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You can make your own yogurt for pennies–and you should. Yogurt making isn’t that hard at all. You don’t even need a yogurt maker if you do it this way.

I started making yogurt for a three reasons–first, I was being cheap. Store-bought yogurt is expensive. Second, I don’t like most of it. It tastes gummy (guar gum anyone?) and oversweetened. Many kids’ yogurts come in colors not found in nature, and the packaging wasted on these things… it’s a moral problem for me. There’s an entire section in the dump dedicated to yogurt packaging, I’m quite certain–the plastic lids, the foil things you peel off, the cups. The squeezable tubes. Some of these yogurts have but three spoons in them–for all that plastic? No way!

So, when I decided to live off my land (spoiler alert: I failed. But that’s the topic for another website entirely), I started making yogurt.

The two types of yogurt

There are two types of yogurt–mesophyllic and thermophilic. Mesophilic cultures can be cultured at room temp. Thermophilic needs a little more heat–a warm oven, a heating pad, or a yogurt maker. Those are the yogurts you’re familiar with–Greek yogurt and “regular” yogurt–but they take more than 20 seconds. Today, we’re all about lazy–as instant as you can get without going through a drive through. We’re going with mesophyllic.

I make mesophilic since all you have to do is take a little bit of the culture and leave it on the counter. Even people who can’t cook can do this! In fact, your kindergarten class can do it, too. It’s a great lesson–milk magically turning into yogurt’s got a lot going on, by the way. It’s turning sugars into lactic acid and magically making probiotics that are good for your soul–I mean gut.

I used this culture from Cultures for Heath. There are a ton of types to choose from, but I usually get the assortment. Out of that, I’ve made the filmjolk, piima, and Matsoni. Each has a slightly different flavor. All are on the thin side, so you can use them for a smoothie. Filmjolk has a bit of a tangy taste in my view–perfect for a ranch dressing (see below). Matsoni has more of a sweeter taste you might be used to. Piima is somewhere in the middle.

These are smoothie-ready from the get go. To make it thicker, strain out some liquid (using a nut bag or yogurt strainer) or use some heavy cream with the milk. You can make a “sour cream” or zero-carb yogurt by using all cream. [Note: this is technically not sour cream because what we consider creme fraiche or sour cream has its own specific culture. But unless Gordon Ramsey’s raiding your fridge to cook you dinner, no one cares. This is so close I challenge you to tell the difference… and… you can save money by not buying that, too. ]

The reason making this type of yogurt is so affordable is you only have to get the cultures once. The batch you make today provides cultures for the next batch. You take a spoonful and put it in tomorrow’s milk or cream. So, every day, you make just what you want and keep it going forever.  Or, make it once a week and the culture will still be going strong–refrigerate it in between batches. Eat some, culture the rest.

Yogurt is versatile and tasty. It keeps you healthy. It has protein and probiotics. You can use it in cooking and baking. You can make it into a refreshing drink or save yourself from “This milk is about to expire, what do I do now?” by making it into cheese.

How to make the simplest yogurt in the world

Countertop Yogurt

  • Servings: flexible
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS
  • any mesophilic yogurt culture
  • milk or cream

DIRECTIONS

  1. Take milk, milk and cream, or just cream and put it in a clean jar on the counter.
  2. Stir in a spoon of the culture. A couple tablespoons in a quart jar will do. If you use too little, it’ll take longer to culture. If you use too much, it’ll cut the culturing time down. Remember: this is live stuff doing its job.
  3. Let it sit for a day–12 or 24 hours should do depending on the temperature in the room. When it feels like yogurt, you’re good to go! Put it in the fridge or eat it.
  4. Remember: take a spoon from the first batch first, though, and either put it in milk or cream for tomorrow’s batch, or label it and put it in the fridge and do within a week. If you keep doing this, it’ll live on forever. People pass cultures down for generations.

COST: $  Nearly free–the cost of the leftover milk you’re using. Even less if you can share one culture around the community.

TIPS:

  • Keep your yogurt at room temperature. Ideal temp is between 78-80 but there’s a range. If it’s too hot it’ll culture too fast. Too cold, and it’ll slow down the culturing.
  • To make your yogurt in about 12 hours instead of 24, preheat the milk into the 70-78 degree range on the stove. It won’t need the extra time to warm to temp–it’ll start culturing right away. This cuts my time from about 18-24 hours to the overnight range.

If you make yogurt this way, it takes twenty seconds (the time it takes to pour the milk or cream) and you pay for the culture once. Mine cost about $10 or $11 bucks for a sampler of the four cultures I linked to.  To maintain your yogurt you have to make it about once a week. If you don’t want to make it right away, reserve a spoon or two of your yogurt in a jar marked “booger snot” or “science experiment” so nobody will eat it on you. Then, don’t forget about it in the mold section of the refrigerator–put it on your weekly calendar. If you want to take a break from yogurt, you can make a minimal amount weekly to keep the culture going.

Ideas for flavoring yogurt:

  • Fruit, jam, spread
  • Make into a smoothie with anything you love. Use a high-speed blender.
  • Vanilla, almond extract
  • instant coffee granules and a bit of sugar.
  • Lemon and honey
  • Vanilla and brown sugar

Using yogurt as an ingredient

Yogurt is a great substitute for milk or buttermilk in biscuits, cakes, pancakes, or waffles. It makes a fantastic ranch dressing, too. Here are a few recipes–I’ll keep adding to this. Use the yogurt in place of milk, butter, and sour cream.

Yogurt Ranch Dressing

Pancakes

Waffles

Yogurt cheese (coming soon!)

Blueberry muffins (coming soon!)

Troubleshooting

If your yogurt separates, you left it out too long or it was too warm. Remember, these little guys are living things. They need the right conditions

If your yogurt isn’t culturing, you may have dead cultures or it could be too cold.

If your yogurt tastes off, check the date on the milk–you can use milk that’s about to go, but there are limits!

Photo credit: Sara Cervera on Unsplash