I love yogurt. Thankfully both of my kids like it too. Neither of them cares much for milk, so yogurt is a great way for me to get dairy into their growing bodies. I'd gotten in the habit of buying Dannon plain whole milk yogurt, which is all-natural. I add fruit to it (and often granola too), and no extra sweetener is needed. (Usually I use frozen berries, thawed in the microwave. During thawing a little juice is released and that sweetens the yogurt.)
I'd heard of how good homemade yogurt tastes, but was a little nervous to try making it--it needs to sit for long periods of time at a specific temperature range while it's culturing. So when a Yogourmet brand electric yogurt maker showed up on one of Amazon's 2-hour Lighting Deals, I snatched it up. (Normal price: $59.99, with 2 free packages of yogurt starter. Lightning Deal price without free starter: $37.88.)
Now, the yogurt maker doesn't take all of the work out of it. Here's how it works:
1. I put 2 quarts (half a gallon) of whole milk into a double boiler, and heat the milk to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, using the digital thermometer included with the yogurt maker. (I don't have a real double boiler, so I use a big pot with water in it, with a smaller pot set inside it.)
2. I take the milk off the heat, and when it's cooled a bit, I put the whole pot in a bath of cool water in the sink. I cool it to 110 degrees, and use a spoon to get the "skin" off the top.
3. I pour the lukewarm milk in the smaller chamber of the yogurt maker, and check the temp again. I add two ounces of Dannon yogurt, since it has the live and active cultures in it, and I stir well. (I froze a bunch of Dannon yogurt in one-ounce batches and can thaw it as needed.) The Yogourmet instructions suggest that you use their freeze-dried yogurt starter, but using Dannon is way cheaper.
4. I put a bit of water in the large yogurt maker chamber, then set the smaller chamber inside the larger. I plug it in and set my kitchen timer for four and a half hours.
5. When the timer goes off, I put the yogurt in the fridge and let it cool overnight before eating it. I store it right in the container I used to make it in.
So, really, all the yogurt maker does is keeps the milk at the right temperature so that the cultures can do their work. That is a pretty simple task for the price, so I'm glad I got it on sale! To me it's worth it. Other methods (which you can easily find in a Google search) require the yogurt be wrapped with towels, placed in an insulated cooler, etc. The yogurt maker helps take out the guesswork.
The yogurt is creamy and yummy. I like the smooth texture, and I may try using the included cotton bag to filter out some of the whey and make a thicker yogurt at some point.
Best of all, a quart of Dannon costs about $2.50. A quart of homemade yogurt costs about $0.91. That means when I've made 24 quarts of homemade yogurt, I'll break even, factoring in the cost of the yogurt maker. If we keep eating yogurt at the rate we're eating it now, that'll just take a few months.