The obvious question - what the heck do we mean by "clashes?"
Well the next time you are at your favorite grocery store, please, take a look at the yogurt section. My store actually has 2 sections and they are in different parts of the store. It is mind-boggling to see what is available. So we thought we would try to categorize the various characteristics of yogurts and try to explain the clashes, when we think an explanation is needed. And hopefully you will come up with a sense of either what you want to make for your yogurt(s) of choice or what you would like to buy if you haven't made up your mind..
A little story here may help explain what we mean:
When my wife and I decided we would like to eat and make yogurt as a long term committment to our heath and dieting, I went out and bought a Waring Pro Yogurt Maker. Why that one and not the myriad of others on the market? Well the biggest reason was cost at the time but now we are so happy we got it. You see, we had a credit of over $50 for a returned Christmas gift to Tuesday Morning, a store in our neighborhood that stocks excellent products that are being sold off by various manufacturers for various reasons. The Waring retail price was almost $100 but you can get it regularly for about $60 and the store had them for $30. So we took the plunge and I began reading up on all the information about yogurt making - and there is a lot out there. We came up with this plan:
- Step 1 - Start out with a plain yogurt as a baseline for our "tasting parties." Since our nearest store is a Giant Food Store, I bought a single carton of the Giant plain yogurt for 50 cents. Since I had read much about StoneyFields, I also bought a single carton of the vanilla since I could find no plain yogurt from them. Then I made 2 pints of each - making sure I kept the cultures separate and carefully labelling the pint jars so as not to mix them up and then I cultured them. After 5 hours, I checked them and thought they were ready so I took one pint of each out and put them in the fridge. I let the last 2 go for a total of 8 hours. After that, it was to the fridge with those - and marked appropriately. In our taste test, the Giant brand was ok - sour but a fairly great texture, The StoneyField was fantastic - creamy and tart and we loved it.
- Step 2 - Continue testing with other yogurts available in our store, which we found was representative of all stores in our area.
- Step 3 - Buy some powdered cultures - I got Yogourmet from our local health store and also online from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company - whicih was the least expensive on the web that I could find and here is the link to New England Cheesemaking
- Step 4 - Continue having tasting parties to try to find the yogurt cultures we wanted to use long term. (As of May 2010 we have not finished that search).
- Step 5 - We bought some flavor oils and extracts to change the basic taste of the resulting yogurts. The plan was to experiment with them also.
What we found out right from the get-go was that there were "clashes" in textures, tartness, taste, flaovrs and additives among all the major commercial yogurts either available locally or from cultures available locally and online.
So we want to describe these "clashes" as best we can - realizing in each category, the culture itself has an affect on the characteristics being described:
Tartness - sometimes called tang - no, not the orange juice powder.
If you like a very sour and tangy yogurt as your dominant characteristic, just buy or make the plain stuff. If you are making it yourself, just remember that the longer you incubate the culture, the more tangy it gets. We found that the 8 hour incubation using Giant Plain yogurt as the culture resulted in a much more tangy yogurt than stopping it at 5 hours. We realized we did not like an extremely tangy and tart yogurt - at least by itself without toppings or jam stirred into it.
Texture - how creamy is the yogurt:
The texture of Giant Plain yogurt is fairly creamy. And we found by straining the warm, cultured milk through a very fine mesh strainer as we put it into the culturing jars that we could maintain that creamy texture. However, because the 8 hour incubation of the Giant Plain yogurt was so sour, it was hard to appreciate the creaminess of the yogurt. But, after making some yogurt which had "chunks" or pieces in it almost like fine curd cottage cheese, we knew that texture was very important to us. And because the time it took to incubate the yogurt seemed to vary so much, we started blending the cultures with the warm, "tempered" - milk heated to near 200F and then cooled to around 110F - in our large Ninja Master Prep equipment. When we did that, we were able to get incubation times down even further - sometimes under 3 hours. And we learned that unless we are starting with either cream or half-and-half, adding dry, powdered milk helps the yogurt to be creamy and thick.
Thickenss or body:
Believe it or not, you can get yogurts that are thin enough to drink (called kefir) or so thick you can stand a spoon in them. Besides using additives like dry, powdered milk and/or gelatin, the culture itself has much to do about the thickness of the resulting yogurt. But not always. As an example, because of all the hype in the media, I tried culturing Activia. Well when I opened the container, it was watery and thin and I wondered at how the heck I was going to get a thick, creamy result from that. Well wonders of wonders, the very first batch I made incubated to firmness in less than 5 hours and it was the very best yogurt we had made thus far. And using more of the Activia culture from a prior batch and blending it in our blender, it cultured to a creamy, fairly thick yogurt in less than 3 hours. Simply amazing!
No, all yogurts are not created equarl. And that is obvious from what we found in our "tasting parties." And what we found was that some yogurts really had no taste at all - for example Giant Plain was just sour with no descernable taste. Even some of the others like StoneyFields had little taste even though they were creamy and delightful to eat. And then we tried some of the powdered cultures which were not available as commercially available ready-to-eat yogurts. To our amazement, they were really great - especially Y-4 and Y-5 from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. The Y-4 has a bet of a cheesy taste to it which is very tasty. And we found later that Activia had a great taste to it also.
Make or buy:
Our family circumstances together with the amount of yogurt we consume suggest that we make our own yogurt. From a cost standpoint alone, we can make it at 1/5th the cost of store-bought. And since we have learned that there are many yogurts which are unavailable over-the-counter, the only way we would get to have these is through our own DIY efforts. And really, it takes so little time to make a gallon of yogurt - probably less than 1/2 hour total prep time - that it is not an incovenience at all. Besides, we think it is fun.
Like a Chinese menu, it looks like some yogurts were put together "...one from column A and one from column B." All we know is that by law, in order for yogurt to be yogurt, it must have at least these 2 cultures in it - lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. But after that, it is Katie bar the door.... you can find yogurts with 5 or more cultures in it - each with it's own reason for being there. Activia, BTW, has a culture called Bifidus Regularis which is supposed to keep you "regular."
We know as a result of all the tasting and testing that our favorites thus far are (and we are far from finished): Y-4, Y-5 and Activia in no special order. And that is because we can culture those in a couple of hours which means they are not very tangy, but are rich and creamy and thick with plenty of body and taste. We can eat a cup of these yogurts and be completely satisfied having one them as a breakfast or lunch or dinner dessert. And some days we have it for all three!