Turns out we do have an almost plastic-free prepared yogurt here in the SF Bay Area. Saint Benoà®t yogurt comes in a reusable, returnable ceramic container and is sold at Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, and other natural foods stores. As with the Straus milk containers, you pay a deposit which the store refunds when you return the container. The containers are covered with foil tops, which can be reused until the yogurt is gone, and have a small plastic seal around the rim. That’s way less plastic than buying yogurt in disposable polypropylene containers, but I’ve found a better way.
I thought that in order to make yogurt myself, I needed to invest in a yogurt machine. Not worth it considering the small amount of yogurt we eat. But then Melanie Rimmer of Bean Sprouts revealed a brilliant method of making yogurt with only a Thermos in her post, How To Make Greek Yogurt. You should check out her post to see photos of the step by step process. Here are the basics:
- Fill a Thermos with any kind of milk you want to use. I used nonfat milk in my handy KQED Public Radio travel Thermos. This step is simply for measuring out the correct amount of milk.
- Pour the milk into a pan or microwave bowl and bring it to a boil. I used a Pyrex container in the microwave.
- Remove it from heat or microwave and stick a thermometer into the milk. I used a candy thermometer attached to the side of the Pyrex container. Allow the milk to cool to 122°F (50°C).
- Pour milk back into Thermos and add a tablespoon of yogurt from a previous batch. I used a tablespoon of my Saint Benoà®t yogurt.
- Cover the Thermos and let it sit for 8 – 14 hours. I left it at 8:30 this morning and opened it back up at 7:00 tonight. And it worked!
- For less watery yogurt, strain it through a cheese cloth. Actually, I put it in a wire sieve over a bowl, and that method worked fine. As you can see in the photo, I ended up with some nice yogurt and a bowl of whey (the watery part.)
In fact, I left the yogurt draining for so long that it was a little thicker than I wanted, so I stirred back some of the whey for a softer consistency. But apparently, if you left it straining longer, you’d end up with yogurt cheese. I may just have to try that.
So now I have this delicious yogurt and a bowl full of whey. I hated to pour out the whey, so of course I did a little more research and found all kinds of nice uses for it. According to this Fias Co Farm article, whey is full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. You can use it in soup, bread, to cook pasta and beans, drink it plain or sweetened, and even feed it to your plants. You don’t get that added benefit when you buy prepared yogurt from the store. And this way, I can save the last tablespoon of each batch to start the next one, only needing to buy more milk (which is also not entirely plastic-free, but I’ve discussed that fact elsewhere.)
And there’s another use for whey that the article doesn’t mention which I actually discovered this weekend before ever making yogurt. I needed a non-toxic coating to protect an unfinished pine bookcase I bought a few weeks ago. I don’t enjoy painting or staining furniture, so I wanted something clear I could slap on quickly. The salesperson at the Ecohome Improvement Store in Berkeley recommended Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey Natural Furniture Finish, which is made from, of course, whey instead of petroleum! This whey is a biproduct of the cheese industry.
So I happily slapped on several coats of the mild-smelling stuff (the smell is a little like Elmer’s glue) until the container was all used up. It wasn’t until I was rinsing out the empty can to recycle it that I noticed it was made from black plastic! Fortunately, this plastic is 100% recycled polypropylene, just like my toothbrush. San Francisco accepts wide-mouthed polypropylene in its recycling bins, so I thought I was all set.
Until I noticed the rim of the container. It’s metal! I tried to pry it off with a screwdriver to no avail. The metal rim, as far as I know, renders the container unrecyclable. So I e-mailed the Vermont Natural Coatings company last night and this morning received the following e-mail back:
From: “Gregory Hebert” (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Beth Terry
Subject: RE: VNC Website Inquiry
Date: Wed, 19 Dec 2007 15:52:36 -0500
Thank you for purchasing PolyWhey Furniture Finish.
Good to know San Francisco’s recycling includes #5–not every city is embracing the full range of plastics. Regarding the metal lid, a handsaw is probably the only way to adequately remove the metal lid from the plastic can. Please be careful if you choose to use this method.
Currently, only one U.S. manufacturer makes the recycled plastic cans and so we source from them. They now produce all plastic gallon cans (including the rim and lid) and our newest batch was just put into these. All plastic quarts will be available in 2008 though the company has no plans to make pints. We hope more manufacturers will move toward recycled and recycle-able containers.
Please let me know if you have other questions and good luck with your wood projects.
Vermont Natural Coatings
180 Junction Road
Hardwick, VT 05843
So that answers that. I’ve already hacked open a plastic Brita cartridge. I guess I’ll be breaking out the saw again. I do like this coating (although, as Anna Hackman from Green-Talk suggested when I contacted her for furniture finish recommendations, I should wait and see how it holds up in the long run before recommending it to others. So that’s what I shall do.)
Is this way more than you ever wanted to know about whey? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)