Yogurt is one of those things that sometimes feels like you need to know magic in order to make. Actually, every batch I make does feel like magic! Could it really be so easy? I mean, yogurt at the store is pretty expensive, especially in those little single serving size cups with all the
fruit sweeteners, starches, gelatin and natural and artificial flavors and colors. If you consume it often enough however, it really is cheap and easy enough to be worth doing yourself, with minimal work or special equipment. This happens to be one of the very easiest methods I know of, so read through the directions thoroughly first and then give it a go! The final cost of this diy will depend mainly upon how much you pay for your milk, so I will trust you to work out the dollars and cents per serving and compare to your normal brand of yogurt. Personally, I buy a specific type of milk for drinking and consuming raw, and a second, cheaper variety for cooking with and yogurt making.
large thick bath towel(s)
1/2 gallon of fresh milk* (please read note on milk below)
1/2 cup (4 oz) of starter culture (plain, unsweetened, unflavored yogurt, storebought is fine!)
2 cup liquid measuring cup
*Milk! Simple right? Until you get to the store and see skim, 1%, 2%, whole, organic or conventional, low temp, batch or ultra high temp (UHT) pasteurized, raw, grass fed vs grain fed, etc. I am going to leave all of these choices up to you, with just two caveats: Ultra High Temp pasteurized dairy products are not hospitable to yogurt cultures, so check the label before you buy or you will end up with a crockpot of warm milk instead of yogurt. The second caveat is milkfat content–the more fat that is in your milk, the thicker and creamier it will be when done, so I recommend using whole milk. If for some reason, you prefer to use a lower fat milk (especially skim) you will need to add either whole cream, dry powdered milk or unflavored gelatin to avoid thin, stringy, watery yogurt. I warned you!
Please consider the time of day that you begin, as the entire process will take roughly 12-15 hours, with most attention needed in the first five or so hours, so I start mine either early in the morning or in the late afternoon. Have no fear, actual hands on time (ie, work) is just minutes. Also, since we are culturing bacteria, we want to make sure we only culture the ones we want–please make sure that everything that will be touching your milk/yogurt is very clean: crockpot crock and lid, measuring cups, spoons, etc. A standard run through the dishwasher should be enough, but if you really want to be sure, a high temp rinse followed by air drying (do not dry with even a “clean” towel!!) should kill anything pathogenic.
Pour your carefully selected choice of milk into your crockpot, cover, and turn on low. You will need to bring your milk up to 175-180 degrees F. If you are doing exactly one half gallon, and it began at normal fridge temp, you can set your timer for two and a half hours (If you used more or less milk, adjust time accordingly). Please follow the directions on your food thermometer to get the most accurate reading, and make sure your thermometer probe does not touch the sides or bottom of the crockpot when measuring. Do not allow milk to get above 180 degrees F or you will be veering into UHT pasteurization territory. If it’s not quite in that range, keep checking it until it is before continuing to the next step.
Now that your milk is in the 175-180 degree F range, turn off your crockpot and unplug it. If you used exactly one half gallon of milk, you can set your timer for three hours. After three hours, measure temp again. Once your milk has cooled to 105-110 degrees F, use your two cup measure to scoop out about two cups of the warm milk and stir in the 1/2 cup of yogurt starter culture. Pour the warm milk and yogurt mixture back into crockpot and give the whole thing a gentle stir.
Place the lid back on, and wrap heavy towels all around the unplugged crockpot. Ignore the whole thing for 8 hours or overnight, after which it should now magically be yogurt! Store your yogurt in the fridge and consume within 7-10 days. If you choose to add fruit or sweeteners, mix in only what you’ll be eating at once, since the additions can thin the yogurt.
Want greek yogurt or cream cheese? Place your finished yogurt in a fine mesh sieve or finely woven cheesecloth over a bowl in the fridge and ignore all day or overnight, until the yogurt is as thick as you like. The liquid that drips out is whey, which is can be used for lacto-fermenting veggies, fruits, sauces, condiments, or soaking whole grains and flours. Add to smoothies for extra protein, or give your plants a treat–makes a great fertilizer.