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Imagine that you live in a perfect world. There are no wars because political differences have been set aside for the greater good of mankind. People everywhere have enough to eat and the debate over whether wanting something is more satisfying than having it becomes moot because want has ceased to exist.

The power of Greek yogurt is such that when you consume it you believe that these things are in fact attainable.

So what exactly is Greek yogurt? Quite simply it is yogurt imported from Greece. There are recipes for making your own but I will not include them here because if you live in Greece you have the secret and if you reside elsewhere you can try making it but it’s my belief that Greek yogurt is like San Francisco sourdough. It’s best there and everything else is merely a shadow, an echo, a fraudulent forgery of the sublime original product.

Unlike yogurts produced in other parts of the world Greek yogurt is strained after culturing. This produces an unexpectedly rich, dense and very creamy dairy product with almost none of the sour tang typically associated with yogurt. Greek yogurt is unlike any other yogurt produced on earth and when perfection in food or drink exists there will be those who try to pass off shabby imitations as a substitute for the real thing.

During my last shopping trip I came upon one of these imposter products. The Greek Gods Traditional Yogurt is not Greek yogurt. It is not made in Greece and when you compare it to some of the watery artificially colored yogurt products that sit on the grocer’s shelves it's a rich and creamy treat but at the end of the day it is merely Greek style yogurt and not true Greek yogurt such as the yogurt Fage exports.

Fage is the largest dairy company in Greece and if you can’t afford a trip to Athens then my suggestion would be to pull the parchment off the top of a container and indulge. There’s no empirical evidence to support my theory that ancient Greek philosophers were inspired by the yogurt their countrymen cultured but I believe that this world would be a kinder, gentler, better and greener planet if there was enough Greek yogurt for everyone.

Summer encapsulated is a tub of Greek yoghurt mixed with fresh honey, eaten while looking out over an azure Aegean sea, and listening to cicadas greeting the morning.

Greek yoghurt is made extra creamy by boiling off some of the watery liquid.

It is made extra tasty by filtering out the whey. This is the clear, runny liquid found on top of cheaper yoghurts.

Where conventional yoghurt manufacture makes around 1 litre of yoghurt for each litre of milk, Greek yoghurt is more concentrated, with only 250ml or so from each litre of milk.

If you talk to the old ladies who used to sell yoghurt from skins or clay pots by the side of the road in rural Crete or mainland Greece, they'll tell you that proper Greek yoghurt should be made from sheeps' milk, as this give an extra tang not present in cows' milk. They will also tell you that commercial yoghurts are too thick and too sweet to be called proper Greek yoghurt.

Most of the commercial brands — Total by Fage, for example — know their audience better than the black-clad women of the hills above Thessaloniki, however, and they make their so-called 'Greek yoghurt' with cow milk, with its own sugar – lactose. The fat content is fairly high, at 8 - 10 percent.

If you believe those black-clad women, then you will accept Wiki's claim that 'Greek Yoghurt' has come to mean any type of strained, enriched yoghurt. I tend to agree with that, as the Total brand name by the company Fage has come to be synonymous with Greek yoghurt and their product is made from cow milk and is a little sweeter than the traditional farm-made yoghurt.

Even if you don't like yoghurt, and hate honey, there are few who can resist the special combination of creaminess, sweetness, slight sourness and sunshine that come from a mixture of honey and Greek yoghurt.

Fun facts about strained yoghurt

Unlike ordinary yoghurts, which contain the whey, strained yoghurts won't separate or curdle if you cook with them.

According to Fage, 2 litres of milk is needed to make each 500g pot of yoghurt

Greek yoghurt does not freeze well, but if frozen, it can be used in small quantities in recipes

Fage is still a family-run company and they claim to be market leader worldwide in strained yoghurt products. The company claims a 58 percent market share in Greece for yoghurt products.

Although strained yoghurts are thicker than ordinary yoghurts, larger international companies have developed products called 'Greek-style' which use thickening agents to achieve the same texture. Few would argue that the taste is the same.

Making strained yoghurt

if you want to make a similar product, then there are instructions on the web. Also here on E2 (http://bean-sprouts.blogspot.com/2007/11/how-to-make-greek-yogurt.html)

The first step is to boil your milk. You could boil it for an hour or so to reduce it down and remove some of the liquid, or just a few minutes to kill off any unwelcome microbes. Allow the milk to cool to around 50°C (120°F) which, apparently is the ideal temperature for yoghurt cultures.

Add some live yoghurt culture — either from a previous batch of home-brew, or from shop-bought 'live' yoghurt. Use about a dessert spoon-ful to half a litre of milk, or even less.

Pour the mix into a thermos flask, or other insulated vessel. First, of course, make sure your thermos is free from bad microbes. Boiling water will do that. Seal and leave the milk overnight. It should thicken. It should not smell bad.

At this stage you have ordinary yoghurt. But it's best to cool it down in the fridge. Warm yoghurt does not taste so good.

To get the strained, whey-free variety which Wiki tells us is called Greek yoghurt, you need another couple of steps.

Pour the thickened yoghurt into a muslin cloth, tie it off and suspend it over a bowl. After a couple of hours, the bowl should contain a lot of colourless liquid, while the yoghurt has become even thicker, creamier and refuses to pour.

You can leave it longer than a couple of hours, but then it gets even thicker, eventually becoming a kind of cream cheese. If you like that kind of thing, then by all means add herbs, garlic and other flavours to mimic Boursin or other creamy cheese products.

Sources, further information

Greek yogurt is currently in vogue, and is enjoying a nebulous halo of healthiness. There are certainly some health benefits, but going by an admittedly limited and informal survey of my health-conscious friends and associates, the average yogurt consumer does not know why Greek yogurt might be healthy (or not). Granted, this is not a major health issue, but I firmly believe that no halo should be allowed to remain nebulous -- so here's a quick overview of why you should or should not replace your basic yogurt with a more Grecian variety.

Pros: Greek yogurt is basically made by straining the extra whey out of yogurt. Aside from being watery, whey contains a lot of lactose, the sugar found in milk. This is good if you are watching your calorie intake, or if you are diabetic. It may also have a benefit for those of us who are borderline lactose intolerant, as it has about 45% less lactose.

When you take the whey out of your yogurt, you effectively concentrate all the non-whey bits of yogurt, which includes protein and probiotic bacteria. Most Americans, as it happens, are not lacking for protein, but this may be a benefit for athletes. There are no RDAs for probiotics, but in general a little but more is better than a little less, so Greek yogurt gets definite points on this.

Cons: As I said above, straining the whey out will concentrate the other components of yogurt, including fat. Fat is an important part of a healthy diet, but yogurt is not the best source for it. It contains comparatively low levels of fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. It does contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an anti-carcinogenic essential fatty acid found in dairy products, but as far as I am aware there are no studies showing that more CLA is necessarily better, and there are potential adverse affects to high CLA intake, so I would not list this as a definite benefit unless you are extremely limited in your dairy intake.

Straining out the whey also reduces the calcium content of yogurt. Calcium helps build healthy bones and prevents colon cancer, and older individuals may want to avoid Greek yogurt in favor or more calcium-rich yogurts. Generally, even Greek yogurt has enough calcium to provide a good percentage of your RDA, so most people will not consider this an important reason to avoid it.

On a related note, be careful when buying Greek yogurt. 'Greek yogurt' is a trendy name for strained yogurt, but it doesn't actually mean much. There are plenty of unstrained yogurts that have added a thickener to get the creamy texture of 'Greek yogurt', and there is no reason that they shouldn't call themselves Greek yogurt. Other Greek yogurts may add whey protein concentrate, which will add lactose back into the product.

Strained yogurt is produced all over the world, and may be sold under many different names, including yogurt cheese, labneh (or labaneh), and dahi. These may all be slightly different in their sugar, fat, and probiotic culture content. If you are travelling in Greece and buy yogurt, odds are that you are buying 'normal' yogurt, as the Greeks usually only strain yogurt for use in certain recipes.

In addition to all these considerations, some Greek yogurt is made with sheep or goat milk, which contain less lactose to start with, or organic milk, which has other health benefits. These variations are beyond the scope of this node, and should be researched separately. Yogurt, it seems, is not a simple issue.

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