Then a few things happened almost simultaneously.
While looking for a recipe for ham stock, I found one that mentioned straining it through a yogurt strainer. What? A yogurt strainer? A device made specifically for straining yogurt? I looked into this online and then decided that the permanent coffee filter available at my grocery store for a mere $10 should work just as well. And guess what! It's dishwasher-safe! So, I have an abnormally tall container, on top of which I place a wooden spoon slid through the handle of the cover filter. The container is one of those big cottage cheese cartons you get from a bulk store. It's tall enough that I don't have to keep pouring out the whey between each batch of straining. Now, the coffee filter doesn't fit a whole half gallon of yogurt, but it strains much faster than cheesecloth. If I were consistent enough, I could strain the whole batch in one day (it fits about a pint of yogurt, so four times through). The best part about this strainer is if you "forget" about the yogurt and leave it in for say, 20 hours or so, you get the smoothest, creamiest, tastiest yogurt cheese you've ever put on a cracker... Have you never put yogurt cheese on a cracker? You're missing out!
An even more important moment for my yogurt making:
We were in a bit of a rush for something or other and needed the yogurt to be at the stage where you wrap it in a towel and let it sit. It had at least half an hour to go on the timer. From making yogurt pre-crock-pot recipe revelation, we knew that the incubation temperature is supposed to be about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. We figured we could leave the lid off to let it cool faster. Using our handy-dandy instant-read thermometer, we found out that our yogurt had already cooled to 105! And there was half an hour left on the timer! No wonder our yogurt was runny! So, we started checking the yogurt after two and a half hours of sitting and wrapping it up when it hit 110 and no later.
We also found out that it wasn't hitting the 180 degree mark in the heating stage (only 160). Again, no wonder it wasn't setting up very well!
So, moral of the story. Making yogurt in the crock-pot is a wonderful wonderful thing to do. Unfortunately, not all crock-pots heat the same way. So, take the time to figure out what your crock-pot does and write it down and then go from there.
Original times: 2 and 1/2 hours on low, 3 hours off, and 6 -8 incubating, wrapped in towel.
My crock-pot: 3-3 and 1/2 hours on low, 3 hours off (it was cooling faster because it never reached 180), and 6-8 incubating, wrapped in towel.
---My crockpot actually maxes out at 180 degrees on low, so if I forget and leave it longer, it's okay! It even seems to thicken more if I leave it at 180 for a half hour or so instead of turning it off as soon as it reaches the right temperature. I found that out after I went strawberry-picking one day...leaving my milk cooking for about...five hours! I thought I'd try to finish it anyway so as not to give up on the half gallon of milk and it worked well!
Now, when you're figuring out the times for your crock-pot, remember that opening the lid to check the temperature lets a lot of heat escape. So, if you check it four or five times and it seems to take forever to reach 180, don't write down "forever" as your initial time. Test the temp at about 2 and a half hours and if it needs more, wait another half hour to check it. And next time you make it, check at two hours and forty-five minutes or so, depending on how far from 180 it was at 2 and a half. This takes some time, but it's worth it.
Your crock-pot is consistent with itself (hopefully!), so once you have it figured out, you have it figured out! My yogurt is thick enough now (without adding dry milk powder!) that I don't need to strain it. After letting it sit overnight in the refrigerator (an important step, though you can pour it out of the crock-pot first) it's just about the same thickness as store-bought. I strain it because I like it even thicker and creamier....Yum yum yum.
So, recap: Even though making yogurt in a crockpot is different (and in my opinion easier!) than making it on the stove, you still need to heat to 180 degrees and then cool to 110 degrees before adding the starter yogurt.
And if you strain yours, don't forget to save the whey and use it instead of water for making soup or bread or other such things!