you strain it. I use a strainer lined with cheesecloth (which I found at the hardware store, but my friends tell me you can also find it in the baking section of many stores). Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth-lined colander (inside another bowl to catch the whey that drains out) and let it sit in the fridge overnight (or until you reach your desired thickness.)
(dramtatic reenactment--there's not yogurt in here, but you get the idea)
Important! If you plan on making more yogurt, before you strain off the whey set aside 1/2-3/4 of a cup of the yogurt so that you have a starter for your next batch!
It's delicious and cheap! I didn't let it thicken long enough to get the same consistency as Fage, but it's good anyway. It's a little bit milder than store bought yogurt (which I prefer)---I wonder if it would get more tangy if you let it sit for longer than 8 hours (and the cultures continued to work in there). I made full fat for Maya (which I had with honey the other night for dessert) and today I'm making a pot of skim for Dave &I (I'll update on how the skim turns out after it is strained, which will be overnight tonight).
The time commitment isn't that bad---you have to start it, be around in 2.5 hrs, and then be around 3 hours after that. Takes a minimum amount of mental math and planning.
It's a lot of yogurt for the price of a half gallon of milk, and you get to control the thickness and quality of ingredients.
This stuff has endless possibilities . . . it's not like you're just strictly making yogurt, it's like making a creamy dairy product. You can sweeten it with honey, fruit, or fruit purees----although I read reviews online that said it's better to do that to single servings because if you mix in all the fruit up front the yogurt loses a little bit of its thickness.
You could keep it on the savory side by using it as a sour cream substitute. If you let it thicken a lot, you would end up with yogurt cheese. Although it may sound questionable, it's kind of like a cream cheese spread---for bread, crackers, bagels, etc. I imagine you could get creative by mixing spices, chives, etc into the yogurt cheese---homemade cream cheeses? Super fancy!
About the whey:
Allegedly the whey (which is the liquid that drains off if you decide to strain the yogurt) is a great substitute for buttermilk. I don't think I've ever cooked anything that required buttermilk, but if you do (I've heard that pancakes and other baked good recipes often use it) then try it out. I read that you can also freeze the whey to use it later---if you do that, I would freeze it in ice cube trays for easy measuring and defrosting later. This blogger also says you can add the whey to smoothies for a nutritional boost.
Not only is making yogurt cheap, but I feel like a total badass homemaker. It makes me want to wear a little apron skirt (well, I'd have to buy an apron skirt first---but then I would wear it) and heels in the kitchen. I wish I had a t-shirt that says "I make my own yogurt", for real. I think if you do it, you get serious bragging rights.