Welcome to the world of Greek Yogurt! Growing up an American Greek I was surrounded by my Greek family, some that were born here and some that were born in Greece. It took years but I now realize the plethora of traditions, recipes and amazing memories I have as a child growing up in this incredible environment. I grew up learning but not really appreciating the talent that surrounded me. My grandmother, mother. Aunt and mother-in law stood day and night in their kitchens creating the most incredible Greek dishes. I watched their endless perseverance and precision as they spent hours on one dish. The good news is Greek yogurt is one of the easiest recipes you will ever make!
Suddenly, everyone loves Greek Yogurt, but 90% of the people that have joined the Greek Yogurt craze do not know why it has become so popular. In fact most of the people I talked to in the grocery store can not tell you the difference between Greek Yogurt and the Yogurt they have been eating for years, they are just following the crowd. And yes I did hold my own little interview in a Wegman’s dairy section, I stood in front of the Fage Yogurt, put my reading glasses on to look professional (yes I did) and talked to everyone that walked up to the dairy case. The two questions I heard over and over were of course …what is the difference and why has it become so popular, showing up everywhere and used in everything? The answer is healthy and delicious, the making of Greek yogurt holds the prize for simple with endless possibilities and countless new recipes that all begin with this delicious creamy yogurt. Just ask my friends at the Wegman’s dairy aisle, I had at least 2 0r 3 people at a time listen as I enlightened them to the mystery of this creamy dreamy wonder!! lol
Well, the answer to its instant success starts with the original Greek yogurt, “Fage”. It all began 1926 when Atanassios Kyriakos first created Fage yogurt in Athens’s Greece in his small dairy shop .It became popular throughout the villages as a delicious, creamy one-of-a-kind yogurt. News of this delicious yogurt spread quickly and was in demand all over Greece. So in 1954 his son Ioannis, with his fathers help created the first wholesale distribution center in Greece. Sales grew in leaps and bounds and the family knew this was just the beginning!
So in 1964 Ioannis and his brother Kyriakos opened the first yogurt production facility in the suburbs of Greece to keep up with the demand from the restaurants all over Greece. The yogurt was sold in bulk to companies with no brand name or packaging. So in 1975 in need of a larger plant, they relocated to another part of Greece. Then the amazing Fage yogurt that was sold in bulk with no brand name or labeling now was being sold in small sealed tubs with the Fage trademark brand labeling. This was another turning point for the company, for it was finally reveled to the public the name and manufacturer of this thick creamy yogurt. Soon Fage yogurt spread like wildfire throughout Greece. By 1983, thanks to the vision of his sons, Fage yogurt was exported to most every European country.
It took a while to get to the USA, but finally in 1998 they began to export Fage yogurt to the United States. Yet, think about it, if Fage hit the United States 15 years ago, then why did it take so long for it to become as popular as it is today? The problem… Fage did not have a manufacturing plant in the USA. The plants in Greece could not mass produce quick enough to keep up with the demand in 35 countries, so only a few wholesalers in the United States sold Fage. The wholesalers were limited to primarily selling Fage to a few restaurants and small Greek and Middle Eastern Specialty stores, mainly in New York.
This is why it took until 2008, this is when the 3rd generation family members running the company opened the first USA Fage production plant in Johnstown, New York. So prior to 2008 you could not find Fage in any of the major grocery chains across the country. The only place you could find it during those years it was in small Greek or Mediterranean specialty markets. I remember as a little girl we would have to travel to Greek town in Baltimore to the small Greek specialty market Stella Foods to buy Fage Greek yogurt. It was the best-kept secret among the Greeks in the US. Most people in the US had no idea that there was a yogurt available that blew away the other brands of thin, not as flavorful yogurt that was found in grocery stores.
It took a few years for the explosion and awareness to spread throughout the United States, but in the USA today there is not grocery, convenient or specialty store around the country today that does not carry Fage Greek yogurt. I know you are probably thinking that I must be related to the Fage family or I am getting paid to endorse this product, but I am not. If was related, I would have my picture on the container, haha! I just have a passion for what is good and I want everyone to understand why Greek yogurt has suddenly flooded every store in the country. To date Fage Yogurt is sold to over 35 countries around the world!
Of course it didn’t take long before all the other yogurt manufacturers to jump on the bandwagon and begin making their own Greek Yogurt. The other two major players are Oikos, made by the Stoneyfield/Dannon brand and the Chobani brand. My favorite is Fage, Oikos is my second choice. Now that you know the history, you need to know the difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt. Since Greek yogurt premiered a few years ago, many will tell you it is just thicker, twice as thick, that’s it. Yes thicker is the number one difference but the flavor that stems from the milk that is used to create a tasty Greek Yogurt is just as important.
When I tell people how easy it is to create a flavorful creamy thick Greek yogurt like Fage or Okios, they look at me in disbelief. Now of course I would totally understand their disbelief if I told them that John Stamos (for Okios) or Bobby flay (for Fage) will make a personal appearance in a video to help me show you……ok maybe not! Yet John Stamos’s commercials have lots of girls dreaming of Greek yogurt and it’s endless possibilities these days!
Now, don’t you feel closer to that container of Greek yogurt sitting in your fridge? Better yet, doesn’t this make you want to whip up a batch of your own! I thought so…. and you will see that making it takes less time than it took you to read my article on it!! lol
There are Yogurt makers and Crock-pot recipes, but to me they take to long. I am on the go and maybe just a little impatient as well. So I go back in time and use my grandmother’s recipe that I think would make Fage or Oikos proud. In keeping it simple, these are the key things to remember. You can make it with zero percent fat, 1%, 2% or whole milk, organic or not! What ever you desire, just use fresh cold milk. Second you need a small container of Fage or Oikos, ½ cup as the starter for every gallon of milk you use.
Recipe for Greek Yogurt
Prep time: 25 min
Cook time: 12-24 hrs
- Yield: 5-6 cups of creamy delight
- 1 gallon milk (skim, 1%, 2%, whole or a combination)
- ½ cup Fage yogurt as your culture starter
Really this is it!!!
Heat milk in heavy bottom pot on low heat until it reaches 180 degrees, I use a candy thermometer. Then let cool down to 95-115 degrees. Remove one cup of milk from the pot and mix it with the ½ cup Fage yogurt and mix until well blended. Pour the mixture back into the pot and whisk until well blended.
Put the lid on the pot and wrap it in a towel, that’s right, just like a baby you are trying to keep warm. Place it in the oven with the light on for 12-24 hours until it becomes thick.
Now, if you have an oven like me that has a proof setting, it will put the oven temp at 100 degrees; In that case your baby goes naked in the oven, no towel is needed, just the lid from the pot!
I put mine in at 2:30 and I won’t check it until tomorrow morning.
Congrats!! You have made yogurt… but wait it’s not Greek yogurt. On more easy step and you will make not only Fage and Oikos proud but my Yia Yia proud as well!
Place a colander on top of a bowl and line bottom and sides with Cheese Cloth, a coffee filter or a big Strong Brawny paper towel, his towel is tough like him, haha! Then pour your yogurt into the colander. Let it drain for a few hours, the longer you let it drain the thicker the yogurt becomes. This is the KEY to thick creamy yogurt….the longer it drains the thicker it becomes! At last, now you can call it Greek Yogurt!
Now my memory of draining yogurt was not the method used in my recipe. For my grandmother Pauline (NeNe) came to visit us in Baltimore and one day decided to make yogurt. She would take a washed clean white pillowcase and put the yogurt in that to drain. If you want to make a huge batch, the pillowcase is really your best option, not sure many agree with me!! Maybe that’s why yogurt wasn’t my favorite thing as a young girl!! lol If you do choose the pillowcase method make sure it is new and not one not one that your Popou’(grandfather) may have slept on, Yikes! She would not use a Colander to drain the yogurt, she would tie the open end of the pillowcase to the spigot in the washtub and let it hang overnight. No refrigeration, not pretty, maybe not even healthy, but I’m still here so I guess this would still work, Lol!
May sound like a nightmare, but it is a great memory for me! I just didn’t bring any boys home that I really liked, haha! I do suggest being on the safe side and you drain your yogurt in your colander overnight by placing the whole thing in the refrigerator.
The next morning the pot you used to drain the yogurt will be filled with whey liquid. You can throw that away or use it for smoothies, in soups in place of stock, instead of milk or water when baking. Remember it is packed with vitamins so many young mothers use it in baby formula and if your baby happens to have four feet ( not an alien, your pet) it is great mixed with their dry food! If you are really interested in some great uses for whey, I suggest you go to #The Prairie Homestead” for the expert advice and recipes for Whey; her site is really great.
Lastly, before I put my yogurt in an airtight container, I add the scrapings of a whole vanilla bean to the chilled finished product and mix well. This of course should only be done if you are planning to use the yogurt for dessert.
I realize it is not always possible to make your own yogurt. So if you are are buying purchase the large 35.3oz container of Fage, it may seem more expensive than other brands like Oikos, but look at the size for Oikos’s largest is 32oz. So you are getting 3.3ounces more when you buy Fage Greek Yogurt. Remember when you are making your own batch, your yogurt will taste like the yogurt you chose to use as your starter.
Also, remember that whether you use cheesecloth, paper towels or a coffee filter make sure it covers the bottom and sides of your strainer and the seams are sealed. This is why I prefer cheesecloth because that sucker will not rip or tear if your life depended on it. It is strong and needs a knife or scissors to cut through it.
It is a bit pricey compared to the other options, but I have a confession about my relationship with cheesecloth. Well it goes back again to when I was young and my mother worked for the government. The connection you ask? I guess I can revel this secret since my wonderful mother has passed. You see as a government employee she would accidentally bring home pencils, pens scissors, paperclips, tape and yes…cheesecloth! Still not sure to this day what the government did with cheesecloth!
Anyway, I just thought that every home had drawers all over the house filled with 3 or 4 pairs of scissors, a dozen pencils and pens, boxes of tape, paperclips and if it fit a package of cheesecloth. And I mean every drawer, I remember when I was young thinking how odd it was when I spent the night at a friends and we needed a pair of scissors, they only had one pair and we had to search for it. In my house it was Office Depot in very drawer! I remember a few teachers asking me why my pens said “property of US government” on them! I sure hope the statue of limitations keeps me from being an accessory!!!
If you go to buy cheesecloth today, it is not cheap. You will pay several dollars for just a small amount. The cheesecloth that mysteriously showed up in my house growing up was a huge bundle. I mean it looked like a handheld version of a bolt of material that you would find in JoAnn Fabrics, I’m thinking there was enough in each package to circle the house! So you see I have been spoiled by the overstock of cheesecloth in my life. I actually think it was just a few years ago that I finally ran out and had to go and buy some, haha!! The good news is that you can wash it out and hang to dry and save for next time it if you need to.
The finished product of your own Greek yogurt, feel proud for you have accomplished your first batch of creamy deliciousness!
But wait… this is only the beginning of our Greek yogurt adventure! My next blog will show you how to make the classic Tzatziki. This is the popular dip/condiment that has cucumber, garlic, olive oil, lemon and dill combines with your Greek yogurt. And if you talk to any Greek, it is the only accompaniment to Souvlaki, Gyro and Shish Kebobs!
Of, course you should be an expert on the Souvlaki and Shish Kebob making form my one of my previous Blog posts, if not check it out!
My next Blog will include Tzatziki (cucumber yogurt dip) making plus a few easy impressive desserts. how about a Nutella Rice Pudding or toppings to turn your Greek Yogurt into an Almond Joy, a Chocolate fudge Sundae or Banana Split!!!
Well maybe someone at Fage will read my Blog and send all of us on a tour of the Factory, my vote is the one in Greece, but I’ll take New York as a second. Life is all about your dreams and making them come true! Stay positive, stay focused and don’t be afraid of an adventure!!
Love from my Kitchen of Life!