Working in a small, locally-owned grocery store that specializes in organic produce and other local products has its perks. The store itself has very little waste- everything that can be recycled gets recycled, produce at the end of its shelf life gets sent to the cafe, given to employees, or composted, and day-old bread and some expired products get passed on to local food pantries. But when it comes to dairy, people are wary of expiration dates. I’ve experienced the putrid, smelly consequences of not respecting those little stamped dates, but in my experience milk that has officially expired is still usable for quite some time, especially if it’s kept sealed.
Needless to say, this frugal girl takes advantage of the nearly continuous supply of milk. We’re not big milk drinkers, and there’s only so much baking I can do before an open container starts to spoil. I’ve made a simple cottage cheese, & I’ve been meaning to get my hands on some cultures to make other cheese (rennet-free, of course). In the meantime I’ve been making yogurt.
Making yogurt is really surprisingly simple. All you need to do is heat up the milk, introduce the yogurt culture, and then keep it at a constant, warm temperature to incubate for several hours. Here’s the basic process:
- Heat your milk to about boiling. I use a quart at a time. I’ve read that you can keep your yogurt “raw” by only warming it up to about 115ºF, warm enough to incubate the yogurt culture. I’ve been using pasteurized milk, and heating it to almost boiling (~180ºF) because it yields a thicker yogurt.
- Allow milk to cool to about 115ºF. If you don’t have a thermometer, dab a little on the inside of your wrist, if it feels hot it’s not ready. It should feel warm, but not too warm.
- Add your yogurt culture. You can purchase this, but the most frugal option is to just use previously-made yogurt, one tablespoon per quart of milk. You can use commercial yogurt as long as it says it contains active, live cultures. I froze some expired yogurt I got from work in ice cube trays and drop 1 cube in each batch I make. Once you’ve made your own you can freeze that and use it instead.
- Keep the mixture warm, ideally about 115ºF, for 4-8 hours. There are many ways to do this, the easiest being a yogurt-maker. I found one for free on Freecycle- it’s not the prettiest but it keeps a constant temperature. You can also try incubating in a crockpot (often bundled in towels for extra insulation), though my attempts were unsuccessful. The internet is full of other ideas for incubation too.
That’s it. Seriously. Now you have yogurt! You can add vanilla or other flavors after incubation, but I usually leave it plain. I’ve been freezing some, too. The consistency suffers a bit after thawing, but it’s great for use in cooking and baking!