I went the easy route with making yogurt. I decided to buy a yogurt maker. Yes, it will take time to recuperate the cost, but after 2 months of making yogurt at least twice a week, it's paid for itself. You can make yogurt even cheaper by doing it one of several methods detailed here: http://www.makeyourownyogurt.com/ and here: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Yogurt.
I didn't want to worry about my yogurt getting too hot or too cold, so I went with the yogurt maker. I bought that one, but there are a ton of them. There are those that will even make them in individual batches, but for my family that wasn't practical, but it might be for you. Look around and see.
So, on to making yogurt. It is ridiculously simple. This is what you will need for the fast and simple methods I use:
1 large double boiler (I do it by putting a metal mixing bowl over a large pot on the stove).
1 large pot for an ice bath.
Ice for the ice bath
1 food grade thermometer that will register as low as 100 degrees fahrenheit and up to 200 degrees fahrenheit (comes with the yogurt maker I bought).
A yogourmet yogurt maker.
1/2 cup yogurt starter (organic whole milk or 2 % yogurt) for the first time, reserved 1/2 cup homemade yogurt from then on.
A container to store your yogurt.
2 quarts organic milk - has to be at least 2% milk or Whole Milk - it can be ultra pasteurized to get a semi-firm yogurt, but you can use Skim milk for a more liquid yogurt.
So, this is how you start. First, plug in your yogurt maker and adding water to the level it indicates.
Then you create your double boiler, making sure the water in the bottom pot does not touch the top pot/mixing bowl. Put it on the stove and start the heat on high. Add the milk. I do the entire 1/2 gallon at a time. Cost of a half gallon of 2% organic milk in these parts is $3.99. If I buy a gallon and use half of it for this batch, it works out to be $3.18 per half gallon.
Meanwhile, measure out 1/2 cup of organic whole milk or 2% milk yogurt and put it in the base of the inner container of the yogurt maker. Do this early so it has a chance to warm up so it won't cool down your warm milk too much later. Remember, you only need to buy a yogurt starter once. After that, just use your reserved homemade yogurt.
Once the milk is in the inner container of the yogurt maker, stir it all together to mix in the yogurt culture and the warm milk. It will look just like frothy milk because that's basically what it is.
Now, how long you cook it/ferment it really depends on you. You need at least 6 hours, but you could go as long as 12 hours. It really depends on how tart you want it to be - how much of the milk you want to turn into yogurt. We seem to like fermenting the yogurt for 7-9 hours. This would be an easy thing to do in the morning - get it set up and let it ferment while you are at work, or conversely, set it up before going to bed and put it in the fridge when you wake up.
When it is done, it will look kind of like sour milk looks like if it's been sitting out for a long time (we've all seen really sour milk, right?). It will have water all around it and will look like a solid glob. Just smell it. It should smell like warm yogurt. Its' all good!
The reserved yogurt:
And how long does it keep? For 2 weeks.
Is it different that store bought yogurt? Yes, it is - even the organic stuff. Americans have gotten used to scoopable yogurt. We are used to eating it from a spoon - kind of gelatinous and that's because they do add gelatin to the yogurt to make it firmer. The rest of the world drinks their yogurt. If you make your yogurt with whole milk, it will make a firmer yogurt. The 2% yogurt will be more liquid like, but stiff fairly firm. For pouring, we have to shake the container to break up the clumps.
You really can't make homemade yogurt with fat free yogurt and make it somewhat firm. It would be too liquidy, but would still be great in smoothies and cereal which is how we use it.
And, if you want to make Greek yogurt, all you have to do is strain it (bag for this comes with the yogourmet yogurt maker). Again, half the cost.
And let's talk about cost. It cost $3.99 in my area to buy organic yogurt - one quart. It cost $3.17 in milk to make 2 quarts of yogurt. And it took 15 minutes of my day to do it. In a week in our family that saves us over $6 in yogurt alone. That's $24 a month to make it ourselves. As you can see, the yogurt maker paid for itself in 2 months in our house. Less, if you count that I would have needed to buy a thermometer if I would have decided on a different method of making yogurt.
Other benefits, of course, are that it uses less containers, stays fresh longer and no funny business of added ingredients (gelatin) - even in the organic varieties of milk.
I have yet to make Greek yogurt, but that's expensive! You can make it for 1/2 the cost with so little time commitment or skill. Why not make it yourself? There are directions and a linen bag with the yogourmet maker to make Greek yogurt - it just takes a bit of time.