Ronnybrook yogurt: for the yogurt lover who wants to drink their yogurt

It’s always a nice surprise for me when I find a new yogurt brand, but it’s a particularly great day to discover two that I’ve never seen before which is what happened the other day when I was in the Whole Foods Market near the World Trade Center.

The first one I tried, Maia “Greek style” yogurt, didn’t really sit well with me. I wish I could say that I loved the other, a regular yogurt (strawberry variety) by Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, but alas it didn’t really thrill me… although I enjoyed the yogurt quite a bit more than I did Maia’s offering.

I’ve had some of Ronnybrook’s dairy products before. The Whole Foods locations in New York City and northeast New Jersey carry their delicious and creamy whole milk in glass bottles, and their retail location in Chelsea Market serves killer milkshakes.

However, their yogurt just didn’t wow me mainly because of the thin consistency. The package describes the product as a “creamline” yogurt so as expected the top “layer” has a whipped cream like, soft set consistency. Underneath, however, the body thinned out to the point of being fairly watery making the yogurt seem more like something that you’d drink rather than scoop with a spoon. In fact, it just dripped right off my spoon with ease so I ended up just chugging most of the yogurt straight from the cup.

There’s a market for “drinkable yogurts”, but since I’m not really a fan of those it would have been nice if the labeling had warned me. I’m sure it would have been a nice little surprise for someone who more immensely enjoys partaking in these more liquid like products, though.

The overall taste was pretty good. The yogurt, which was already blended with the strawberry ingredients, was a bit on the sour side for me at first, but I later found the little well of strawberry purée hidden at the bottom of the cup which was sweet enough to alleviate that issue.

Ronnybrook strawberry creamline yogurt isn’t a bad product at all… it’s just not really in line with what I’m looking for in a yogurt so I’m inclined to just stick with my favorites.

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Not a fan of Maia “Greek style” yogurt

Maia's vanilla flavored "Greek style" yogurt

It’s vanilla flavored… not that I could taste it over the intense sourness of this “Greek style” yogurt which, with its firm body, is more like a cheese.

I found myself at the Whole Foods Market way downtown in New York near the World Trade Center the other day and of course had to check out the dairy section to see if there were any Greek yogurts that my local Whole Foods at home didn’t stock.

As luck would have it, I found two brands of yogurt that I had not seen before so I was forced to try both. Hands were tied.

First up was a brand called Maia which I had never heard of. The cup advertises the product as a “Greek style” yogurt which perhaps should have been a red flag or at the very least a yellow flag. I’m still trying to figure out what corners would have to be cut for a yogurt to be “Greek style” instead of full blown Greek yogurt.

In any case, I ended up trying the vanilla flavored variety: no strawberry available to my chagrin. It probably didn’t matter, though, since I could barely taste the flavor over the incredible level of sourness.

This wasn’t a pleasant tartness like in Chobani or Oikos yogurt nor was it an interesting, acquirable tang like siggi’s offers. No, eating Maia’s yogurt was like sucking on a lemon… an unpleasantly sour one… just very sharp overall.

That combined with the very solid body — the yogurt was firm and set quite like siggi’s 2% skyr — gave the illusion of eating a soured up, spoiled cream cheese. This wasn’t a culinary experience I’d ever care to repeat, which is unfortunate given the admirable goals and values upon which the company was founded (and for those alone I would encourage anyone who might be more inclined to favor very sour yogurts to try a cup in support of the company’s efforts).

Lobsters, crabs and more for an early New Year dinner in Chinatown

Crabs steamed with sticky rice in lotus leaves at Sunshine Seafood Restaurant in Manhattan Chinatown

Crabs (we already finished one) steamed with sticky rice in lotus leaves

Every year before Chinese New Year my brother-in-law treats his employees (and all of us) to a celebratory dinner at the Sunshine Seafood Restaurant on Bowery Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown. The filling meal always includes popular Chinese banquet staples like lobsters stir fried in a ginger and scallion sauce, crispy fried chicken (which looks nothing like KFC or Popeye’s) and battered shrimp with broccoli and honeyed walnuts in a sweet, creamy mayonnaise based sauce.

Four stir fried lobsters in a ginger and scallion sauce at Sunshine Seafood Restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown

Four lobsters stir fried in a ginger and scallion sauce is a tough act to follow

He’ll also order a few steaks pan fried Chinese style (not nearly as good as a properly broiled or outdoor grilled steak but still very tasty), at least one fried rice or noodle dish for the benefit of the kids and ABC’s like me — this year he went with a rice dish that included fried eggs, bacon, crab meat and dried scallops — and some vegetables.

He has also taken a liking to a superb dish that consists of twin Dungeness (I think) crabs atop a hearty bed of sticky, glutinous rice (which soaks up the juices from the crab meat and eggs) all wrapped up in a giant lotus leaf and steamed to perfection. Absolutely amazing.

Then, we close out the meal with the traditional two-pronged attack of sweet red bean soup with tapioca and juicy sliced oranges. No fortune cookies here.

We just got back from this year’s dinner which was a nice way to end a busy day. I definitely ate more carbs than I should have, but I’m not gonna sweat it too much considering this is something that happens only once a year… and I’m already anticipating next year’s spread!

Love Greek yogurt? You might want to try skyr.

siggi's strawberry skyr

Do you like your strawberries really sour?

The incredible popularity of Greek yogurt in the United States has resulted in the introduction of some interesting similar foods from other countries that we otherwise may never have experienced. One such food is skyr, a dairy product from Iceland that is technically a cheese but offers many of the same characteristics that have made Greek yogurt so popular.

Like Greek yogurt, skyr is a relatively dense product packed with more protein, less sugar and very low milkfat content compared to traditional yogurt, but the degree of these differences really depends on which skyr you buy.

I’ve only tried — and seen, for that matter — two brands of skyr: siggi’s and skyr.is. The former has quite a following in the northeast especially in the Tri-State metropolitan area, being a New York-based artisan company with distribution that has expanded to the point of taking up space on shelves in Target’s grocery section! That’s actually where I first saw siggi’s products.

On the other hand, skyr.is is a relatively new product in the United States market with a more limited distribution to certain regions of the country through the Whole Foods chain. Unlike siggi’s offering, which is made in “upstate” Chenango County based on traditional family recipes from founder Siggi Hilmarsson, who set up shop in the region so he could source his product with milk from local family farms that feed their cows grass and don’t pump them full of growth hormones, skyr.is sells authentic Icelandic skyr actually produced in Iceland and imported to the U.S.

Skyr.is is by far the more accessible of the two brands with a consistency and tartness similar to Chobani. It really is quite delicious, but it’s a tad on the expensive side relative to the Greek yogurt brands and even siggi’s whose fans are now starting to benefit from the brand’s growing popularity: I have to pay almost $3 for a single cup of skyr.is at Whole Foods compared to the $2.20 I pay for siggi’s (which is even cheaper at Target at about $1.90 per cup).

Siggi’s is definitely more of an acquired taste with a biting tang that will probably take a lot of people by surprise. Siggi himself said that the reason he decided to make skyr was because the traditional yogurt in America was too sweet for his tastes, and his recipe uses absolutely no artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose with only organic agave nectar, a low glycemic index natural sweetner great for us diabetics, to contribute sweetness (siggi’s has only a little more than half the carbs of skyr.is and less than half the sugar content).

The challenge is that the tartness of siggi’s is overwhelming such that it can be difficult to taste any other aspect of the skyr’s flavor. The strawberry variety tastes like really, really, really sour strawberries… at least I thought it did until I tried acai & mixed berry and then peach and realized that they kind of all taste the same to me because the flavors of the fruits are lost in the tang.

Nevertheless, the more I eat of siggi’s the more I like it despite my initial reactions. It’s not my favorite of the Greek yogurt “class” of foods, but I’m starting to grow accustomed to the whole other level of sour it offers so I’ll have a cup every so often to mix things up a bit… and it certainly helps that it’s probably one of the healthiest options in the category with the highest quality ingredients.

The only flavor I’ve tried that I haven’t been able to take is the orange & ginger which is just harsh: much respect to anyone who can finish one of those because I had to give up halfway through.

Vietnamese rice noodle soup at Kam Man supermarket

Vietnamese rice noodle soup with eye round beef

Hot and spicy… perfect on a cold winter day!

Despite being Chinese I’m not particularly fond of Chinese food for the most part so I’m rarely thrilled when we shop at Kam Man (“Golden Gate”), a branch of the Chinese supermarket chain located in East Hanover, New Jersey.

That said, there’s a great little food counter at the north end of the store (the section near the Home Depot in the same East Hanover Center plaza) called Miss Saigon Express that serves a number of Vietnamese dishes including rice noodle soups.

My favorite variety is their Rice Noodle Soup with Eye Round, a delicious mix of Vietnamese rice noodles, thinly sliced eye round beef, plenty of cilantro, chopped scallions, and sliced onions in a meaty broth. I ask for mine spicy, which I suspect means they just toss in some sriracha or chili garlic sauce since the soup comes out a bold red color instead of its normal light brown.

The soup actually isn’t terribly spicy, but it’s got enough kick that when served hot on a cold winter day (like we’ve been having on the East Coast lately) all your problems just melt away in a crimson flood of savory, noodley heaven.

Panera’s Fuji Apple Chicken Salad

Panera Bread's Fuji Apple Chicken Salad

Fuji Apple Chicken Salad: chicken, romaine, field greens, tomatoes, red onions, pecans, Gorgonzola, and Fuji apple chips

My co-worker and I go to the Panera Bread on 5th Avenue in Manhattan near Bryant Park almost every day for lunch. It’s gotten so that a few of the cashiers there know my typical lunch order by heart (You Pick 2: Chopped Chicken Cobb with Avocado Salad and Sonoma Chicken Stew), and my co-worker was shocked when someone stole the Foursquare mayorship from me.

He’s also fairly consistent in what he orders for lunch there — he swears by the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad (with a different soup each time) so I decided to try it out for dinner at the Panera location near my house to taste for myself what he raves about.

My verdict after having tried this particular salad is that while it tastes pretty great, it’s personally not one that I could eat on a more frequent basis.

There isn’t any sort of “hint” of apple flavor in this salad — we’re talking full blown, in your face apple flavor from not just the mountain of dried Fuji apple chips sitting atop the chicken breast, romaine lettuce, field greens, tomatoes, red onions, pecans, and Gorgonzola crumbles but also the balsamic Fuji apple vinaigrette they douse all those ingredients in. Make no mistake about it: this is one sweet salad!

That’s not to say that it’s not a delicious salad — it’s really more about my love-hate relationship with apples (I have a relatively mild allergic reaction to many varieties of apples with Fujis being one of the few exceptions) and my overall aversion to sweeter salads (I’m more of a savory salad type of guy) that makes this particular entree a little bit of a challenge.

However, seeing as how most of the the ingredients blend together pretty well — the mild sweetness of the apple chips works quite nicely with the nutty flavor of the pecans and the sharp accent of the red onions to complement the savory goodness of the chicken and Gorgonzola — I think this could work for me if I requested that they reduce the amount of dressing… or even eliminate the vinaigrette altogether.

Despite my own taste preferences I have no qualms about recommending this to other Panera patrons, especially those with a love for Fuji apples, as it really is a flavorful salad with some great ingredients.

Strawberry Greek yogurt throwdown

Several brands of Greek yogurt with strawberries

The delicious competitors: Chobani, Voskos, Yoplait, Fage Total 2%, Fage Total 0%, Liberté

So I was at my local ShopRite the other day walking down the dairy aisle when I thought it might be fun to run through a few different strawberry Greek yogurts in a sort of taste test. I went with Chobani, Voskos, Yoplait, Liberté, and both the 0% and 2% varieties of Fage (which I recently learned was pronounced fa-yeh… I was way off on that one LOL). The only brands available at the store that I didn’t pick up were Oikos and ShopRite’s own store brand. No particular reason for this… I guess I just didn’t feel like having more than six cups of yogurt in a day.

Of the six yogurts I tried, I only found one to be unappealing enough to never eat again. On the other hand, I was also pleasantly surprised by the broadly appealing flavor of another. It was a lot of yogurt to eat in one day, though… ended up skipping out yesterday to hopefully rebalance myself.

Voskos

Voskos offers one of the only blended Greek yogurts on the market. I’m not a huge fan of blended yogurts myself — my typical plan of attack with most yogurts is to stir up the fruit from the bottom only a few times so I can experience that heavenly contrast of sweet fruit on a tangy yogurt backdrop in every bite.

That said, I didn’t hate Voskos’ Wild Strawberry. The sourness of the base yogurt was pretty strong, and unlike with the typical fruit-on-the-bottom varieties there wasn’t a whole lot of sweetness to the strawberry component to offset that tang. However, the overall resulting flavor wasn’t bad at all, and in fact would probably be quite compatible with palates more tuned towards the tart end of the yogurt spectrum.

I wouldn’t mind some Voskos now and again.

Yoplait

I would, however, mind eating another serving of Yoplait’s Greek yogurt. I couldn’t find anything I liked about it whether it was the peculiar kind-of-yet-not-really sweet note that overlaid the plain yogurt itself or the intensely artificial flavor and sticky thickness of the strawberry syrup that reminded me of some sort of candy that I vaguely remember not enjoying as a kid.

I thought that blending the two more than I normally would with other brands might help the situation, but somehow it made the yogurt taste even worse. It was all I could do to finish the cup before downing a tall glass of water to wash the bad memories away.

Fage Total 0%

After that previous experience it was nice to come back to something I was a bit more familiar with. Fage Total 0% Strawberry was one of the first Greek yogurts I had ever tried so I pretty much knew going in what to expect.

The yogurt is quite smooth with a pretty creamy texture and has a fairly acidic tang — the best way I can think of to describe it is to say that the sourness tips its toe gently on the salty side of the taste boundaries and teases a visit to bitter territory without ever quite making it over.

The strawberry topping resides in a smaller compartment off to the side which can be “flipped” over to theoretically dump its contents into the yogurt — practically, however, it just makes it a little easier to try to spoon the stuff out. I believe Fage was the first of the Greek yogurt brands to offer this sort of packaging, and it must have taken off because Chobani offers a line of products that utilize a similar concept.

There are some small pieces of strawberry in there, but the mix-in is primarily made up of a thick syrup of sorts that’s reminiscent of jelly or compote. While Yoplait’s seems more like the low rent stuff you might get out of a plastic squeeze bottle, this is better enough quality that you could imagine it at least comes in a glass jar and sits pretty in the peanut butter and jelly aisle rather than the ice cream toppings shelf in the frozen foods section.

When the two components are combined, the tartness of the yogurt and the sweetness of the strawberry topping do a decent job of masking what I consider to be the less appealing aspects of each flavor resulting in a taste experience that isn’t half bad. I couldn’t eat the yogurt plain — although I do have acquaintances that swear by the stuff — but with the strawberry mixed in I could certainly enjoy this as an occasional diversion.

Fage Total 2%

I decided to have Fage’s 0% and 2% yogurts at the same time so I could more accurately compare them. I couldn’t actually detect any difference between the two as far as the tastes of the yogurt or the strawberry topping were concerned. The 2% yogurt was, however, slightly creamier and richer resulting in what I suppose is a somewhat improved yogurt eating experience. Nonetheless, the variations were not significant enough that I would go out of my way to try to get one variety over the other, and I guess that this would make it easier for those concerned about fat intake to go with the 0% option since there isn’t much of a sacrifice there.

Liberté

I think Liberté is a relatively new brand of Greek yogurt at least in the mainstream retail market. I see potential for some serious growth — I think their product is more accessible to consumers who might otherwise be turned off by a high level of tartness since their base yogurt has a significantly milder tang than most Greek yogurts. I also like that the strawberry inclusion doesn’t have that artificial looking bright red color but rather a duller, more subdued hue that implies a more natural and “real” substance. The two flavor aspects work together very well to produce a mildly sweet taste experience that could be mistaken as a dessert rather than a healthy breakfast: indeed, the resulting flavor and consistency is not too far off from a soft strawberry cheesecake.

Chobani

As tasty as Liberté was, Chobani still reigns at number one atop my list of favorite Greek yogurts. It has enough tartness that it still tastes like a yogurt without being so sharp as to become overpowering. Similarly the strawberry filling is sweet enough to make a delicious complement to the yogurt’s tang and notably not artificially sweet to the point of introducing a saccharine veil over the inherent yogurt flavor: no wagon red tinge in this product! Finally, the texture provides a more natural and “raw” mouthfeel complete with clumps and inconsistencies as opposed to the often overly smooth texture of some other yogurts.

These different qualities add up to what I personally think is the overall best yogurt eating experience offered on the market today. Sometimes the most popular thing isn’t the best, but in this case I think of all the Greek yogurt brands Chobani is most deserving of the public’s adulation.