We eat a lot of yogurt around here. That and the fact that yogurt is loaded with probiotics is what prompted me to do a little research into making my own. I figured if I could make my own I could determine what ingredients went into it, how long to culture it (a longer culture decreases the lactose), and control the cost. All good things in my book.
I was determined not to have to buy another kitchen gadget. I have many of them, but I refuse to buy uni-task items, such as a yogurt maker. I found out that with a little practice I could make counter top yogurt in a crock pot. It it so easy! All you need is milk and bacteria. I got my initial start-up bacteria from a store-bought culture, but you can also use plain ol' yogurt from the store.
I heat my milk (about a half gallon) in my crock for several hours, until the temp is about 180. This will sterilize the milk. Then cool it back down so that you can hold your finger in the crock for 10 seconds without getting burned. (About 90-110 degrees for a good incubation temp.) Then stir in one cup of plain yogurt (I always save a cup of my original batch to "start" the next batch). Put a lid on the crock and wrap in a towel. It's a good idea to keep it free of cold drafts, as you want the milk to cool down slowly. Incubate between four and 24 hours. The longer the incubation period, the less lactose there will be (the bacteria consume the lactose). And, well...that's it. I store my yogurt in glass canning jars, and always use plastic or wood utensils when scooping out the yogurt. Maybe it's an old wives' tale, but they say with any live culture not to put it in contact with metal, as metal is reactive and the culture might get damaged.
The yogurt is quite good plain, but I usually have a batch of homemade granola ready to be sprinkled on the top. (Store-bought granola is too pricey for me!)
I've used my yogurt in all sorts of ways...I sub it in recipes that call for buttermilk (did you know you can make this yourself, too??), use it as sour cream, sub it for evaporated milk, put it in smoothies...the list goes on! Basically, though...we just eat it. The kids started out not liking it one bit. I had bought the sugar-loaded yogurt for way too long and that was what they were used to. However, little by little they have learned to really like it. They are asking for it all the time now (but it better have that yummy granola on it!)