Cindy DeCarolis

A Tale of Two Yogurts

Last summer I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Italy with my husband and his family. We spent some time on the Amalfi Coast and in Florence and Rome. However, the bulk of our time was spent in the Umbria Region, where we were joined by my husband’s Italian cousins. There were 18 of us all staying at Villa Spaccini E Sensi, where we were well cared for by our hosts, Gianluca Spaccini and Stefania Sensi.

It goes without saying that the food in Italy was fabulous. But the best meals we had were those prepared for us by Stefania. She is an immensely talented chef who puts so much intention, care, and love into her craft.

Every morning before we embarked on the day’s adventures, Stefania prepared a huge spread for breakfast. The kids ate pancakes or waffles with Nutella (in Italy Nutella has more hazelnuts and less sugar than the American version) there were freshly baked pastries, homemade bread toasted with butter, eggs, and, of course, espresso.

My favorite treat at Stefania’s breakfast table was her homemade yogurt. She makes the yogurt with milk from the cows on their farm and then strains it – she saves the whey to use in her baked goods, which I have to say were scrumptious. Stefania’s yogurt was the thickest, creamiest, most delicious yogurt I ever tasted. Every morning I ate yogurt topped with a spoonful of Stefania’s homemade apricot or cherry preserves – sooo delicious!

Now, I have never really cared for yogurt. In my twenties and thirties, I would periodically go through a phase of thinking I needed to eat yogurt because it was so heavily marketed as a “healthy” food. In reality, typical yogurt you find in an American supermarket is full of additives and sugars. After a week or two I would ask myself why I was eating something I disliked so much and stop eating yogurt.

However, after eating it in Italy I started to occasionally crave yogurt. Not being up to the task of making my own yogurt, I began searching for a yogurt that would come close to Stefania’s. And I have found the holy grail of yogurts. North Country Creamery in Keeseville, New York is a 100% grass-fed, Non-GMO, & Animal Welfare Approved dairy. The only ingredients in their yogurt are pasteurized whole milk and three live cultures: L bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, and L acidophilus.

In his book Food, What the Heck Should I Eat? Dr. Mark Hyman states that probiotic-rich dairy like kefir and yogurt, from grass-fed cows and without added sugar, are healthy additions to your diet. “Cows that graze on their natural diet of grass produce milk (and meat) with a better composition of fats and nutrients than cows that are fed corn, soy, and grains” Dr. Hyman goes on to explain that organic dairy is somewhere in the middle. “But grass-fed is still best. It contains not only the best ratio of the essential fatty acids, but also the highest levels of carotene, vitamin A, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid,) which has beneficial effects on metabolism.”

To get the thick, creamy texture I enjoyed in Italy I strain the yogurt by lining a strainer with cheesecloth or paper towel and placing the strainer over a large bowl. Then pour the yogurt into the strainer and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, lift the liner out of the strainer and turn it over a clean bowl – the yogurt will fall right off your cheesecloth or paper towel into the bowl. If you bake you can refrigerate the whey and use it in place of the liquid called for in recipes for more moisture and richness.

I don’t have Stefania’s preserves, but one of the best things about summer in upstate New York is the abundance of fresh, juicy, sweet summer fruits. Among my favorites are strawberries, cherries, and peaches. This morning I sliced fresh peaches from the Brighton Farmers Market and sprinkled them with McCormick’s organic cinnamon. For lunch I am having the yogurt and peaches topped with raw walnuts and a sprinkle of Bob’s Red Mill unsweetened and unsulfured coconut.

North Country Creamery overlooks Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. My husband and I order the yogurt through the Headwater Food Hub in Ontario and pick it up on Wednesdays at The Harley School. To find it in your area check out your local food co-ops.

If you are planning a trip to the Umbria Region of Italy, I cannot say enough about what a delightful stay we had at Villa Spaccini E Sensi with Stefania and Gianluca.

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