Homemade Yogurt – Is It Worth It?

So this week I finally did something I’ve been planning to do for over a year. I made my own yogurt. I’ve been reading about doing this since my daughter started her love affair with yogurt at 9 months old.  But I was totally intimidated by the prospect until I found You Can Make Yogurt in a Crockpot. Even then, I was still intimidated, but I finally got over it and I’m really glad I did.

Below is the recipe I used, courtesy of A Year of Slow-Cooking

Ingredients

–8 cups (half-gallon) of whole milk–pasteurized and homogenized is fine, but do NOT use ultra-pasteurized.
–1/2 cup store-bought natural, live/active culture plain yogurt (you need to have a starter. Once you have made your own, you can use that as a starter)
–thick bath towel

The Directions.
Plug in your crock pot and turn to low. Add an entire half gallon of milk. Cover and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours.

Unplug your crock pot. Leave the cover on, and let it sit for 3 hours.
When 3 hours have passed, scoop out 2 cups of the warmish milk and put it in a bowl.

Whisk in 1/2 cup of store-bought live/active culture yogurt.

Then dump the bowl contents back into the crock pot.

Stir to combine.

Put the lid back on your crock pot.

Keep it unplugged, and wrap a heavy bath towel all the way around the crock for insulation.
Go to bed, or let it sit for 8 hours.

The first batch turned out far too runny, more like a yogurt smoothie texture. Fortunately my daughter just drank my first batch or I thickened it with baby cereal (which I do anyway). I also sweetened some with Jello and poured it into popsicle molds. Unfortunately they weren’t sweet enough, but my husband still proclaimed them edible. Batch #2, I was more careful about whisking in the yogurt starter properly and added a half cup of non-fat dry milk to the crock pot at the beginning of the process. Wow! This yogurt was amazingly thick. Thicker than store bought, and no gelatin added. I added cherry Jello to a portion of it for my husband and let it solidify in the refrigerator over night.

I mixed ¾ of a package of Jello with half a cup of water and heated in the microwave for 1 minute. I then added it to 24-30 ounces of yogurt, while it was still warm from the crock pot.

Too much Jello. It turned out like milky colored and yogurt flavored Jello; delicious, just not really yogurt. Next time I think I’ll try a ratio of half a pack of Jello per 64 ounces of yogurt.

I decided to do the math to figure out whether it was worth my time and effort. (I didn’t include the cost of running the crock pot in my calculations given that I use it on and off throughout the year and have never seen a significant change in my electric bill because of it.)

1 gallon of whole milk costs almost $4 a gallon in our area. This is for Lehigh Valley Dairy from Valley Farm Market (who usually has the cheapest price on Lehigh Valley Dairy.) I like it better than most store brands and it costs about the same at Valley Farm Market as most store brands anyway). Using organic milk would probably have yielded better yogurt, but it is also much more expensive. Lehigh Valley Dairy is the next best thing. Perhaps I’ll consider organic milk in the future if a cheaper local source becomes available. I bought non-fat dry milk at Aldi’s; $5.99 for 25 ounces. I used my Stonyfield Farm whole milk, plain yogurt as a starter, which costs $3.09 for 32 ounces (though in this case I got it for $2.09 thanks to an online coupon and store doubling).

Whole milk yogurt is almost impossible to come by around here. I have only seen two brands: Stonyfield Farm and Dannon. Dannon is usually cheaper but at least once a month I buy Stonyfield Farm with a coupon I print from their website. Then Wegmans doubles the coupon. But I can only print one coupon a month, so I pay full price at least once a month. But in the end the average cost per month is about the same as Dannon and I think Stonyfield produces a much better product. I would happily buy Wegmans store brand yogurt, especially if it was organic, but they don’t offer a whole milk variety.

Half a gallon of Lehigh Valley Dairy whole milk= $2

½ cup of yogurt starter, Stonyfield Farm Whole Milk Yogurt=$.39

½ cup of non-fat dry milk = $.95

Total=  $3.34

When I first saw the total I was bummed. How could it cost more than I was spending for Stonyfield Farm yogurt? Then I realized my error. This batch actually produced approximately 64 ounces, not 32.

64 ounces of Stonyfield Farm would cost me $6.18

I also compared my Yogurt Jello concoction to the Yopalit cups my husband buys.  I could probably be using 1% or 2% milk for his as well which would provide an additional savings. I’m also still experimenting with how much Jello I need to sweeten it adequately. In some cases, we’ll also add fruit which will be an additional expense but below is an estimate.

Total Cost of Jello Yogurt for my husband = $3.50 for 64 ounces

Cost of Yoplait Original = $6.29 for 64 ounces (this assumes buying Yoplait Original in 6 oz cups, given that our grocery store doesn’t carry the 32 ounce variety)

Was it worth the effort? I think so, but as a SAHM/WAHM, I’m home most of the time so checking on the crock pot periodically is no great burden. I’ve been told I can only expect this yogurt to last 7-10 days, which shouldn’t be a big problem the way my daughter and husband go through it. We were able to eat our mistakes which also saved money. If I am able to use my own yogurt as a starter in the future that will further lower the cost. I’d also like to experiment with using less non-fat dry milk and possibly eliminating it entirely as well as using lower fat milk. But for now, I think I’ll stick to buying Stonyfield Farm once a month for $2.09 and then making my own homemade yogurt for the rest of the month. Now if only I could figure out how to make their Chocolate Underground yogurt.

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