So, what's the deal with Greek yogurt?
Is it something entirely different from other yogurts? Should you go out of your way to buy it? If your choice is between Greek yogurt from a national company or yogurt from a local company, what is the better choice?
For several years now, national advertising campaigns have touted the taste and nutritional benefits of Greek and Greek-style yogurt, infusing them with nearly magical powers.
Some of the TV commercials are hilarious, but they are also a tad misleading, as Greek yogurt is simply yogurt that has been drained of some of its whey. Think of it as being about halfway to yogurt cheese, which is very easy to make at home.
In Northern California, we are blessed with an abundance of delicious yogurts, and my recommendation is always to buy local first. You don't need to look beyond our borders for the best yogurt. You can choose from goat milk yogurt, sheep milk yogurt and yogurt made with cow's milk.
My default choice is Straus Organic Whole Milk Yogurt and I use a lot of it, in part because my two pups get a generous spoonful with either breakfast or dinner. They are quite small — Joey weighs about 10 pounds, Lark about 8 — and I want their diet to be as pure as possible; both nutrients and toxins concentrate in fat and so I use organic.
I also use Straus because it is convenient; the quart size is available in almost all locally owned markets.
Sometimes I use Bellwether Farms sheep yogurt, especially when I can find the large containers. Sometimes I buy a quart of Saint Benoit yogurt.
Redwood Hill Farm Dairy makes excellent goat milk yogurt, and I buy it when my daughter Nicolle visits from Mississippi, as she loves it. Her sister Gina, who lives with me, does not have a palate for anything with goat milk.
No matter what yogurt you buy, it should include just two ingredients, milk and live active cultures. Flavored yogurts are another matter, of course, but I don't buy them because I prefer the flexibility of adding my own ingredients or adding nothing at all. I love the pure taste of good yogurt.
If your preference is Greek-style yogurt, you have two local options. Straus Family Creamery now offers two versions, one made with whole milk, another with nonfat milk. In my opinion, the whole milk option is the healthier choice.
The other option is to make it using your favorite local yogurt. To do so, simply line a large strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth or a very clean thin tea towel, set it over a deep bowl and pour the yogurt into it. Stir it occasionally and let the whey drain until the yogurt reaches your preferred consistency. It won't take that long, maybe an hour or so. That's it, you have your own Greek-style yogurt.
You can use the whey to make lacto-fermented pickles and beverages. You can feed it to your neighbor's pigs or pour it into your garden, where the plants will benefit from the calcium. You can also use it as a tenderizing marinade for chicken and pork.
There is, of course, one other way to approach yogurt and that is to make your own from scratch. For instructions from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit "Eat This Now" at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com, where I will also post a recipe for yogurt cheese and other favorite yogurt dishes.