I never cared much for yogurt. It generally seemed too sour to me, unless it was turned into tzatziki sauce on a gyro sandwich.
Apparently I just never had the right kind of yogurt.
I’d heard that the homemade version was better than the commercial kind. I’d also read about people making yogurt in a slow cooker. After looking online for instructions I settled on a slight variation of the process described at A Year of Slow Cooking.
And then I improved on it.
It’s time-consuming but very simple:
- Heat two quarts of milk to 185 degrees Fahrenheit
- Cool to between 105 and 110 degrees
- Pour 2 cups of the milk into a bowl and whisk in ½ cup of an active-culture yogurt; put that mixture and the rest of the milk into a slow cooker and stir to combine
- Put the lid on and wrap the entire slow cooker in a heavy bath towel to insulate
- Place it atop a heating pad set on “low” and let it stand for six hours or so
I start it first thing in the morning and by mid- to late-afternoon I’ve got two quarts of yogurt.
Most commercial yogurts use some sort of thickening agent, such as pectin. Homemade yogurt is somewhat thinner, and a little tangier than I’d like. It would be great for smoothies, but I wanted to eat the stuff from a dish. Without wincing.
The author, Stephanie O’Dea, suggests creating “a Greek-style yogurt” by straining the product through a coffee-filter-lined colander. I use a flour-sack towel from the dollar store instead, since it’s washable vs. disposable. (It’s the same towel I used to strain the grapes that I gleaned from a neighboring fence.)
I stretch the towel across a spatter screen (the kind you put over a skillet when frying bacon or burgers) and secure it with clips, then set the screen over a 13-by-9-inch pan. After 20 or 25 minutes in the fridge much of the whey has dripped into the pan, leaving a thick, creamy and milder-tasting yogurt. Ultimately I end up with a little over one and one-half quarts of finished product.
It’s delicious: rich, smooth and not at all sour, although a subtle tang remains. It’s wonderful with fruit – as good as ice cream, but healthier. I’ve had it with sliced bananas, applesauce (made from a 99-cent bag of “manager’s special” fruit), homemade jams, and gleaned, stewed rhubarb. This summer I’m looking forward to eating it with free blackberries.
A dollop makes baked potatoes quite tasty. Mixed with salsa, it made a nice sauce for a side dish of pinto beans.
Throwing out the separated liquid seemed like a bad idea. Why waste all that whey protein?
Thus far I’ve poured it into soup stock, chili and spaghetti sauce. Each morning I fix my super-easy, super-cheap oatmeal with half water and half whey. The flavor is yogurty, but not at all sour.
I’m hoping to make yogurt while in Anchorage, using a slow cooker borrowed from my niece. Milk here is more expensive thanks to the Alaska gouge, so I’ll watch for sales and/or close-dated moo juice. In Seattle, I’ve paid as little as $1.25 per half-gallon. Initially I had to buy a container of yogurt for starter; after that, I just saved half a cup from each batch. (Note: The starter doesn’t have to be strained.)
I’m delighted to have found a palatable way to get more calcium in my diet. I don’t like to drink milk, and I don’t often eat spinach, mustard greens, tofu, canned salmon or other high-calcium foods. Despite a daily supplement, I’m concerned about my teeth and bones. The probiotic benefits of yogurt are a plus, too.
If you’ve got the time, I’d strongly suggest firing up your own slow cooker. You can paint this as an eco-friendly move: How many little plastic containers are you throwing away each month?
Or you can look at it as a frugal hack. I got a quart of high-quality product for $1.25 or so. How much are you paying per cup or carton?
I haven’t tried making my own tzatziki yet. But give me time and a few cucumbers and I probably will.