Photo by Aglaia Kremezi
For yogurt-based recipes, try dip with garlic, cucumber, and fennel; salad with parsley, spinach, and walnuts; almond cake with lemon syrup; or pie with vine leaves.
All yogurts are not equal
I don't remember when exactly we got our first electric fridge--probably sometime in the late 60s or early 70s--but we never kept pots of yogurt for more than a few hours, as nobody cared for yesterday's yogurt, with its sour taste. Any "leftover" yogurt was used for cooking or baking: for my aunt's yogurt cake, as an addition to greens or vegetable pies; to accompany stuffed grape leaves; to serve with any kind of rice pilaf.
All yogurts are not equal. We grew up eating mostly sheep's milk yogurt, often made with a combination of milk from both sheep and goats, as Greek shepherds mix the two when milking their flocks. That yogurt is sweeter and creamier than pure cow's milk yogurt, which is the most commonly available these days. But its flavor varies greatly according to the seasons.
Late spring and early summer sheep's milk is bountiful and wonderfully creamy, since mothers continue to produce in abundance to feed their erstwhile offspring--the spring lambs slaughtered for the Easter table. This is the period when sheep's milk yogurt is at its best. The flocks have had the chance to graze the fragrant wild greens and herbs of late winter and early spring, and the milk they produce is truly wonderful.
All yogurts are not equal. Flavor varies greatly according to the seasons.Later in the summer, when they are fed hay and other commercial feed, the blazing sun having scorched everything green, the little milk that sheep and goats produce is watery and tasteless, damning the yogurt to a similar fate. At its best time, full-fat artisanal sheep's milk yogurt has at least 6 percent fat, while cow's milk reaches about 4.5 percent.
There is a big difference between the homogenized commercial yogurt of today and the traditional one. There were no stabilizers in the yogurt we bought when I was a child, which is now becoming increasingly popular again in Greece. Traditional yogurt is not thick, and has a skin of delicious fat on the surface; we used to fight over who could capture more of it in the spoon while eating from the large family-size pots.
As you take spoonfuls of the soft traditional yogurt it separates, creating little pools of whey. If somebody is not eating the whole pot we immediately place a piece of bread, or paximadi, next to the remaining yogurt to absorb the liquid. Our dogs salivate over those dripping pieces. Each morning they eat not just this whey-soaked-morsel but at least a couple of tablespoons of fresh yogurt for breakfast.
In a very enlightening piece, Harold McGee explains the process and gives instructions for homemade yogurt, as well as a a brilliant recipe for making caramel with the whey.
If thick yogurt was needed to make tzatziki, for example, or to make a salad of yogurt, greens, herbs, spinach, parsley, and walnuts, I would have had to strain it, hanging the regular yogurt in a piece of cheesecloth. Some artisanal producers, especially the shepherds north of Athens, sold stragisto (strained yogurt) in the old days, but it wasn't something one could get easily until yogurt started to be mass produced in the late 70s.
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