One is an anomaly, two is a signal, and three is a trend. We found three Norcal cheese makers taking a new path in milk-life-extension: yogurt. We tasted through cow, goat, and sheep yogurt offerings to help you decide what to consider for breakfast.
First up: Lactose-free cow-milk yogurt from Green Valley (Redwood Hill Farm's cow-milk brand). Then goat-milk based yogurts from Redwood Hill Farm and Sierra Nevada Cheese Company (under the Capretta label), and sheep-milk yogurt from Bellwether Farms.
Overall, the cow yogurts remained our favorites -- but this is certainly influenced by a palate accustomed to milk and yogurt of the bovine variety. Green Valley delivers quality and texture as good as any high-end/organic grocery store yogurts we've had, and surpassed most. The plain yogurt is creamy, smooth, thick, and almost hearty and fulfilling as a glass of Guinness. Among the various flavored offering, peach was our favorite.
TIP: For the most economical, environmental, and flavorful flavored yogurt, buy the plain in a full size container and mix in a spoonful of your favorite jam or honey in your own cup. If you don't have a favorite jam yet we have recommendations in the archives.
Among the plain goat-milk yogurts, we found the higher fat the less "goat-y" the flavor. Capretta offers no-fat, low-fat and full fat "original," and the intensity of gamey/goat notes increases significantly as you move past "Original." Original offers merely a tang of goat in the finish, while the Low Fat --with a strong, pronounced, gaminess of goat flavor -- tastes more like goat cheese than yogurt, and the Non Fat is almost overpowering.
When you move to flavored choices, in both Capretta and Redwood Hill the strawberry and blueberry flavors both mellow the goat notes significantly; 90% yogurt with jam, 10% goat, and are nice choices. Both goat houses provided excellent vanilla flavors. Capretta's vanilla, the best of all the goat-milk yogurts we tried, looks and smells like good vanilla bean ice cream - flecked and speckled with vanilla. The flavor of goat is barely noticeable, behind the meaningful flavor of vanilla bean, and comes through only modestly in the finish.
Vanilla-flavored yogurt seems to taste the most consistently like itself across the three milk sources. The potency of the vanilla (and kudos to the producers for using so much of this expensive ingredient in "real thing" form) neutralized much of the stronger notes of gaminess in both goat products and in the sheep milk.
For sheep's milk yogurt, we visited Whole Foods where we found just one: Bellwether Farms. Overall, there seems a reason that sheep milk isn't offered by multiple vendors on the yogurt aisle. These were by far our least favorite of the tasting, which was a surprise as Bellwether's Pepato is one of our favorite local cheeses -- a real crowd pleaser for party cheese boards. In general the sharp notes In the yogurt overpower the jams, including the strawberry and blueberry which worked so well with goat's milk. Even in the vanilla the character broke through to the point of distraction. If the sharp, tart, tangy elements of strong sheep cheese are what you're looking for in yogurt, we'd recommend the blackberry flavor.