In the interest of full disclosure: I am not a picky eater. I have a voracious appetite — I’m usually the first one finished with dinner, wiping my plate clean with a piece of bread while my dining companions are still halfway through their meal. And I’m definitely not one to abandon a dish halfway through, even if I’m lukewarm about it.
That was all forgotten the day I tried almond milk yogurt. The texture was somehow simultaneously gummy and sandy, while the flavor was reminiscent of a glue stick. Two spoonfuls in and I knew I couldn’t keep going. Unfortunately, the market for non-dairy yogurts is disappointing across the board.
Anita Shepherd knows this. She noticed early on that in the non-dairy yogurt world, all the commercial brands are full of additives — so much so that you can’t even really consider them yogurt. Because of the excessive use of sweeteners, it’s impossible to utilize those products in savory dishes (think of all the wasted tzatziki opportunities!). And that’s why she’s set to revolutionize the non-dairy yogurt market with Anita’s Creamline Coconut Yogurt.
Anita’s career in food started when she moved to New York nearly a decade ago. She primarily worked in pastry and desserts before becoming a vegan about six years ago. At the time, she was warned that she was committing professional suicide. But as plant-based diets continued to grow more and more popular, she found herself striking out on her own with the Electric Blue Baking Company.
She only began making her own yogurt when the owner of a vegan restaurant she was working at tasked her with developing a cheesecake recipe. Not a particular fan of the dessert in general, she hypothesized that she could improve it if she had a suitable non-dairy yogurt. Once she made it at home, she realized that she was onto something. Friends and clients started asking for more of the yogurt and she decided that it should be the one product she should be focusing on.
Anita’s yogurt is pared-down and minimalist: it’s comprised of organic coconut milk, organic coconut water and yogurt culture. It took Anita about a year to figure out how to scale up the recipe for mass production — a process that involved constant tweaking in her workspace in the Pzfier building (Brooklyn’s creative mecca for small-batch food producers). She would change the proportions of the ingredients, how long it fermented and the temperature it sat at in order to try to get the perfect balance of consistency, flavor, self-life and purity. Unfortunately, this was often like solving a Rubik’s cube; one small change could completely throw off everything else.
While other producers add thickeners, sweeteners and preservatives because it makes it cheaper to produce and they want to be cost-competitive with dairy yogurt, Anita is focused on making a pure product. As a result, the price is a little higher than her competitors, but it’s well worth it. Her product is tangy and tart, as yogurt should be, and rounded out by the sublime creaminess of the coconut milk — truly the first of its kind. Try the recipe below and taste for yourself.
Coconut Vodka Sauce
Makes about 1 quart of sauce
20 ounces crushed tomatoes
1 cup Anita’s Yogurt
1/3 cup vodka
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed celery seed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Place a pan over medium heat. After it is hot, add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and sauté until browned around edges. Deglaze pan with the vodka and allow alcohol to cook off while you add salt, celery seed and marjoram.
After all the alcohol has evaporated, add the tomatoes. Simmer until sauce has thickened slightly. Add the yogurt and stir to combine. Remove from heat and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve warm over your favorite pasta.