New York has a glut of dairy farms — in fact, the dairy industry is one of the state’s largest industries, churning in billions each year. And a glut of local New York dairy (mostly from cows, but also from goats, sheep and water buffalos) means a proportional amount of delicious locally sourced and produced dairy products, from the half-and-half we dribble into our coffee to the cream cheese we spread on our bagels to the ice cream we slurp from sugar cones all over the city. As you might expect, we love our New York dairies. And every time we dip a spoon into a New York yogurt, we thank them again and again.
New local yogurts seem to appear on the shelves every time I find myself wandering the aisles of the grocery store — especially a store like Greene Grape Provisions, a Fort Greene grocer that stocks almost entirely local products. Laura Heifetz, a buyer there, told me that there are over twelve different yogurt brands made in New York state (“I counted a few months ago when the New York Senate declared that New York’s state snack is yogurt,” she said).
When we asked Laura if Greene Grape might be interested in helping us with a yogurt taste test of the New York-made (dairy) brands they carry, she immediately agreed. “Brooklyn is such a hotbed for artisanal [yogurt] brands,” Laura said. “Between White Moustache and Sohha, it’s just kept growing.”
Laura set us up with eight of those New York yogurts, and one Friday afternoon, digital editor Lauren Wilson and I sat down to a festival of local cultured dairy. We tasted with great vigor and with color, presentation, tanginess, viscosity, sweetness, place of origin and possible usage in mind. We measured tanginess of a scale of 1-10 (1 being not tangy at all, 10 being downright acidic). Here’s what we concluded:
Blue Hill (beet, butternut), Pocantico Hills: Most Innovative
“Blue Hill was such a branding hit that they’ve really been fun to follow,” said Laura. The vegetable-becomes-yogurt concept, on top of its complexly layered flavors, wins the brand the title of “Most Innovative” in this taste taste. They are marketed as savory yogurts, but they are quite balanced in flavor and very snackable. Blue Hill’s beet yogurt (yes, beet) is an intense shade of fuchsia. Its flavor, recognizably “beet,” also incorporates raspberries and red wine vinegar; the result is a balance of sweet and savory, with an undeniably rooty kick at the end. It’s also quite tangy, but not unpleasantly so — we gave it an 8 on our tanginess scale. It was one of the looser yogurts we tried; strained, we thought it might make a great dip. It would also be very pleasant stirred into a thick soup, or turned into a salad dressing. Its 10 grams of sugar come from added honey. The butternut yogurt, an intense orange color, was similarly complex. Not as tangy as the beet (about a 6 on our scale), it had strong notes of nutmeg; it is also flavored with cloves, sage and maple sugar (which give it 6 grams of sugar). Lauren called it “autumn in a cup.”
Coach Farm (honey), Pine Plains: Most Confident
The Coach Farm yogurt was the only goat-milk yogurt we tried during our taste test. It’s funky, it’s unusual, it’s undeniably “goaty” in flavor — but sweetly tempered by honey (which gives the yogurt its 17 grams of sugar) and good for goat-cheese lovers. Its consistency is very pleasant, pudding-smooth and glossy from pectin. At about a 6 on our tang scale, it’s very snackable, but would also complement a beet salad well.
Culture (plain Greek), Brooklyn: Most Inspirational
This Greek-style yogurt, headquartered in Park Slope, is a beaut: so thick it’s just short of cream cheese, it is both buttery and intensely tangy. It clocked in at a 9 on our tanginess scale, the highest score of all of the yogurts we tasted. There are no sweeteners or thickeners added, just milk and bacteria. We’re calling it the “Most Inspirational” yogurt because we generated so many ways to use it while tasting it. While we found it too thick for granola, it would make a great dip, and would work well as sour-cream substitute on a baked potato or taco. Lauren thought it would be delicious on a bagel with lox. Later, I spread it onto a piece of toast, drizzled it with olive oil and added salt and red pepper flakes.
Maple Hill (strawberry Greek), Stuyvesant: Most Popular
This is Maple Hill’s first experiment in organic Greek-style yogurts, Laura told me. Maple Hill’s strawberry Greek was pale pink, loose in consistency despite added fruit pectin and very mild (it scored a 0 on our tanginess scale). It was the sweetest-tasting yogurt of all the ones we sampled, though not the highest in grams of sugar (13 grams, from added cane sugar). With its classic strawberry flavor, it’s a very snackable yogurt, especially for kids.
Ronnybrook (coconut, maple vanilla), Ancramdale: Most Unexpected
We’re already big fans of Ronnybrook, but were pleasantly surprised by their yogurts. Both the coconut and the maple vanilla flavors were entirely pleasurable — not too intense, not too sweet, creamy and looser in consistency. The vanilla maple is distinctly maple-y and just tangy enough to be bright; its 14 grams of sugar come from maple syrup. The coconut yogurt had the most sugar of any of the yogurts we tasted — 24 grams — but didn’t taste overly sweet. Instead, it’s tangy and shot with coconut shreds. Both would be great desserts.
Siggi’s (vanilla, mixed berry-acai), Chenago County: The MVP
Siggi’s was one of the first New York yogurts to really take off in the national market — and, in our opinion, for good reason. Siggi’s yogurts are glossy and thick from some added pectin and the straining process. They are lightly sweet but still tangy (about a 4 on our scale), luxurious enough to be dessert substitutes but immensely snackable, too. The vanilla yogurt is flecked with vanilla bean and has an excellent classic vanilla flavor (Lauren called it elegant!); its 9 grams of sugar come from cane sugar. The mixed berry-acai yogurt also hit every note — sweet, tangy, a very pretty shade of pink. It also has added pectin and cane sugar (11 grams). We found them great for yogurt lovers as well as for newcomers to the artisan yogurt scene (and ideal for kids, too).
Sohha (sea salt), Brooklyn: Most Dependable
Sohha, like Blue Hill, is marketed as savory yogurt; indeed, the variety we sampled had added sea salt. Rather than being salty, though, Sohha yogurt was balanced and very milky in taste and texture; it is silky, spoonable, medium-tangy (about a 5 on our scale) and an excellent all-purpose yogurt. It would work equally well with granola or stirred into soup. Plus, it has the most protein of all of the yogurts we sampled — 20 grams!
White Moustache (date, tart cherry), Brooklyn: Most Likely to Take Over the World
Greene Grape was the first store to stock White Moustache, and it’s been hard to keep on the shelves ever since. “White Moustache ended up being such a hit we can barely keep it stocked,” said Laura. “I’d say 20 jars go straight to my staff. If you want to drink a good bottle of beer or wine, you want something artisanal, with good ingredients. Why shouldn’t that extend to dairy as well?” We have to agree. Though White Moustache was the last yogurt we sampled that day (we tested in alphabetical order), and we were by all accounts dairy-ed out, we each finished a jar. White Moustache yogurt is decadent; it is thick, creamy, silky, lightly tangy (a 4 on our scale), overwhelming in the best way. There were whole cherries in the tart cherry flavor — and who knew that dates were such a perfect yogurt flavoring? As an added bonus, you get a glass jar once you’ve licked the yogurt from every corner (Greene Grape reuses these jars for the candles they make from rendered tallow in their butcher shop.)
Photos by Caroline Lange. Yogurts generously donated by Greene Grape Provisions.