Greek yoghurt has become a bit of a victim of its own success, resulting in a huge range of pots-of-supposed-creamy-goodness now available, with varying degrees of authenticity, and goodness.
As you might suspect, Greeks don’t actually call it ‘Greek yoghurt’, they call it straggisto, which just means strained. And that is the key to what makes this yoghurt special – the straining removes some of the whey (mostly water and sugar) leaving behind that concentrated, thick, creamy-yet-tart centre, full of proteins, nutrients and fat (not the daemon after all).
The horrifying thing is that a lot of the Greek or ‘Greek-style’ yoghurt you find in the supermarket has skipped the step of straining (which defines it as Greek yoghurt) and instead various thickeners have been added to plain yoghurt in an attempt to emulate the consistency, while saving money (all that weight lost through straining...).
Another, almost universal, fact is that commercial Greek yoghurts are made from cow’s milk. Cows aren’t very common in Greece and there are very few pastures for dairy herds to roam. What you do find is herds and herds of sheep and goats roaming the rough, mountainous terrain, chewing on the grasses, flowers, herbs and bushes growing amongst the rocks. So a real Greek yoghurt is going to be made from sheep’s milk or goat’s milk, or some combination of the two (like most Greek cheeses, including feta). As you would expect, apart from the various health benefits over cow’s milk, all that wild pasture will come out in the milk.
We have been lucky enough to find a cheese and yoghurt-maker in Greece who really cares about quality, traditional methods and the provenance of his produce. Apart from their incredible barrel-aged feta (more on which another day), they produce real Greek sheep and goat’s milk yoghurts.
The milk all comes from the island of Evia and specifically from the south, in the area around Karystos. It is a remote and wild region, with very little human intervention. The flocks are made up of indigenous breeds, which are adapted to the rugged terrain and are, therefore, small-bodied and low-yielding, but produce far-superior quality milk, full of the flavours of the Greek countryside on which they roam. All the flocks are free range and are organic in practice and in the process of certification. The milk is then completely hand-made into strained yoghurt using traditional methods and absolutely no additives or preservatives. The result is an almost overwhelming range and depth of flavour and a non-homogenous consistency that will keep you coming back for more.