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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Making Yogurt: Worth It?

I got a comment a while back from a new-to-me reader: Is it worth it to make yogurt? Unlike a lot of things, where you must weigh time, money, health, and convenience, I think it is definitely worth it to make yogurt.

Of course, as with many things (like bread baking): easy for me to say, since Mr. FS does it.* In both tasks, I was the first to make the effort. In graduate school poverty, many things are "worth the time," because you don't have any money to seek out other temptations. With the bread baking, I was a bust: lack of coordination, plus small hands. I made yogurt for many years. So I know it is easy.

*Mr. FS has a tendency to take over tasks because he can do them better or faster. I try not to take too much advantage of this tendency.

The money aspect is clear: we make yogurt with a 50/50 mix of whole milk ($3.30/gallon) and powdered milk (about $2.20/gallon). Thus our yogurt comes to $2.75/gallon or around $0.70/qt or around 18 cents for 8 oz. Of course, you have to add sweetener: jam or honey or what you will. In France, they add sugar.

Now and then, yogurt is the loss leader and you can get it for between $0.25 and $0.50 per cup. The cups--formerly 8 oz--are now mostly 6 oz.

The taste aspect. I first tasted yogurt when it was a still curiosity in the USA. My great -aunt Fritzi was interested in the beginnings of the health food movement. In those days, Dannon yogurt was plain with jam at the bottom. It was soooo good. Over the years, yogurt has become more of a junk food item, with thickeners and other vile things. I like the yogurt of my childhood better.

You can still get yogurt like that, mostly in health food stores, where it is expensive. And now there is a craze for Greek yogurt, which is either yogurt made with Greek cultures, or yogurt thickened through dripping some of the liquid out (this is done in many cuisines, not just in Greek). At my local little grocery, I saw Greek yogurt for around $2.00/cup. That can be an expensive habit. We make this ourselves now and again. Use a paper coffee filter.

The labor aspect. Till recently, we used the Salton yogurt maker I bought in graduate school (circa 1975). This looked like a boat. It had 5 (6 oz?) cups with lids, lost through the years. We eventually gave it to a friend, because I found a monster version--same thing with bigger cups--at Goodwill. These STILL show up at thrift stores. I think that these were the most unused appliances ever--most still have the little booklet.

You can buy yogurt makers. OR you can make it in a thermos. I've even seen recipes for making it in a slow-cooker. As Mr. FS says: "It can't be that complicated. This is food that was made in the desert, before refrigeration, as a way to preserve milk." Good point.

Is it work? Well, I did it for many years, so it can't be that hard. Like other tasks, you can incorporate it into the rhythm of your life. If Mr. FS was abducted by space aliens, I would start making yogurt again. I probably wouldn't make his bread, but would learn how to do the famous no-knead bread.

***Tips: If you have a Salton maker from days of yore, and see one in a thrift: buy it. You can use the replacement cups! If you lose the cups, you can use others. Mr. FS uses the plastic cups from sour cream and the like in ours.

A search through Amazon reveals that Salton still makes a yogurt maker, but it no longer looks like a boat.


metscan said...

We have had a yogurt machine too. Used probably once or twice. I gave it to my daughter, who used it a few times. I don´t know where it is now. I would not buy one again. We eat so little of it, yoghurt naturel. I think that for us, buying yogurt ready is sensible. For a larger family, things might be different.

Chance said...

I make yogurt all the time and it sort of falls into the "taste trumps cost" category. I use local jersey milk plus a little powder milk and starter. It tastes divine, about as far from junk food yogurt as you can get. I use a Salton yogurt maker that is made to cook up quarts -- you can use their container or just a quart canning jar.

There is a craze for the quart yogurt makers right now, so their price has been run up on ebay, but they regularly show up at the thrift store for a buck ninety nine. I don't think I would use the ones with the little cups. I previously had success with the thermos bottle method, but love the constant temp of the yogurt maker. Yuuuuuummmmmm, fresh yogurt and blueberries in the morning.

Duchesse said...

In my hippie days I made yogurt in a stock pot on a heating pad! Now, nearly empty nested, I can go back to these homemaking triumphs. Bread will probably be first as I cannot resist fresh yeast baking.

Funny about Money said...

I never used one of those machines. In the hippy-dippy days, we learned to make yogurt in a warm stoneware bowl.

Warm a few cups of milk until it's on the hottish side--around 170 degrees, if you're measuring. Warm a heavy stoneware bowl by filling it with hot tap water and letting it sit while you're heating the milk. Drain the bowl--pour the water on plants if it's cooled down enough--after the milk has reached the desired temp.

Pour the warm milk into the warm bowl. Add about 1/4 cup of live-culture yogurt. Cover the bowl well with tinfoil or Saran wrap or both. Wrap the bowl in a bath towel to insulate. Place the bowl on the floor next to the refrigerator's exhaust vent, or else inside the oven with the oven light turned on.

Let it set for several hours or overnight. Et voila!

If you want a thicker, Greek-style yogurt, strain it through a layer or two of cheesecloth.

In those days, commercially available yogurt wasn't great--Mountain High was the only brand that resembled real yogurt. Today you can get the real stuff or convincing simulacra all over the place -- Trader Joe's has a couple of very fine offerings. So it's hardly worth the trouble to make it yourself, except as a crafty sort of activity.

Frugal Scholar said...

@metscan--We eat an awful lot of yogurt. I wonder if the yogurt is better/different in Finland...

@chance-I think your thrift stores are better than mine!

@Duchesse--Check out the video my son made of Mr. FS baking bread. It's on the blog somewhere. The bread is soooo good.

@Funny--Thought about this for a while and wrote a post, scheduled for tomorrow.