Taste buds give you the ability to taste things, while “taste buds” are food items that commonly go well together. For instance, there’s peanut butter and jelly: a go to lunch for hungry kids. Bacon and eggs: the classic American breakfast. Burgers and fries: an equally classic American lunch. Coffee and paximathia (a semi-sweet cookie): the breakfast choice for Greeks. Peas and carrots: peas and carrots? Well yes, remember how Forrest Gump said that he and Jenny “goes together like peas and carrots”?
There’s also salt and pepper, steak and potatoes, pita bread and tzatziki sauce, milk and cookies—the list never ends. We’ve all tried different “taste buds” during our lives. During my visits to Greece, I discovered my favorite “taste bud” of all: Greek yogurt and honey.
Greek yogurt is healthy, creamy, thick and rich. Just a drizzle of sweet honey on top will cause your taste buds to scream for more. Yogurt has been made for thousands of years in many cultures, so let’s thank whoever originally thought that consuming spoiled animal’s milk was a good idea. It was a brilliant idea. Now, in the last decade or so, Greek yogurt has skyrocketed in popularity and dominated the dairy sections in grocery stores worldwide. Basically, the difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt is thickness and fat content—Greek yogurt is strained multiple times to remove the liquid whey in order to make it thicker than regular yogurt, which also creates a nutritional difference between the two (in bulk, Greek yogurt has more protein, fewer carbohydrates, and more fat). It’s easy to find dozens of Greek yogurt options these days as many manufacturers have been putting “Greek” on their yogurt labels to join the obsession—but don’t let the label fool you.
You won’t be fooled by the authentic Greek yogurt brand Fage. It’s the closest you’ll find to yogurt that’s served throughout Greece in an American store. The only downside to Fage or any other store bought yogurt—especially Greek yogurt is the price. And, if you’re like our family, Greek yogurt is constantly in your fridge, meaning your wallet is always going through a straining process. Although you can quickly pick up yogurt from the dairy aisle, making Greek yogurt on your own is just as simple and definitely much more rewarding—plus you’ll be getting more bang for your buck.
For just the price of one gallon of milk (average of $3), you can make your own giant bowl of Greek yogurt and triple the amount you’ll get from one container of store bought yogurt. Fair warning though—after you make your first batch of Greek yogurt, you’ll be getting weekly requests to make it for friends and family.
My recipe for Greek yogurt comes from the Louie Katsanevas family (a family that seems to populate a quarter of the Greek population in Utah). In the mid-1950’s, nine Katsanevas brothers and sisters immigrated to Utah from Greece. Just one brother, George, decided to stay back in their family’s xorio (village) of Kampous, Crete—a small but beautiful mountainous village outside of Chania, Crete. I met George in his xorio during the summer of 2014 with my cousin Chris Metos, who is a Katsanevas on his mother’s side. George was extremely humble and generous, and during our one-day visit, he probably fixed us four different and filling Greek meals.
When I was certain if I took one more bite of anything I’d turn into Violet Beauregard from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and would have to be rolled out of the xorio, George brought out his homemade Greek yogurt. My eyes lit up. It was perfect. In my broken Greek I told him I wanted to learn how to make Greek yogurt just like him, and in his broken English, he told me his family in Utah makes it just the same and to learn from them.
As we left the village of Kampous, George made sure my suitcase was stuffed with Cretan honey. My taste buds were very pleased to have had George’s homemade Greek yogurt and honey.
My favorite “taste bud” combination after Greek yogurt and honey is burger and fries. I typically get that fix at Utah’s famous burger chain, Crown Burger, owned by the Katsanevas family. One day as I was eating a jalapeno burger and fries and nearly two years after meeting George, in walked Louie Katsanevas. He invited me to sit down with his daughter Mary and that’s when I knew I finally had the chance to ask him for his family recipe.
Louie was overjoyed to share and proud to learn I had been long seeking his recipe. The Katsanevas method of making Greek yogurt is easy. He didn’t have to show me how to make it; he simply got out a pen and paper and had me write down the steps as he explained the process. Louie explained that Greek yogurt is easily adjusted based on the consistency you prefer. If you like a runnier Greek yogurt, strain less. If you prefer Greek yogurt more on the thicker side like me, strain more. Test it out and find what you like, and you’ll soon be running to the dairy aisle only to stop for gallons of milk to make your own batch of Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt and honey is delicious on its own, but you can add even more pals, such as walnuts, fresh or dried fruits or granola to combine with these “taste buds” for even more tasty flavors.
* Below I have two methods for making Greek yogurt. One is the one from Louie Katsanevas, and the other is the one I now use based on Louie’s recipe. *
-1 Gallon whole milk
-3 Tablespoons Fage Greek Yogurt or other plain yogurt as your starter
1. Pour milk into a large pot, and bring to a boil.
2. As soon as the milk boils, take off heat and pour into a large glass bowl.
3. Let cool for 10-15 minutes. Using a thermometer, let the liquid cool to 130 degrees.
4. Stir in the 3 tablespoons of yogurt starter. (After your first homemade batch, you can use your homemade yogurt as your starter).
5. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and put a blanket or towel over the whole bowl to keep warm, and place on your counter at room temperature or in the oven with nothing but a light on.
6. After letting the yogurt sit for 20-24 hours, uncover bowl.
7. Wet a large dishtowel and squeeze out until damp then place on top of the yogurt to absorb the whey.
8. Every 2-3 hours, remove the towel and squeeze out the liquid, and replace the towel back on top of the yogurt. Repeat 4-5 times depending on the thickness you want.
9. Check with a spoon or fork for desired thickness.
10. Once the desired thickness is met, refrigerate and enjoy!
*Shortcut: After the yogurt sits for 12-24 hours, line a strainer with cheesecloth and pour the yogurt into the strainer to remove excess whey. Keep in the refrigerator until desired thickness.
Dedicated to George Katsanevas, who passed away January 4, 2016. May his memory be eternal.
-1 Gallon whole milk
-2 Tablespoons Fage Greek Yogurt or other plain yogurt as your starter
-1 cup water
1. Pour water into a large pot, and bring to a boil. Add the one-gallon of milk.
2. Cook on medium heat for approximately 30 minutes, or until temperature reaches 180 degrees.
3. Take off heat and pour into a large glass bowl. Let the milk cool to 118 degrees (approximately 90 minutes).
4. Stir in the 2 tablespoons of yogurt starter. (After your first homemade batch you can use your homemade yogurt as your starter).
5. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and put a blanket or towel over the whole bowl to keep warm, and place on your counter at room temperature or in the oven with nothing but a light on for 20-24 hours.
6. Pour liquid into a milk bag to strain or a few layers of cheesecloth in a colander. Strain in the fridge for 6-8 hours or to the thickness you prefer your yogurt. The longer you strain, the thicker the yogurt will be.
7. Once you’ve reached the desired thickness, enjoy your yogurt plain or top with honey or fruit!