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Looking for Local Yogurt That Doesn't Come in Plastic Containers? You May Have to Make Your Own

Yogurt is one of the few real foods that hasn't been demonized in recent decades. Bread, butter, milk and meat have all come under scrutiny, but yogurt has retained its standing as a healthful food. While probiotics have become trendy, yogurt has always been a great source of the live bacteria – like acidophilus – that's beneficial to our digestive tracts. Plus, yogurt is a good source of protein and calcium. So what’s the problem?

Two things: One is that there hasn't been a good, local, organic yogurt widely available in the Twin Cities. And the other is the plastic containers, which Minneapolis and St. Paul recycling don't collect.

Minnesota does have a home-town yogurt – St. Paul's Old Home. But it's not organic – and though the company is based here, the manufacturing occurs out of state, so it’s not really local, either. And, I have to add, they dump a whopping 32 grams of sugar into each eight-ounce serving of Old Home’s vanilla whole-milk yogurt. This doesn’t garner any favor from me as I try to limit the sugar intake of my two boys, ages six and four.

The closest organic yogurt I have found is from Cultural Revolution, from Kalona Organics in Iowa. This yogurt is organic, and Iowa is our nearest neighbor to the south.  Also, it's lower in sugar then other brands with only 10 grams of sugar per six-ounce serving. Perfect!

Not perfect. My sons gave it two thumbs down: “It's too watery!” and “It doesn't taste good!” What do they prefer instead? Stonyfield Farms, the widely-distributed, industrial organic from New Hampshire (30 grams of sugar per eight-ounce serving), and Brown Cow, not organic (but rGBH free) from California (24 grams of sugar per serving.)

I've shown the boys the relative distances from Iowa, New Hampshire, and California on a map. I've explained to them some of the benefits of organic yogurt and less sugar. But, at their ages, they’re only interested in two things: taste and texture. (A discussion about their carbon footprints will have to wait.)

What to do, then?
  
A new product looks promising – Organic Valley has a yogurt drink – kind of a kefir – in plain and vanilla flavors. It can be served with cereal or granola, drunk alone, or blended into a smoothie. Organic Valley is a cooperative of small, local farmers using sustainable practices, so the product is locally sourced no matter where you are in the U.S. Sugar content is 24 grams per eight-ounce serving. And it comes in plastic #2 bottles, which are accepted by Minneapolis and St. Paul for recycling.

But will a drink really replace yogurt in tubs as a go-to family food? When my boys were babies, one of their favorite “solid” foods was Stonyfield Farm's Yobaby yogurt. They came in a six-pack of non-recyclable plastic containers with peelable non-foil tops. That made for a lot of trash. As the boys grew, and their capacity for yogurt increased, I switched to 32-ounce tubs. But they still love what they call the “little yogurts,” the six- to eight-ounce cups with fruit. So we compromised. On our weekly shopping trips, I bought the 32-ounce tubs for regular eating, but they got to pick out little ones for themselves. (And even though the containers are labeled #5 for recycling, neither Minneapolis or St. Paul accepts them.)

But as the yogurt containers piled up, so did my guilt. That's been eased somewhat by the Eastside Food Cooperative's Plastic Recycling program, but I finally had to consider an alternative that I had never thought of before: making my own. Since I've become more interested in where my food comes from, I've been challenged again and again to rethink the foods I'd previously taken for granted; packaged yogurt is one of them. I'm not sure I'll give up store-bought yogurt entirely, but if I can buy even one less container a week, it's a step in the right direction.

Here, then, is the recipe I've been using:

DIY Vanilla Yogurt
(makes approximately 32 ounces, or 4 servings)

Ingredients:

1 quart local, organic whole milk

2 tablespoons store-bought yogurt (plain or vanilla, for starter)

1 teaspoon vanilla


Equipment:

2-quart double boiler

clip-on thermometer

4-cup container with lid

clean dish towels


1.  Heat milk over medium-low heat to 180ºF or slightly above. Stir occasionally, so skin does not form on top, milk doesn't burn on bottom, and temperature is distributed evenly in pan. (You can use a regular two-quart saucepan, but cook over low heat and stir frequently.)

2.  Remove from heat, stir in yogurt starter, thinned with a little warm milk and vanilla.  Set in saucepan in cool-water bath until the temperature of the yogurt drops to 120ºF or just below. (You can do this at room temperature, but placing the pan in a cool water bath will lower the temperature more quickly and evenly.)

3.  Transfer to a four-cup container, cover with a lid, then wrap in dish towels to retain heat. Place in oven with pilot light on, or heat oven to 100ºF, then turn oven light on. (Keep towels away from open flames or surfaces hotter than 100º.) Alternately, you can place in sunny window, atop a radiator, or any other warm spot in your home. Leave for four to eight hours. The longer you leave it, the thicker it will be.

4.  Remove towels, but not lid, and refrigerate for several hours. For a thicker, Greek-style yogurt, line a fine-mesh sieve with cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a thin dish towel, then place yogurt in sieve over a bowl as it refrigerates.

Yogurt will keep, covered and refrigerated, for a week or more. Just remember to reserve a few tablespoons to use as starter as for your next batch, though using a new starter each time will make for a fresher taste.

Simple Good and Tasty is pleased to welcome writer Kristin J. Boldon, who lives in Northeast Minneapolis with her husband and two sons. Kristin is originally from the east coast, but we're glad she moved to Minnesota in 1998 and stayed. She has a B.S. in Business from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Religion from Temple. In her so-called spare time, she cooks, bakes, practices yoga, reads, and writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter on health and wellness, and for her own blog Girl Detective.

Comments

One of the things that bugs me about any store bought yoghurt is the pectin they add to make it thicker - turns the resulting product into a kind of pudding that I find revolting.

I have been making my own yoghurt for a while, I find that it gets a bit firmer if I wait for the milk to cool down to about 120 degrees before adding the starter - adding it right away kills some of the starter cultures.

Hi Kristin, you're right Yogurt requires warm oven temperature especially in the winter. I do the same you do. I heat the oven to 300 degrees for about twenty minutes then I turn it off as you don't want to bake the milk. :)

Here's a more simple recipe that my friends and I use to make our own yogurt. This is helpful for those people who don't have a Thermometer at home.

KEY POINT TO REMEMBER: The MILK should not be too hot or too cold before adding the yogurt. It should be WARM but a little towards the hot side.

1. Boil 4 cups of milk (I like whole milk or 2%)
2. After it comes to a boil, take the pot off the stove and let it sit for a while. (may be 5 minutes)
Remember it should neither be cold nor too hot.
3. Take a plastic container with a lid
4. Pour the milk
6. Add two or three tablespoons of Yogurt.
7. Stir and close the lid.
8. Cover with towels
9. Put it in the OVEN that was preheated and turned off.

Put it OVERNIGHT and the next day you will be the happiest person when you see fresh Yogurt! Yummm!!! :)

in california they have this beautiful yofurt made by St. benoit that comes in clay/ceramic containers! my fam likes fage total greek yogurt, its made from 1/2 and 1/2 so its super creamy and not watery at all. however its not organic. brown cow has added stabilizers and isnt organic and yr totally right about cultural rev., its not a good texture.

thank you all so mich for your recipes (rashmi!) and tips. this is terrific stuff - i'm going to try soon, i promise!

http://booksflowers.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/homemade-fruit-on-the-botto... (yogurt post)

Once you start making you're own yogurt the store brand won't taste as good at all!

I really like to drain mine for a while -- keep the whey to add to pancakes or any muffin recipes.

The kids like it thicker too. I never thought I'd have kids who would prefer homemade yogurt over store bought sugar-laden yogurt. But they do!

We even bought some silicone popscicle molds that are a bit like the yogurt tubes. We put them in the freezer and they are very yummy. They don't survive the lunchbox trip, but they are a great cold treat in the summer.

After living in Germany for three years, I have not found American yogurt as tasty. Don't know what it is and have tried many, but the flavor and creaminess were just better over there.

Gah, now I feel like I've been doing too much work! But here's my version. I use a yogurt cooker that holds 6-oz glass jars because our kitchen is very drafty and I figure it uses less energy than the stove.

- Bring ~5 cups of milk to a simmer; I bring mine to 180 degrees. (Supposedly this realigns the proteins to make the yogurt set better.)
- Turn off heat and let cool to under 120. (Using my stove/pot, this takes 20 minutes.)
- Scoop out some milk and mix in a large measuring cup with one container of plain yogurt. (If I am using dried starter, which doesn't have any volume, I up the milk I'm using to 6 cups.)
- Stir contents of cup back into big pan, and then fill the jars and pack them into the cooker. (I top the jars with a paper towel cut to fit so any condensation doesn't drip back down.)
- Cook 5 hours for dried starter and 6-7 if I started with made yogurt.

Hmm. Now I want to go make some.

I have been making my own yogurt for quite some time now and I will never go back to store bought. I use a heating pad to ferment my yogurt so I can keep the temperature at 115* for the full eight hours. I place the probe thermometer in the container so I can make sure the milk is not going to go over 120*. If you do decide to try this method be sure to get a heating pad and thermometer that do not have an auto-shut off feature. I learned this the hard way. Since the bacteria do their best work at 115* I have found the heating pad is just the trick. I have a two quart container that I wrap the pad around. Then I place this in a bucket and wrap a beach towel around the whole thing. I put the thermostat on high until it reaches 114* and then switch it to the middle setting where it keeps the milk between 114* and 117* for eight hours. You will need to pay close attention to your first batch because every heating pad will be different.

If you want a firmer texture to your finished product keep these two factors in mind: a) Use whole milk. The higher fat content makes a firmer texture. I prefer whole milk because I like the firmer texture and the taste. b) heating the milk to 180* denatures the milk proteins which results in the yogurt having a firmer texture. I even get a nice firm yogurt when I use 2% milk.

Here is my recipe and process:

Pre-heat the heating pad to high.

Place 1/4 c of starter yogurt in a bowel on the counter to warm up. This step will bring the bacteria out of hibernation and get them ready to get to work once they are introduced to the warm milk.

Heat 1/2 gal milk over med/low heat to 180* and hold for about one minute. I use my probe thermometer to monitor the temp.

While the milk is heating up I add one cup of non-fat dry milk (1/2 c per quart) along with two Tbs of honey (1 Tb per quart). I like how the honey takes the tart edge off the finished product. note: I follow a low glycemic diet. Even though honey has a relatively high GI I find that the low amount of honey per cup does not spike my insulin and is of little concern to me. If you prefer to leave out the honey go right ahead. Your yogurt will be wonderful just the same.

Once the milk reaches 180* I place the pot in the sink that has cold water. I let the milk drop to 120* and then pour it into my container. Pouring 120* milk into the container drops the temp to about 115*. This is important because temps of 120* and above kill the bacteria.

Temper the yogurt starter by pouring about one cup of warmed milk from your container into the bowel of yogurt starter and stir lightly with a whisk or a spoon. Now, pour the starter into the container of milk and stir to get a good distribution.

Place the probe thermometer in the container and close the lid.

Wrap the container in the heating blanket, make sure where the cord attaches to the pad is on top and place this in a bucket that has a couple of dish towels in the bottom so the milk will not be sitting on a cold surface. Wrap the whole thing with a bath towel or beach towel. You could put the container of milk in an ice cooler that is lined with bath towels and close the lid. I think that would work just great too. Most people have a cooler of some kind around the house. They work great for keeping things warm too.

Set the thermometer alarm to go off if the themp gets to 118* so you can make some modifications to the heating pad or the towels in order to make sure the milk temp does not go over 120*.

Note: It is important the yogurt remain undisturbed while it is fermenting, so be sure to place it in a spot where it will not be in the way. The yogurt will go bad if it does get moved around a lot, it is just that a lot of movement affects inhibits a firm texture. It will still e safe to eat or, I should say, drink.

After eight hours remove the probe and refrigerate for about 24 hours. Before refrigerating you can spoon or pour the contents into two of the large store bought yogurt containers. That is what I like to do.

Finally, spoon 1/4 c of the cooled yogurt into a separate container in the fridge, or the freezer if you are going to be away on vacation or something. This is going to become the starter for your next batch of yogurt. Freezing does not kill the bacteria, it just puts them into hibernation. The bacteria will come back to life after you thaw them out.

I like to make my own yogurt because I think it tastes better, is better for me, and costs only about $1.85 per 1/2 gal to make vs. nearly $4 per quart for store bought. This without all the fillers and other stuff commercial products has. Plus, I know my yogurt is teaming with lots of good L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. Bulgaricus, and L.S. Thermophilus.

When I gave my 22 yr old son some my yogurt he immediately started making his own. He said the cost savings alone makes it worth the time to make. I actually find it fun.

We have whole Ayrshire cow's milk in a glass 32 ounce jar. Cream top! Awesome taste. Also greek. See the website for more. www.wholesomedairyfarms.com

Greetings from several years into the future! Sad to think that 4 years have gone by, and there's still no local organic yogurt here in MN, as far I can tell-- at least, not in the co-ops, where I assume it would appear.

I've been a fan of Wallaby yogurt in recent years-- "Australian style," and organic, shipped all the way from CA. However, when I broke my leg on Jan 31, I saw suddenly no longer the grocery shopper for our 2 person household. My husband, who had been in a co-op perhaps twice in his life prior to that, did make a couple of co-op trips, but soon began a quiet campaign of resistance, and insisted on feeding us with non-organic food from Cub. (I'll be driving again soon, so look forward to re-assuming the mantle of food-gatherer!)

This meant I could either try to direct him to the organic dairy at Cub by phone (not easy with a person who keeps the RINGER OFF), or take the easy route-- Old Home, which you mentioned above. I was an Old Home consumer in the 80s, and thought, why not for a couple of months? I had him get the plain whole milk variety.

WOW! It's fantastic. I prefer it to Wallaby's plain (which is low-fat). There's no gelatin/pectin/starch for thickening. It's very tart (which I insist on as proof it's alive). I love it!

I've never found a sweetened yogurt which wasn't too sweet for my tastes, and had been mixing Wallaby's vanilla and plain in equal parts. With this Old Home, I mix in 4 tablespoons of organic maple syrup and 2 tsp vanilla. It's perfect.

I went to the OH site to beg for an organic version, and saw that they have organic milk-- that was a surprise. Could organic yogurt be far behind? Then I wrote to them... and got the depressing response that they don't keep the website up, and had discontinued the organic milk after a brief experiment TWO YEARS AGO when they lost their supplier or something.

My response was that they should really consider some kind of partnership with the Twin Cities co-ops, to make a local organic yogurt and sell it through the obvious outlets-- the co-ops. Noting the number of labels in the cases, there's clearly a huge buyer base-- and I KNOW a local yogurt would be a hit.

I was just thinking of contacting the co-ops about it today, and did a quick search to see if I'd overlooked som new MN organic yogurt producer-- and came upon your post. Would you care to join my little campaign? That would make two of us! Go out and pick up a plain Old Home yogurt-- non-organic though it be-- and check it out. Whip it up thoroughly first, and try my maple syrup/vanilla tactic, and tell me you'd like to have an organic vsn in the co-ops, and perhaps even at Cub!

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