Yogurt Saint Benoît Curdles It French-Style
I'm a little closer to my food production than most. We keep chickens for eggs, grind our own flour, bake bread in the oven from time to time, and keep a number of food-producing plants. My yogurt maker, however, meditates quietly in my pantry in a box marked "seldom used cooking utensils." It's like the juicer I inherited from my dad, tempting enough to use once or twice, but not a long-time kitchen companion. Figuring out a warm oven works just as well probably shortened my fidelity to the appliance.
With Yogurt Saint Benoît producing artisan yogurt in Sonoma, with a better culture than I was able to source, there's little chance the yogurt maker, or my own efforts in the oven, will be returning to kitchendom anytime soon.
I first found Saint Benoit on the shelves of my local Andronicos. The plump little ceramic containers called out to me. "Hey Ben. Look at me. I must be better, and more expensive than these pathetic plastic cups. I'm in ceramic for crying out loud."
I hate plastic. This charismatic container promised an authentic product, and it is. Saint Benoît is entirely true to the flavors I have come to expect from freshly made yogurt.
Where my home creations had a sharp tang that was off-putting, this was smooth, light and almost watery beneath the cream top. The yogurt center (between cream top and fruit layer below) comes off almost curdish, as if the center can't quite hold. Think of the difference between homogenized milk and milk in its true form. The runny/watery nature spoke of the texture and truth of what I found both in the products I made and the ones one sometimes stumbles upon in France.
The name and ceramic pot had me imagining a yogurt crafted by monks. When I came across Saint Benoît again at a local farmers' market I learned the true story.
While the original Saint Benoît (French for Saint Benedict) did found several monastic communities across Europe, the product I was buying comes from Sonoma and is the offspring of Benoît and David de Korsak, two French brothers who came to California with the notion that terroir could be applied to something other than wine. In 2007 the non-namesake brother left the operation, and now Benoît de Korsak runs the semi-eponymous brand.
Saint Benoît uses Jersey cows, a breed respected for its exceptional, cream-heavy, milk, but one that is not a prolific enough producer to make the cut for most commercial dairies, which tend to rely on Holsteins. Superior milk, superior product. The yogurts are organic and crafted in small batches.
The fruit preserves and honey used in the nine flavors come from Sonoma's Farm Trails where the pair "found fruit orchards and fruit growers who hand make fruit preserves. The preserves we use in our yogurts are made with organic tree-ripened fruit using significantly less sugar than commercial jams."
The yogurt is produced in a French-style using a French culture and process. The end product is milder and creamier than homemade yogurts using the more typical cultures one would find in a health food store or Whole Foods.
Pro Tasting Tip: Eat these like parfait. Push your spoon straight to the bottom and drag it up along the side. You'll get the cream top, the yogurt and the bright tip of flavor from the bottom.
Here's what I thought of the flavors, in order of preference:
A very nice combination: chunky fruit, skin and all, and one of the sweetest of the flavors. Plum brings a distinct flavor to the classic preserves one expects in a "fruit on the bottom" yogurt. My jar also had the thickest crusting of cream on the top of any of them (they are all cream-top but vary in consistency as any craft product should).
There's a fresh blast of jam flavor in that parfait tip: sweet, soaked in strawberry (perhaps Seascape?). Strawberries and cream: who could ask for more.
Ultra light, with light runny honey at the bottom delivering a refreshing sweet note with a hint of lemon. This and tea with milk, honey and lemon could be brother and sister in a breakfast family.
Pleasant light lemon with touch of rind. Again the word refreshing comes unbidden.
Light and fresh, with only the lightest note of tang in the finish. This screams for fresh-roasted granola or fruit and nuts.
The light and creamy base is set up by the low-sugar pop of the barely crushed berries within the jam at the bottom. It's very lightly flavored and is perhaps too mild for those accustomed to the syrupy, pancake topping-like blueberry jam in most yogurts, but perfect for a touch of flavor and texture in a mild morning moment.
Like a cross between chocolate syrup and cacao powder. It's not as obvious a combination with yogurt as most, and is not my favorite. When one of the jars dropped on the floor as I tried to balance four on my way to the fridge I thought, "I hope that's the chocolate."
Saint Benoit operates stands at various farmers' markets and retail shops throughout the Bay Area. Individual ceramic serving containers are $2 - $2.75 at farmers' markets and a bit more at retail stores, plus a deposit for the pot.