Friday, September 9, 2016

Yogurt is Easy: Why and Whey

According to the buzz online and the information in various other sources, you'd think everyone was doing it.  But I kinda don't think they are.  I am still the only one I know who does.  And you'd think from the surprised looks I get when I mention it, that it would be something unusual. 

What am I talking about?
Making yoghurt.

(Now a small disclaimer here:  when I began eating yoghurt aeons ago, it was spelled with an H in the middle.  I still spell it that way.  Intentionally.  Like the E in grey (which people seem determined to turn into an A), I decline to update my spelling.  But I spelled it the modern way in the title so as not to be confusing to those who dislike my way.  You can go spell it without an H if you want.  I won't.  Although I am only rarely rebellious, in this matter I am Not wrong.  So there.) 

Anyway, I suspect that people want to make yoghurt, that they mean to make it, but they just don't.  Either they run out of time or get intimidated or whatever, so they don't.  And, really, they should.  It's easy, and it doesn't take a lot of effort.  It's also very cost-effective if (like me) you are so-minded.

A quart of big-brand-name yoghurt at my local grocery generally costs about $4.50.  A gallon of milk, on the other hand, costs $2.60.

There are 16 cups in a gallon; that's less than 17 cents per cup.  My yoghurt maker produces 7 servings using 5 cups of milk (remember a quart is  only 4 cups) for a grand total of 84 cents (not counting the kilowatt hours for using the electricity) or about 12 cents a serving. 

Now, how much do those cute little single-serve cups of yoghurt cost at the store?  The cheapest I've seen recently was 65 cents.  They are loaded with sugar and other stuff.  By the way, if you're vegetarian like me, you need to check the labels carefully:  many of them contain gelatin.  Gelatin is a meat product (it's made of hooves and hides, folks).

So, five cups of milk to make yoghurt:  84 cents.
The store's container of yoghurt:  $4.50.

My seven serving-size containers of yoghurt:  84 cents.
Minimum price for equivalent containers at the store:  4.55.

My containers are glass--easy to clean and re-use.
Store-bought stuff:  hello landfill!

Now that you see the importance of pricing (financial and environmental) in this matter, how hard is it really to make yoghurt?  It's easy!

  • Preheat the yoghurt maker with the clean empty jars inside.
  • Scald milk (heat it until it makes little bubbles but don't boil). 
  • Cool milk to between 112 and 117 degrees (wait time of about 15 minutes or so)--you need a yoghurt thermometer for this, and it's worth it.
  • Pour out a little bit of the milk and add starter to it, stirring gently.
  • Pour that mixture back into the milk, and stir to incorporate.
  • Portion into containers.
  • Put lids on.
  • Put the lid on the maker.
  • Set a timer & ignore the maker for about 8 hours.
  • Refrigerate containers.

Where do you get the starter?  If you have plain unsweetened yoghurt that is made without gelatin (even if it's store-bought), a tablespoon or two of that will serve.  Or you can purchase packaged starter--if there's no local shop that sells it, there's always eBay and that's where I purchased fresh starter (a box of six packets of dried starter) a few months ago.  Once you are in the habit of making yoghurt every week, you can simply save a tablespoon from the last container to get you started.

But what about the cost of a yoghurt maker?  Well, as I said, lots of people plan to make yoghurt but they never do.  When they finally decide they need that extra shelf-space in the kitchen, those unused yoghurt makers end up at yard sales and charity shops.  I bought my current maker for just $5 at a church rummage, and it was brand new.  If it lasts as long as my old maker, I'll be using it for fifteen years or more.  (By the way, my old maker still works; it's just that the lids for the cups have split and I can't find affordable replacements.)

.....So, do you have a mesh strainer and some coffee filters?  Then you can make fake cream cheese!  Fit a filter in the strainer and place the strainer over a bowl.  Fill the filter with yoghurt, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.  The whey will separate from the solid and fill the bowl.  The curd is left in the filter, and you can use it as you would cream cheese.  Good stuff! 

If you're more ecologically-minded, you can use several thicknesses of cheesecloth to replace the filter--after all, this sort of activity is how cheesecloth got it's name!  And you can replace the plastic wrap with the protective cover of your choice.  By the way, about that whey:  don't throw it out, add it to soup for extra nutrition.

If you want to make Crème Bulgare, use cream instead of milk in your yoghurt maker.  Same process, just more calorie-laden.....but it is the most incredible treat.  You should try this at least once in your life.

If you want Greek yoghurt, you can simply strain some of the whey before serving.  Or you might add some cream to the milk for a richer product.

If you can't get past your yen for sweetened yoghurt, you can easily sweeten homemade with jam or with fruit and sugar or whatever you might happen to have on hand.

There are lots of little things you can change by experimenting with what you like best.  But you still have to get started by simply beginning to make plain yoghurt.  It's easy.  Really.


There are so very many clever people out there these days posting very clever ideas and very clever methods about very many things.  I admire them but I don't aspire to be like them.  (And I, sadly, admit that I find most of them a bit intimidating; maybe you do, too.)  I just think that the world is too complicated already.

I like easy.  I like simple.  I don't need fancy.  I'm just ordinary.  And if I can share easy, simple, ordinary stuff, I'm glad to do so. 

Life is good.
Trust me on this.


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