Wednesday, October 6, 2010

You Make Your Own WHAT??!! The Fun of Homemade Yogurt

I've had some people ask me lately about making yogurt at home, namely, Byron's Aunt Dottie and Uncle Hank. They were familiar with the idea but wanted some details, so I e-mailed them a recipe and promised myself I'd write a longer blog about it later. Well. That was about a week ago. Since making homemade yogurt is easy and inexpensive, I wanted to begin writing about it before it slipped into the black hole that is my brain.

I first got into making yogurt because I was paying a whopping $3-$4 dollars for a quart of organic stuff from the store. And we go through a lot of yogurt. Byron makes shakes every morning, and the kids and I have yogurt with our lunch. So I figured if I bought half a gallon of milk for $3 (I buy hormone/antibiotic-free stuff), I would essentially be paying $1.50 for a quart of yogurt, and I liked that idea a lot.

But before I began making my own, I had to make an initial big switch: flavored yogurt to plain. This, admittedly, was an acquired taste, but it didn't take long for any of us to become acclimated to its tangy flavor, especially when it's mixed with honey or fruit.

Reading the ingredients in flavored yogurt also helped ease the transition. Do you know how much sugar is dumped into the stuff? A lot. And sugar promotes the growth of yeast in your body. Not that I'm blaming flavored yogurt for the bulk of sugar consumption in America or even in our own family, but it seemed like a very easy thing to cut out of our diets. In addition, adding all that sugar to yogurt seemed almost counter-productive. Yogurt contains good bacteria and when eaten on a regular basis, can build up your internal immune system. And when partnered with freshly milled grains (read more about the health benefits here), the good bacteria will be able to propagate. So it seemed like putting more sugar into my body, which in turn would promote the growth of yeast, would be like forcing the good bacteria to fight a meaningless skirmish when it should be fighting possibly a greater war (such as a more serious sickness). Okay, I hope my logic makes sense.

Back to making yogurt. First, you might want to procure a yogurt maker, since the yogurt needs to incubate at a steady temperature for several hours. There are ways to make crock pot yogurt, and you can incubate it in your oven if the temperature is low enough, but those methods have never worked for me (if you have any secrets here, do share!). Yogurt makers can range greatly in price and design. Some come with handy little cups that you can put in the fridge and then grab on your way out the door. Some can hold a quart canning jar. Click here to see what Amazon has and read reviews. This is a small initial investment that will pay off in a couple months. Mine is a Donvier that my friend Kim passed on to me:

Next, the milk. If you have a source for raw milk, that makes amazing yogurt! But if you're like the rest of us you may not have that source or may have raw milk phobia. I'm working on that one myself...much of the fear and government animosity toward raw milk stemmed from the evil swill milk made in cities during the Industrial Revolution. Cows were fed distillery by-products and made to stand in their own feces (hmmm, sorta like the modern beef industry that said government subsidizes with your tax dollars) and then got sick. Well, duh. Their milk was then fed to babies and small children, and no one likes it when babies and small children start dying. But the fact is that raw milk from healthy, grass-fed cows sustained many people for generations prior.

The next best thing is milk that is NOT ULTRA-PASTEURIZED. Ultra-pasteurized milk, to me, is pointless to drink because virtually all the nutrients in to have been killed off...and all for the sake of shelf life. Hence, there's nothing in it to react to the yogurt culture you'll use to start your batch. I use whole milk, but if you'd like to use 2%, you can add 1/4 cup of powdered milk to thicken it a bit. Just read labels; ultra-pasteurized milk usually proudly boasts its sterile state somewhere on the carton.

Third, you'll need yogurt culture to start your batch. Sounds fancy, right? Nope - just a small container of PLAIN yogurt from the store will do! Or you can buy powdered culture from Yogourmet. It looks like this. And I found it at a health food store for half that price, lest you think I'm in cahoots with Amazon! The good news is that once you make a batch, you can take a bit from that batch to make your next batch, and so on down the line...about seven times over. So there's absolutely no need to buy a new container of yogurt every time you want to make your own. That would be rather counter-productive, I think.

Finally, you'll need a thermometer, a pot, and a quart canning jar or two so you can store your yogurt.

Ready? You, your family, and your wallet won't regret it! Click here for the recipe.

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