Next time you’re in your favorite dairy aisle, stare at the yogurt case for half a second and marvel at the stunning variety. Greek yogurt’s seen a surge in recent years, and it holds a prevalent place among classic fruit-on-the-bottom or stirred iterations. But look closer and you’ll also find yogurts boosted with probiotics, Icelandic yogurt, and yogurts made from sheep’s or goat’s milk.
What you won’t see, however, is a lot of savory yogurt, since the dairy product is still most commonly matched with sweets and fruit. And that makes the new offering from locavore high priest Dan Barber and his crew at Blue Hill particularly compelling: The two-restaurant group and farm just unveiled a line-up of veggie-imbued yogurts at area Whole Foods stores.
The line, explains culinary affairs VP Adam Kaye, grew out of something Blue Hill was already doing: “This is nothing new to the kitchen,” he explains. “We’ve been making plain yogurts for years, and we started making vegetable yogurts three or four years ago.” He cites one particular amuse that paired a beet yogurt to a savory granola.
Blue Hill has also “been dabbling with retail for awhile,” Kaye says, including a partnership last year with Williams-Sonoma. But when the team began exploring how it might expand that push, yogurt became a natural fit, and not just because of the culinary legacy.”Blue Hill, Dan and David Barber’s late grandmother’s farm, was a dairy operation,” Kaye explains. “We brought it back to life as a dairy operation. It was a good way to connect the dots.”
It was also a good way to play on the Blue Hill ethos, since the purees used to flavor the yogurts are a good way to preserve local produce at its peak and offer a taste of New York vegetables year-round. The team is working with a number of local farmers on sourcing, and it’s buying milk from grass-fed cows from Hudson Valley dairies.
Once the group had settled on the concept, it got to work nailing down flavors in an effort to debut with three or four strong vegetable-based staples. The beet, given the restaurant’s history, was a shoe-in; the flavor is made with beet puree plus raspberry vinegar, which heightens the yogurt’s sweetness. Playing on the success of using root vegetables, Blue Hill worked with carrots next, ultimately settling on a recipe that uses carrots cooked in carrot juice, which, says Kaye, makes a flavor that’s “carrots to the nth degree.” Third came butternut squash enriched with maple and clove, and finally, the team worked on tomato, which proved immensely challenging.
“Tomatoes are high acidity,” Kaye explains. “We were adding too much acid to an acidified product, and it was curdling the yogurt.” The answer was to scale back quantity of the puree in the yogurt, dialing it down to just 5 percent of the finished product (combined with almost 30 percent in the other varieties).
The tomato, incidentally, was our favorite when we tasted the line–equal parts tart and sweet and velvety in texture, it reminded us a bit of a yogurt version of warming tomato soup. Beet, we found, was most similar in flavor profile to a fruit-based yogurt because it tended toward sweet with a nice acidic edge.
Kaye says Blue Hill will continue to work on more flavors–though nothing green for the time being since the line is food dye-free and green vegetables turn brown when they go through this whole process–and will eventually add both year-round varieties and seasonal one-offs to the collection.
And the local focus extends into scaled production: The flavoring purees are now made in Kingston, and the yogurt itself is crafted at Maple Hill Creamery in Stuyvesant.
You can find the yogurts at area Whole Foods, and Kaye says distribution will extend throughout the Northeast in the coming weeks.