What is this??? Don’t know? Read on. I love when I can reuse or repurpose old things. I almost took this beverage cooler to Goodwill on several different occasions. It was actually in a donation bag when I rescued it for its new life as a . . . yogurt warmer. I don’t know about your house, but mine goes through a lot of yogurt. I’m ashamed to admit that back in the days when we were a more “disposable” household, we went through Go-gurt by the gallons. I’ve long since stopped buying Go-gurt for the kids because of both its waste factor and the fact that it is made of corn, coloring and chemicals. However, Hubby was a hold-out on the Go-gurt. He packs his lunch every day and appreciated the convenience factor of the stuff. I finally won that battle when his doctor explained to him that he may as well eat sugar as Go-gurt since it has little or no actual nutritive value and is mostly sugar, food coloring and artificial flavoring with enough yogurt added in so that they can call it yogurt.
Because we eat so much yogurt, this summer I started making my own. It was actually a first step on my road to cheese, but it is so easy and economical that I can’t imagine stopping now. If you google yogurt making, you will find lots of different recipes; some even have videos. I’ve been making yogurt regularly enough that I have it down to a science:
First, fill a quart jar with milk. You can use soy milk if you prefer. Put the jar of milk in the microwave and heat it until it reaches 110°. (My microwave takes just over three minutes to do this.) Many recipes tell you to heat the milk to 180° to scald it and then cool it to 110°. I did that when I first started making yogurt, but I don’t anymore. If you’re a purist and you prefer, you can heat the milk on the stove, but it takes a longer time and you have to watch the milk carefully and stir it often to keep it from scorching to the bottom of the pan. Plus, you have to wash an extra pan.
The milk may not be exactly 110° after the initial time in the microwave. Heat it a little longer if it’s necessary. If you have accidentally heated the milk to more than 110° or purposely heated it to 180°, you will need to wait for the milk to cool. If you heated your milk significantly past 110°, putting the jar in a bath of cool water will help it reach the correct temperature faster. Whether you are heating or cooling the milk, monitor the temperature fairly closely unless you like having to reheat your milk over and over again to try and get the proper temperature. The bacteria that turn milk into tasty yogurt thrive at about 110°, so keeping the temperature as close to that as possible will help ensure your success.
Once you’ve gotten the yogurt within a degree or two of 110°, get out your old jar of yogurt, or if this is your first batch, you can use a tablespoon of PLAIN store-bought yogurt. Even if you are making soy yogurt, you will need to use cow yogurt as a starter for your first batch. You can dump (or spoon) the yogurt into the waiting jar of warm milk, but I like to dump the warm milk into the jar with the old yogurt in it to rinse all the yogurt out of the jar without wasting any. After several batches of yogurt, you may need to buy a new plain yogurt to use as a starter. I haven’t had to buy a new starter, but I do every once in a while.
After I’ve dumped the milk into my old yogurt, I like to dump it back into the clean, new jar. I feel like it helps to keep things more sanitary, but it is probably not necessary. Now that you have a jar full of inoculated warm milk, tightly screw a cap on the jar. If you used a standard-mouthed jar you can either use a canning lid and ring or a standard-sized top from a commercially-made jam or pasta sauce with the same size lid. Either way, make sure the lid is on securely so that water won’t seep into your yogurt in the next step.
Remember the beverage cooler from the start of the post? It’s time to get that thing out. My old cooler is the perfect size to hold a quart jar of yogurt. Fill the cooler about half full of 110° water. It can be a little warmer, but I wouldn’t recommend water any cooler than that. You can warm water in the microwave or a kettle, but I’ve found if I turn the hot water on in my kitchen and let it run for a moment until it heats up, it is almost exactly 110°, so I just fill mine with hot tap water.
Over the sink, set the jar into the warm water. If you don’t do it over the sink, water will overflow all over your countertops when you submerge the jar of milk. The jar should be completely under the water and the water should be level with the top of the jug. This keeps the water warmer, which keeps the yogurt warmer. Screw the lid onto the cooler and let it rest for about seven hours. I generally make the yogurt at bedtime and take it out in the morning, but it can be made in the morning if you have time to deal with it.
I’d show you the finished jar of yogurt, but it looks just like the jar of milk except thicker. So, instead I’ll show you what I do with the yogurt to make it convenient and portable. These cute little plastic cups are available in the canning department of a store near you. They’re designed to be used in the freezer for jams, but are perfect for single serving yogurt. They actually come in packs of five for around three dollars, but one of mine seems to have “magically” disappeared. You can make the cups up one at a time but I like to make them all up at once to make packing lunch easier. Spoon a little jam, jelly, honey, pie filling or applesauce into the bottom of each cup. I used apple jelly, but I really like peach and cherry. Scoop yogurt in on top of the spread. Make sure you leave a little “head room” in each jar and screw the lids onto your cups and you’re finished.
Making your own yogurt may seem intimidating, but you have nothing to fear. Homemade yogurt saves money and eliminates a great deal of garbage that is involved in pre-packaged yogurt. A quart of premade yogurt costs over $3, more if you buy individual containers or organic yogurt, and even more than that if you buy locally made yogurt (if it’s available where you live). When you make cheese, you have a lot of whey left over. With yogurt, there is no waste, so homemade yogurt costs whatever your paid for your milk. If you pay $3.59 a gallon for milk, you will get four quarts of yogurt for that $3.59. Even if you buy organic or local milk, you are saving money on your yogurt. Plus, homemade yogurt is delicious!