I remember when the Blue Hill line of vegetable yogurts first came out, as I had just fallen in love with a dish I’d made for Easter—carrots roasted in brown butter, dressed with Ras el Hanout yogurt and shaved pistachio—and suddenly, a savory, vegetable-flavored yogurt sounded right up my alley. Add in the pedigree of Dan Barber, the co-owner and executive chef of the venerated Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, and it was no surprise that the restaurant's line of yogurst engendered a lot of geeky excitement among food lovers.
But that was a couple of years back, and since the initial announcement I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the yogurt itself. It seemed destined for local(ish) distribution only. Then, while shopping for the week’s groceries at the Montrose H-E-B, I came across it quite by surprise. I think I yet out a little yelp. My wife may have teased me for being so excited about “weird yogurt.”
I’m not sure what my expectations were, exactly. I’m also not sure they were met, exactly. I did like the yogurt, but I had expected … more. I bought one of each of the four available flavors (no parsnip or sweet potato to be found in H-E-B) for science; science cost $2.49 per cup of yogurt, FYI. These are my thoughts.
It’s significantly thinner than I expected. I didn't want or expect Greek yogurt texture, but this is almost watery. There’s some separation, too, with a thin layer of whey skimming the surface. First impression is salty. Salty. Salty. Salty. The salt turns to tartness, with a lemony punch that pulls along with it a deeply lactic tang. There's an earthy sweetness, but it's formless. It doesn't really read carrot at all. The experience requires a few minutes of acclimation. If you're expecting sweet yogurt, look elsewhere. That much I had expected. I had not expected the strident acidity. I had expected it to be, well, carrot-y...
I can't seem to shake this lingering aftertaste that reminds me of Skol, but in a not entirely off-putting way. I'm not sure how that's even possible, but there it is. Just in front of that, as the lactic edge wears away, is the faintest glimmer of carrot-y sweetness. Almost a whisper. I'm not sure I actually heard it, or if it was just a synesthetic hallucination. Would I eat it again? Yes. If for no other reason than to make sure that my general lack of regard wasn't a fluke.
Thicker than the carrot, but with a curdled appearance. It smooths out when you eat it. The aroma is a bit reminiscent of "pizza" or "salsa" flavored snack foods. Think Combos. Garden Salsa Sun Chips. Zesty.
It has a very mild flavor. It mostly tastes like yogurt, with a pleasant tang and a baseline savory, slightly cheesy milkiness, a bit like fresh ricotta. The tomato essence mostly vanishes in the taste, aside from that slight zesty kick and umami roundness that is somehow reminiscent of tomato without being tomato-y. I'd eat this on a slice of toasted sourdough with thinly sliced summer squash and maybe a squeeze of lemon and some fresh herbs. Thyme, perhaps. Not exciting, but enjoyable. I'd like it better out of one of those adorable Weck jars they were originally selling this stuff in, right?
The color is a cross between chicken livers and Pepto Bismol. It’s almost offputting.
Fortunately, it tastes great. Tangy, yogurty goodness. Just a bit salty, with a hint of cheesy intensity in the back. No beets at all. Well, maybe just a hint of earthy sweetness in the finish, but that's it. Tasty, though. Saltier than tomato, but not quite as aggressive as the carrot. This one is my favorite, so far, even if it’s not exactly what I had in mind when I heard “Beet Yogurt.”
This looks like liquefied banana Laffy Taffy. There’s kind of this spiced/pumpkin aroma going on. With cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, there's a definite pumpkin pie thing at play here, but not overtly sweet, despite the maple sugar. This is the first of these where the aroma signposts the (purported) flavor.
Perhaps because of the aromatics, this one is most reminiscent of its flavor base. It reminds me of Thanksgiving. Definite salt/acid, not sweet, though the maple comes through a bit. Though the flavor isn’t quite “butternut squash,” there’s a definite vegetal finish, with a nice earthy depth. I think this one's pulling out as my favorite, and definitely the one that bears most resemblance to its namesake. Just a hint of residual sweetness helps reinforce the theme.
After I gave them all a go, I did a little bit of reading, to see if I was somehow missing the boat. While other tasters seemed to pick up more of the declared flavors than I did, subtlety was a constant. In all honesty, I think a lot of people are tasting what they want to taste. I think the lure of clever vegetable yogurt made by a well regarded chef hits too many artisanal hipster foodie fanboy notes for people to believe that the stuff isn’t quite what they’d hoped. It wasn’t, for me. I think part of that is just a matter of perspective, though. No, this does not taste like yogurt glowing from within with the essence of root vegetables. But yes, it’s tasty.
Each carton offers recommendations for how to use it as an ingredient. Most of those ideas stick pretty close to the “mix some crap in” ethos that already guides most casual yogurt eaters. I’m going to take that a step further and use the stuff as an actual ingredient in actual dishes. Maybe the carrot yogurt will taste more itself infused with Ras el Hanout, served atop brown butter roasted carrots, with just a few shavings of pistachio.