My family eats a LOT of yogurt. We really like the taste of the Stonyfield Farm organic whole milk yogurt with six live active cultures… but the containers are small (only four cups) and expensive ($3.59 each), and it seemed like I was always buying yogurt and we were always running out. Happily, I have found a recipe and a method that makes a yogurt my whole family thinks tastes even better than the purchased organic yogurt. Using organic hormone-free whole milk, I make up a half gallon of yogurt at a time, and even when milk isn’t on sale, I can make $7.18 worth of organic yogurt for only $2.15… that’s a savings of 70%. When organic milk IS on sale (as it is this week), the savings are even bigger.

Incubating at a constant 100°F

Here’s how I make this yogurt. I bring one quart of whole milk just to the boiling point using moderate heat. (This part is important because it ensures a smooth, even curd.) Then I cool the milk to 95°F to 110°F and remove any skin that has formed on top of the milk.

Next I measure out three tablespoons of plain whole milk yogurt (purchased organic yogurt or my own yogurt from a previous batch) into a large mixing bowl, whisking the yogurt until it liquifies. Then I whisk in the milk and mix well.

Now the milk and yogurt mixture needs to incubate. Yogurt will incubate successfully at temperatures between 85°F and 100°F, although the lower temperatures will take a longer time. Temperatures higher than 100°F will result in a yogurt that looks curdled with an uneven texture. I try to keep the yogurt mixture at a constant 100°F. I have found what works best for me is to keep the bowl of yogurt in a large pan of 100°F warm water… I frequently check the temperature with a candy thermometer and warm up the water when it cools. If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, that may keep a constant temperature of 100°F for you… or putting the bowl on a heating pad works, too. Just keep checking the temperature until you have found a method that will keep a constant temperature of 100°F.

After about four or five hours I start checking the consistency of the yogurt, although the entire incubation process will take longer than that. Most yogurt recipes specify seven hours and some even as much as eight to ten hours or more. I never let this yogurt incubate that long… perhaps because the whole milk makes a thicker yogurt more quickly. The yogurt is “ready” when it has a custard consistency, although at this point it may look slightly thinner than I want it to be. Oddly, more incubation time now will only keep fermenting the yogurt and adding to the “sour” taste that many people don’t like… additional incubation time after the yogurt has reached the custard stage will not make the yogurt firmer, so now is the time to stop the incubation by refrigerating the yogurt. The yogurt will become even firmer when it cools.

This homemade yogurt will keep in the refrigerator for about one week, but it’s always gone before then with our family, so it’s fortunate that I make a new batch of yogurt at least once a week. Of all the yogurt recipes I have tried, this one is by far my favorite. The yogurt is very thick and has a wonderful flavor, which I think comes from the organic whole milk.