Yogurt – Economical or Cost Center?

On my recent cow post, a conversation about the cost of dairy products ensued, and I allowed as how I hadn’t bothered with adding cheesemaking and yogurt production to my normal household tasks because the cost of milk just doesn’t justify it. Also, I’m not pleased with my quality control.

However, somebody did ask me about the costs and effort involved, so I did another yogurt making experiment, because, really… what else is life for? Also, I finally read all the ingredient lists on those yogurts that my children are willing to eat, and I was appalled. Now, the kids won’t actually EAT plain yogurt, but they wouldn’t eat plain peanut butter two years ago either, and now there’s nothing else in the house. So I’m not giving up on plain yogurt yet.

The numbers: What I’m comparing to is the Astro Balkan Plain yogurt, which is an extra-firm style with 6% milk fat. $3.49 for 750g, or $0.465 per 100g. (It is not organic. I tried the only organic yogurt we have consistent access to, and I didn’t like the taste or texture, so this is what I’m trying to replicate.)

First thing I had to do was boost the fat content of the milk. I bought Whole Milk (3.25% mf) and a half-liter of coffee cream (18% m.f.) After I bought it, I discovered that coffee cream has all kinds of other ingredients, so I wouldn’t do that again. However, here it is in my fridge, so I might as well use it.

OK. Milk: $6.45 for 4 L
Coffee cream: $2.50 for 500 mL

The first thing I did was pour out one bag of milk (1.3 L) and add 250 mL of the cream. (1.55 L) This will have a fat content of just under 6%, so we’re in the right ballpark.

I followed the directions in my Fannie Farmer cookboook, which are:

  1. Heat milk to the boiling point, and keep it there for one minute. (To this I add stirring constantly.)
  2. Take it off the heat and cool to 115 degrees Farenheit.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of yogurt for each 1 L of milk, so 3 tbsp. I used the Balkan yogurt as starter, since it is the one I like best.
  4. Put the nascent yogurt into non-metallic containers and place them somewhere that they will stay warm. They recommend an oven with the pilot light burning. I don’t have an oven with a pilot light. They also didn’t use the word nascent in their recipe, but I totally think that they should have.

This is where things started to get hairy. In the past, I’ve simply put the baby yogurts into an insulated cooler, but the house is so cold at the moment that we can’t spread the butter, so I didn’t think that was going to cut it. I put the cooler in the oven and discovered that the light in the oven is burned out, but I hoped that the residual heat from dinner would keep it warm enough for the 6 – 8 hours necessary to set the yogurt.

It didn’t.

When I checked after 8 hours, the milk was still milk, the yogurt that I had stirred in had separated and appeared to have turned to cheese, and I was about to call the whole thing a failure and sit down with twitter… and then I had a brain wave! Heat. I needed heat in the cooler. Hot water has heat! Mason jars are waterproof! I can still save this!

So here is my best tip for making yogurt at home: Pack your baby yogurts with a couple of mason jars filled with hot tap water. The next morning I had beautiful extra-firm yogurt, and my life was complete I ate it for breakfast.

Stack of individual yogurts. Now if only I could convince the kids that these are food.

Cost: $3.40 for 1.5 L (Which is approximately half the cost of buying it, but an awful lot of effort. I’m probably still not going to add this to my homemaking skills for the sake of $3 per week.)

Organic would just about double the cost, to $7 for 1.5L, which is about the price of the regular yogurt… Organic yogurt only costs $4.50 for 600 g, or $7 per L, so the cost savings per week for organic are about… $3. However, I could have organic yogurt for the cost of regular if I were willing to make it myself.

My conclusion: Homemade yogurt is marginally cheaper than store-bought. Jury’s still out on whether I’m going to switch.

And use hot tap water in jars to keep your container warm enough.

6 responses to “Yogurt – Economical or Cost Center?”

  1. Here’s a thought experiment – if you *could* buy milk from the neighbour-with-a-cow, how much would it cost, an would that change the economic argument?

    • Well, it would then be a different (premium) product, so would rightly be compared with artisanal yogurt. It would probably be comparable to the organic, but then it would be local and ethically produced as well.

  2. We make the yogurt in 1 L jars and just fill the cooler with hot water to the top of the jars – works great all year round. Toss in some home-made jam at serving time to flavor it for the kids. Rhubarb yogurt is surprisingly delish!

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