(The rest of you can come back later to help me discuss if punk rockers have a brand.)
Making your own yogurt is worth the minimal effort it requires. Plus it is not as hard as you probably think. I was taught by an eminent MIT historian with help from one of my favorite cookbooks, Sally Fallon's wacky Nourishing Traditions.
This is yogurt sans sugar, preservatives, "natural flavor" (whatever that is) or xanthum gum. It's safe and actually natural and delicious.
For starters, here is my fancy yogurt maker:
It consists of a styrofoam cooler I got from the hospital (it once held cancer shots, 2 pts), a glass jar that holds half a gallon or so, and an old bath towel. THAT'S. IT.
You will also need a pan, a thermometer, and a few more (smaller) jars, like mason jars or re-purposed pasta sauce, pickle, apple sauce jars etc. Wash and soak the heck out of them until they smell clean.
Now the really complicated part. The ingredients: milk, yogurt.
You use yogurt as a starter. For the first ever batch, use the best commercially available yogurt you can get your hands on. I like Stonyfield Farms Plain Organic. You need about half a cup.
The genius is that when you've made yogurt once, you just reserve half a cup for the next batch, so your yogurt becomes its own self-perpetuating deliciousness.
(here's the jar heart of my yogurt oven next to the starter)
A word about milk: I use Organic Whole. You know, no hormones and all that. But whatever suits your fancy -- this will turn out with lowfat (though it might affect the consistency) and you do NOT need to use raw.
As to your thermometer -- meat or candy will do the trick. Heat up a quart of milk in a pan (gently, no higher than medium heat) until it reaches 180 deg. Fahrenheit. This is to kill off competing bacteria ("and to denature the milk proteins so that they set together rather than form curds," says wikipedia).
Now the hardest part. Remove it from heat and leave it alone. Booooring. Go wash some dishes or make a tune in Garage Band, but check back every so often.
At this point I usually turn on my yogurt oven. Heat up a kettle of water and pour it piping hot into that big glass jar. Pour the water in with the jar already resting inside the cooler -- don't want to try to move that hot jar!
Carefully close the jar's lid lid and keep it wrapped in the towel in the closed cooler for now.
When your milk cools to around 112 deg. F, add your starter and mix well to ensure the bacteria is evenly distributed. Pour the milk/yogurt mix into a couple of jars and tuck them in the cooler around the hot water jar.
Tuck 'em in snug.
Now lots of websites say "leave for 2-4 hours" or some-such rubbish. Heck. No. 12 hours minimum. I often do this before I go to bed (say 10-11PM) and take it out when I get home from work the next day around 6PM. That's 19-20 hours!
When you take it out, you will pour off the whey (it can be kept and has many good uses -- topic for a future post). The best way to achieve a thicker texture from here on out is to strain it through cheese cloth, or if you are a mad genius, this strainer from etsy. A cloth strainer like this will really cut down on the fuss or mess of straining yogurt -- but again, if you let it "cook" long enough it will be decently thick anyway. You can also refrigerate and just absorb whey with a paper towel now and again.
If it seems too runny, strain it some. Too thick? Stir it like you mean it and add back some whey.
It's tangy and delicious. It goes amazing with fruit and/or my favorite homemade granola. It's great in a cucumber mint dip with toasted sourdough (sourdough: topic for a future blog post!).
Stick it in the fridge and then stick it in your face hole.