Culture Club: We Talk Yogurt with Cheryl Sternman Rule

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Paste: Which recipe in the book surprises people the most, as far as the possibilities of yogurt as an ingredient?

CSR: There’s a recipe for a plain Greek yogurt topped with a lemon vinaigrette, and you wouldn’t think that this sour-and-sour pairing would actually work, but it’s a tangy base and a sharp-bright vinaigrette on top. I had it in Israel—you dip pita into it. They serve it for breakfast. It’s the simplest thing in the world, but it’s an exciting combination of flavors that jolts you. It’s delicious.

Paste: What kind of milk do you use when you make your own yogurt?

CSR: I always use whole organic milk. There’s also a lovely grass-fed milk that I get in smaller quantities—it’s pricey—I use it for special dishes.

Whole milk yogurt more versatile, so it’s more stable in cooking. It’s got a better mouth feel because of the fat, and the flavor is much better. It doesn’t have the added sugar that you need to make the nonfat yogurts…they add sugar to make up for the fat. Since it’s less processed, I think it’s better for me. It’s a personal choice.

I think you’ll see more commercial brands of yogurt who have stayed on the low-fat/no-fat side start to change. The tides have turned, the health studies are coming back, and medical professionals are starting to actively dispel the notion that nonfat dairy is going to help you have better weight or be a key to better health. I think you’re going to see the yogurt market follow suit.

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Paste: Tell us a little about the website Team Yogurt, which is an extension of your book.

CSR: It’s a new venture that takes all of the research and interviews and excitement I have on the topic, and it allows me to continue to move forward with this in a new way. I have a team of collaborators who have a different culinary or ethnic tradition, or they use yogurt to meet particular nutritional needs. My goal over time is to bring on more people who can educate me and the readers. There’s a lot more learning to do.

I’m profiling regional yogurt makers for Team Yogurt, too. Every brand of plain yogurt has its own taste. They incubate for different amounts of time, and some add additional cultures beyond what you need to make the yogurt, plus there’s where they’re getting their milk from. I want to get people to explore regional yogurts in their area and try some of the interesting new things that are on the market.

Paste: Let’s talk about whey—the tart liquid that’s left over when you drain yogurt. What do you do with your whey?

CSR: You can use it in baking—such as biscuits and pancakes—where you’d also use yogurt, but when it’s not the featured star. It has the same acidic properties as yogurt. And there are a few companies that are making drinks from whey, such as whey lemonade. Whey has the same health properties as yogurt, it lasts a good week or so in the fridge, and, if you drain your own yogurt, it’s free. So why not get that extra boost of nutrition and avoid the waste?

Paste: Has all of this yogurt changed your life?

CSR: I’ve become aware that, as a quick protein source, it’s a good way to eat something before I have to run out the door. I’ve developed a love for the sour, tangy flavor. I just really like paying attention to other culinary traditions. So yogurt’s been a way to go back to what I loved about living in Africa, and learning about eating in other parts of the world.

Sara Bir is Paste’s food editor. She will gladly bake with all of your whey.

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