Here is something I never imagined myself doing. I am now making my own yogurt! You see, I’ve always liked yogurt but started eating it more in the past couple of years. I regularly eat it for breakfast with granola or as part of my lunch. It’s a good source of protein and dairy.
When I started to feed Nathan solids, yogurt was one of those foods that he loved. However, I quickly realized how expensive yogurt has become. I also realized that many of the yogurts have lots of artificial ingredients in them. I don’t have a problem with some processed foods but this got me thinking.
In my quest to being more frugal, I’m always looking for simple ways to save our family money! I’m a firm believer that the little things add up to big savings. I even tracked my savings for a year and found 77 little ways I saved that added up to over $2500!
As one of those little things, I had started buying the large tubs of yogurt and dividing it into containers myself. It is much more cost efficient than buying the individual containers but it still wasn’t cheap. The regular price for a quart of yogurt is now $3. I had heard of people making their own yogurt and decided to give it a try. Guess what? I’m hooked.
Homemade yogurt is simple, delicious and so much cheaper! When I get my milk on sale, I can now much 4 quarts of homemade yogurt for under the price of $3. (Yes, I can easily get a gallon of milk for under $3 in the wonderful state of Indiana.) Plus, I know that my homemade yogurt is made of milk, sugar, vanilla and the live cultures. That’s it! No artificial ingredients in this homemade yogurt.
You may be in disbelief but give it a try. It takes some time but the effort and supplies involved couldn’t be simpler. I read dozen of recipes and combined a couple of them to come up with this recipe. The main reason being that I wanted vanilla yogurt and almost all the recipes I found were for plain yogurt. Also, I didn’t want to mess with a thermometer if I didn’t have to. With this slow cooker method, homemade yogurt is truly a make it and forget it recipe.
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1/2 gallon milk (I used 2%. Most recommend whole milk for thicker yogurt but 2% works fine.)
1/2 cup yogurt starter (Any yogurt with live cultures works. I’d recommend plain or vanilla. Once you make your first batch, simply save 1/2 cup of the yogurt to use as starter for your next batch.)
1/2 cup sugar (I’ve read that honey works too. I stick with a simple sugar. You can add more or less to taste. This amount was just about perfect for us.)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (I use my pure Mexican vanilla which I love! We buy ours at El Mercado in San Antonio but you can buy a similar bottle on Amazon, although not as cheap. It is so delicious!)
Cheesecloth and colander (Optional and explained below.)
Pour 1/2 gallon of milk into your crock pot and turn it on low. Let it sit for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Set a timer and walk away from the crock pot at this point.
When the timer dings, turn the crock pot off and unplug it. Whisk in sugar and vanilla. Let the yogurt sit for 3 hours. Again, set your timer and resume your regular activities.
After the 3 hours are up, spoon 1 cup of the milk into a small mixing bowl. Whisk in your yogurt starter. Add this mixture back to the crock pot and whisk it all together.
Put the lid back on the crock pot and wrap the entire crock pot in one or two beach towels. I wrap one around the outside and cover the top with another towel. The reason being is that it allows the temperature of your yogurt to slowly cool and culture.
Let your wrapped crock pot sit for 8 to 12 hours while the yogurt cultures. The longer the yogurt cultures, the tangier the taste. 8 to 9 hours is what I generally do.
When you unwrap your crock pot, you will now have yogurt! See how simple?
The yogurt is delicious but my yogurt turned out slightly thinner than store bought yogurt. It tasted fine and can be eaten as is. Simply spoon into jars and store your homemade yogurt in the fridge. If you prefer, you can add one more step as I now do to thicken the yogurt.
After the 8 hours are up, I line my colander with 2 or 3 squares of cheesecloth . I place the colander on top of a metal bowl and pour all my yogurt into the cheese-lined colander. I carefully place the bowl in the refrigerator for a couple hours. After trial and error, I believe 3 hours is the right length of time for this straining. You can check the thickness of your yogurt by stirring it. Whenever you think it is ready, scoop the yogurt out of the colander and put it in glass jars or storage containers.
The cheesecloth step is not necessary and a matter of preference. It will reduce the amount of yogurt you get from your milk but I think it nice to have a slightly thicker yogurt. When you lift the colander out from the metal bowl, you will notice a clear, yellow liquid. This is whey. You can save your whey in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Whey can be used in place of buttermilk in recipes or to make ricotta cheese. That is next on my list of projects, once I collect enough whey.
I think vanilla yogurt is the perfect flavor for the addition of fruit or granola. If you don’t want vanilla yogurt, simply omit the sugar and vanilla in this recipe to make plain yogurt.
1/2 gallon is 8 cups. If you don’t strain the yogurt, you will end up with 8 cups of yogurt. When I am done straining it, I end up with around 4 cups of yogurt. If you strain out too much whey and the yogurt is too thick for your liking, it is easy to stir some whey back in to make your yogurt thinner.
I found my cheesecloth at Meijer. You can also buy it on Amazon here or here. I have heard that coffee filters work too. Since I plan to continue making my own yogurt, I spent the couple dollars and invested in cheesecloth. This is a similar model to the slow cooker I use, for those who are curious.
Due to the amount of time it takes, I have decided it is best to start the yogurt 6 hours before I want to go to bed. I put the yogurt into my slow cooker around 4pm so that it can culture overnight. Then, first thing in the morning, I put the yogurt into cheesecloth to strain and my yogurt is ready for a late breakfast.
If you find a good deal on milk, remember that milk freezes really well so you could buy your milk and freeze it until you are ready to make yogurt. There are so many foods you can freeze, like milk! Just pour a little bit of milk out before freezing so the jug can expand. I buy a whole gallon of 2% milk to make yogurt. I use half of the milk to make yogurt and freeze the other half until I’m ready to make another batch.
I have read that you can easily double this recipe but I have not tried that yet. Please let me know if and when you do! I hope this answers many of the questions you might have. If you have others, ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them. It might seem intimidating but if you eat a lot of yogurt and are looking to save money, give this a try!
What do you think? Will you try making your own yogurt?
(Update: If you’re interested in making Greek yogurt in your slow cooker, check out this blog post that shows how to adapt this recipe. It’s still simple but just takes a bit longer.)