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It’s Yogurt Time!

I am transferring over a bunch of earlier entries from a tumblr blog. This one was originally written about a month ago, and since then, we’ve kept up the yogurt habit! I think wordpress is going to provide better functionality for what I want this blog to be. 

Today, I’m going to talk about turning this:

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Into this: Image

We got into making yogurt in our house for a simple reason – our cabinets were overflowing with those one quart plastic yogurt containers. We had run out of things to store in those containers, and with four of us consuming yogurt on a regular basis, we were supporting a lot of plastic.

Our local grocery store (which happens to be a fantastic worker-owned co-op) carries http://www.strausfamilycreamery.com/ milk in glass bottles. You pay a $1.50 deposit for the bottle, which you get back when you bring back the empties. Straus sanitizes and re-uses the bottles. We were already getting the half and half, but once the store started carrying whole milk in half gallon size, it made sense to start making our own yogurt!

There are various ways of making this work, but here are the essentials: you need a bottle of milk that has *not* been ultra-pasteurized (pasteurized is okay), a half cup of yogurt that has live cultures in it, a vessel to heat the milk, and a thermometer.

You heat the milk to 180 to kill the bad stuff, but no higher so that you don’t kill the happy bacteria. Then you cool it to roughly 115 degrees. You remove a cup of this milk, stir it in well with the 1/2 cup of yogurt to get those cultures going, and then you put your mixture back in with the rest of the milk. Maintain this at 110-120 degrees for six to eight hours. DO NOT STIR DURING THIS TIME. You will disturb the culturing process if you do. When this waiting time is over, you have several options. If you’re happy with the texture, you can mix it all in, put it in containers, and put it in the back of your fridge overnight to cool. If you want it a little thicker, scoop any liquid pools off the top before stirring. If you want Greek yogurt,  pour your mixture into a collander lined with cheesecloth. Wait two more hours as the liquid drains and your yogurt thickens. Then refrigerate.

My current favorite method is here: http://www.macheesmo.com/2011/04/crockpot-yogurt/

The only things I do differently are: a) put my crockpot on high for the initial heating to 180, because my crockpot is old and doing it on the low setting took two and a half hours, and even the high setting takes an hour, and b) I sped up the cooling down process by creating a “double cooler” out of two differently sized pots. I filled the bottom pot with cold water and ice packs, and put a slightly smaller pot inside of that. When the yogurt had hit 180, I poured it back and forth a few times between the crockpot and the other pot, making sure to rinse the inside cooling pot with cold water each time to get it chilly. After four pours back and forth, my yogurt was down to 120. Yeah, you can skip the extra dishes and effort of this step, but if you get a late start on your yogurt like me and don’t want to stay up until 1am waiting for it to finish so you can put it away, this extra time saved can be valuable. I got great results this way.

Now, why would I go through all of this effort to make something I can buy at the store?

I like knowing how my food comes to be. I’ve always loved science, and watching one food change into another is fascinating. I can flavor my yogurt however I want, I get to carry home my milk in cool, substantial glass bottles, and I feel satisfaction eating it in the morning.

I made this.

And I get to control what’s in it. No needless preservatives (we’re going to finish this stuff off in less than a week), and no “natural flavors” that are only called that because they are loosely plant derived. My yogurt is made of milk, and of last week’s yogurt. And it’s delicious.

Lastly, even though buying a $4 gallon of milk seems expensive, it makes 2 quarts (plus about a pint left over) of yogurt, which means each quart costs a little under $2. The cheapest I’ve gotten a quart of organic yogurt for is 3.00, and typically the cost is even higher than that. So make your own yogurt, for fun, science, and cash!

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