Yogurt, a Turkish word, is a semisolid cultured or fermented milk containing the bacteria Bacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These organisms present in the “starter,” given warmth, will ferment whole or skimmed fresh milk overnight.
Yogurt may have been known by the ancients Greeks as pyriate. Andrew Dalby, who wrote an important study on classical Greek gastronomy, argues that the Greek physician Galen (c. 130 -- c. 200) was correct to identify this older term, pyriate, with the oxygala familiar in his own day, which was a form of yogurt and was eaten on its own or with honey. The first unequivocal description of yogurt is found in a Turkish dictionary called Divanu luga-i turk compiled by Kaşgarli Mahmut in 1072-73 during the Seljuk era in the Middle East (1038-1194).
Yogurt spread rapidly throughout the Levant, but it hardly penetrated the western and northern Mediterranean. The use of yogurt was first recorded in France in the sixteenth century, when it was said to have cured the ailing King Francis I. The yogurt was administered daily by a Jewish doctor who had traveled on foot from Constantinople accompanied by a flock of sheep, and that was the last France saw of yogurt until the nineteenth century.
The Turks are far more picky about yogurt than Americans, and as a result one finds very high-quality yogurt in Turkey. Most yogurt is made from cow’s milk, with some made from sheep’s milk, while goat’s milk yogurt is rare in Turkey. Yogurt is a staple food in the Middle East and is now ubiquitous in the United States, where very high-quality yogurt can occasionally be found.
1 quart whole cow’s milk, preferably fresh and un-homogenized
3 tablespoons high-quality full-fat plain yogurt
1. In a medium-size heavy saucepan, bring the milk to a gentle boil over medium heat, making sure you do not scald the bottom of the pot. Once the milk is shimmering on the surface, simmer for 2 minutes. Pour the milk into a large mixing bowl and let cool until you can keep your little finger submerged in it to a count of 10.
2. Stir a few tablespoons of the hot milk into the yogurt and then quickly stir this back into the hot milk. Cover the bowl and leave overnight, wrapped in a wool blanket or inside a turned-off oven. The next morning you will have homemade yogurt that will keep for a week. You can save some of this homemade yogurt as your starter for the next batch.
Note: To make strained yogurt (labna in Arabic; süzme yoğurt in Turkish) pour the yogurt into a linen towel or several layers of cheesecloth, tie off, and hang from a kitchen sink faucet to drain overnight. In the Middle East strained yogurt is used as a breakfast spread for Arabic bread, served as a dip for hot foods, or is eaten plain with some olive oil or honey.Makes 1 quart