My relationship with yogurt is complicated. It began, as most things do, when I was a child. My mom was forever trying to force us to eat fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, the bane of my youthful snacking existence. Eventually, I figured out that you had to stir the stuff to make it edible, and my feelings for yogurt shifted somewhat. Then, there was the battle over flavors. Mom tried to sneak boring things like strawberry into our lunch boxes. I returned them to her, uneaten and sun-warmed. Strawberry-banana proved acceptable, but not preferred. It wasn’t until I discovered Piña Colada that I began to appreciate the cool, creamy flavor possibilities yogurt being offered.
These days, I appreciate yogurt on many levels. I love its cooling tang in tzatziki and raita. I enjoy it in savory applications as much as sweet. I prize the thick, creamy texture of strained versions, and like it so thin you can drink it. I even like it flavored with vegetables. I’m still a bit picky about my yogurt, though. Plain, old fruit-on-the-bottom strawberry still won’t cut it. I’m always on the lookout for yogurts that strike my interest. Sometimes, that’s a novel flavor combination. Other times, an international version or style that's new to me. Even provenance can make a yogurt stand out, allowing me to follow the flavor from farm to spoon. My wife just shakes her head as I add odd, single cups of the stuff to our grocery cart, the better to sample the wide world of yogurt. Here are five of my most recent trials.
Dreaming Cow Blueberry Cardamom
This one is not overly sweet. It’s barely sweet at all, really. It has a thin, almost drinkable consistency, with the fruit and spice mix tending to settle around the ring at the bottom. It’s a cream-top yogurt, meaning the milk used was not homogenized first, resulting in a layer of cream rising to the top. It lends a rich flavor without the straining that produces the thick, stand-a-spoon-in-it texture that seems to elicit a galvanized response from yogurt fans. Flavor-wise, this is all about the cardamom—blueberry is an afterthought. The berry only appears at the end, really complementing both the lactic tang of the yogurt and the citrus and cinnamon notes of the cardamom. I really, really like this one.
Noosa Strawberry Rhubarb
This stuff is thick, but not in the same way Greek yogurt is thick. As a matter of fact, the thick, tangy effect is a lot like the strawberry cream cheese my kids like to get at the Hot Bagel Shop. There's nothing subtle about this one. I was hoping for more tart rhubarb, but it's really not there. This tastes exactly like cold, oozing cream cheese with strawberry jam mixed in. The fruit also lends it an odd texture, with fibrous chunks interspersed throughout. An eight-ounce cup of this feels like twice as much—it's so thick, rich and heavily flavored.
I don't know that I like it as yogurt just on its own. It might be better with toast, using the yogurt as a spread. It might also be nice frozen, treated like, well, frozen yogurt. As it is, it's too sweet to eat an entire tub. I’ve been meaning to make a tart shell, fill it with a few tubs of this, and tile slices of an appropriate fruit across the surface. Every time I mention a new yogurt, someone invariably asks if I’ve tried Noosa. They wax poetic about the stuff. I’m not sure I get it.
Dreaming Cow Dark Cherry Chai
This has the same gentle sweetness as the blueberry-cardamom version but leads with a bright, clear cherry flavor. Strangely, the texture is a bit chalky. While I don't require sweetness in my yogurt, these flavors would work better with a hint of sugar. Mostly, I get cloves, with cardamom coming in behind that. The cinnamon and ginger mentioned in the ingredients are less prominent. The clear, tangy cultured cream flavor is really nice, though. This would likely work best combined with something crunchy like granola, fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey.
Siggi's Strawberry & Rhubarb
I tend to look down my nose at any yogurt product that proudly boasts of “0% milk fat.” Milk fat is wonderful. Some might argue that, without milk fat, milk is just weird water (have you ever really looked at skim milk?). Icelandic skyr gets a pass because because that it makes me think of heavy metal and Norse legends. Lucky for me, Siggi’s actually makes a 4% version in addition to the stripped-down original. The fruit is an accent note to the yogurt itself, which has a buttery, almost cheesy flavor. It’s a bit like mascarpone, both in flavor and texture. I want to eat this dolloped onto fresh fruit. One of my favorite simple desserts is nothing more than mascarpone and berries, and I think this would stand in well. Part of the reason I chose this one was as comparison to the Noosa stuff. This one wins by a mile, even though I still don’t really taste much strawberry-rhubarb.
Lucky Layla Strawberry Drinkable Yogurt
I first learned to love Lucky Layla Farms at Revival Market, where I became temporarily addicted to their butter. The richness, luxurious color and depth of flavor of that butter was almost haunting for a guy whose standard had been Land-O-Lakes. Naturally, when I saw Lucky Layla drinkable yogurt at H-E-B, I had to buy some. The strawberry flavor has just the right level of sweetness, augmenting the sweet cream and tang of the yogurt itself. It's rich but not heavy, creamy but not fatty, with a clean finish.
It's not earth-shaking. It's just really simple and really tasty. One of these in the morning leaves me satisfied, but not stuffed, until it's time for lunch. Other flavors include banana, blackberry, blueberry, custard apple, guava, mango, passion fruit, piña colada, peach and plain. Clearly, I need some of that piña in my life.
Of course, I’ve bought more samples since trying these. My fridge currently contains one blackberry yogurt with chia seeds (I’m a little afraid of this one) and a cup of Kroger brand yogurt with a blend of butternut squash and pears that sounds like something we’d try to feed our baby. I’ll give those both a try, and have no doubt that there will be more. I’ve been taking notes for things I need to try. Number one on my yogurt hit list? Goat milk yogurt from Blue Heron Farm. If spoiled goats make great cheese, one can only assume they make amazing yogurt. That’s a long way from Dannon strawberry.