Sunday, 5 August 2012

Yoghurt (Γιαούρτι)

Some of the most expensive store-bought yoghurt in Greece is made by a company that uses non-Greek (cow's) milk, at a cost of more than €3.50 for a kilo of 2% Greek strained yoghurt. It also uses the most enticing specials to lure people into buying it - at least half the year round, I see it on special at the supermarkets, with 0.30-0.70 cents off the retail price.

Look at the top layer of the yoghurt in a clay pot -it has a 'crust'. The yoghurt's texture cannot be gauged until the crust is broken - it is not as thick as Greek-style strained yoghurt.

At the same time, local yoghurt production in Crete is a profitable business: yoghurt made with sheep's milk and sold in a clay pot is a different kind of yoghurt from the strained variety known as 'Greek yoghurt'. It is available like this at the supermarket, and costs approximately €3.50 for 800g; it's much tastier than the strained 'national' Greek yoghurt, but still not very cheap. Cheaper Greek-style strained yoghurt can be had by other large dairy companies using 100% Greek yoghurt, with prices in the €2.50-3.30 per kilo. I usually go for the Olympos variety, as we all like its taste and texture. 

I found some curdled milk at the bottom of a glass I'd left by accident in my office from the previous day; it was only a small amount, just a gulp or two, but there seemed to be a thick clump of what smelt and looked like yoghurt, surrounded by clear fluid that looked like milky water - the soured milk had turned into sweet yoghurt.
The temperature in my mid-spring office seemed perfect for making yoghurt. In my later experiments, I added a teaspoon of bulk-buy yoghurt to a glass of homogenised milk, and got a thick creamy yoghurt the next day, with no visible milky water liquid residue - it's texture was smoother than the curdled plain milk. If it were strained of excess liquid (eg by placing in a muslin bag), so that only the milk curds remain, it would become one solid mass as the curds stick together with no liquid separating them.

The health benefits of eating yoghurt are well-attested, so it's one of those highly sought-after foods which have also made Greek-style yoghurt very popular. It's also quite easy to make it at home. In Crete, we are partly facilitated by the warm weather; colder weather makes it harder for yoghurt to set. The only problem is that if you want to make yoghurt with Greek milk, it will cost nearly twice the price of yoghurt made with non-Greek milk. A litre of fresh Greek milk costs about €1.30, and makes 800 grams of non-strained yoghurt. If you prefer strained rather than runny yoghurt, it will cost you even more money. It's more economical for me to buy store-bought ready-to-eat yoghurt because I prefer to buy only Greek milk (although there is plenty of non-Greek milk on supermarket shelves these days, and they are cheaper than Greek milk).

We don't eat a lot of yoghurt at home - it's more of an every-now-and-then food. In the summer we make a lot of tzatziki, but in the winter, eating yoghurt is limited to one or two times a week as an evening meal, and as an accompaniment to Greek meals that tzatziki pairs well with, eg yemista, pilafi rice and souvlaki. It also goes well with fruit and honey, but we often eat the fruit on its own; in this day and age, too much honey and yoghurt means too many calories, which we don't often work off at the same rate that we eat them. Hence, we don't eat a lot of yoghurt.

See the curds on the side of the glass? No heat, no special ingredients, no fuss, no bother: to have fresh yoghurt every day, just leave a glass of milk mixed with a teaspoon of yoghurt at a warm room temperature (don't bother it or keep stirring it to check on it), covered (to avoid dirt/dust particles), and away from the sun or excess heat - the only thing you will need is some good starter, such as a teaspoon from a small pottle of Greek strained yoghurt (you will use up the whole pottle in a week if you make your own yoghurt in this way).

When I make yoghurt at home, I don't make it in great quantity, and I don't strain it. You'll find lots of advice on the internet about making yoghurt at home. My method was developed through experimentation. My yoghurt is a much more simplified version of my mother's; the warmer weather helps in my case. It's a very refreshing and tasty breakfast treat when freshly made, so it also gets eaten very quickly. It probably breaks all the health regulations, but at least I don't need to worry about expiry dates, as it is eaten on the day it's made. It goes well with fruit, but not well with honey as it's too runny.

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