For students of the great 21st-century Greek-yogurt boom, all recorded time can be neatly divided into two dairy-defining epochs: BT and AT. Before Total, the pioneering crossover Greek-style yogurt, we subsisted on fruit-on-the-bottom and Frenchy custard styles. After Total infiltrated Manhattan supermarket shelves, in 1998, everything changed.
Suddenly, yogurt connoisseurs demanded heft and density, mouth-coating creaminess, high-protein-low-carb nutritionals, and the unfamiliar tang that distinguishes so-called Greek yogurt, a product that’s traditionally strained to separate the whey from the cultured milk. Ten years after Total’s parent company, Fage, established an American foothold, it opened a processing plant in upstate New York, strategically close both to the state’s abundant dairy farms and to the home and office fridges of major urban centers. But by then, Fage had company: Chobani, launched by Turkish expat Hamdi Ulukaya in 2007, had already bought its own upstate plant, which now churns out a market-dominating one and a half million cases a week. While the runaway success of Chobani and Total has inspired every domestic wannabrand to launch its own Greco-sounding copycat (see Oikos, Eros, Athenos, ad infinitum), there has been another local consequence. A handful of New York dairy farmers have savvily started to manufacture their own “value-added” cheeses and yogurts, rather than simply sell all their milk at the going rate to megaprocessors. Out of this entrepreneurial spirit have come farmstead Greek-style yogurts from the likes of Argyle Cheese Farmer, Tonjes Farm Dairy, and Simply Greek (a sheep’s-milk sideline of the Mohawk Valley’s Maple Hill Creamery). To determine how they stack up against the major players, plus a couple of outer-borough specialists, we convened a panel of experts: the headstrong, tough-grading Turkish chef Orhan Yegen of Sip Sak and Bi Lokma, who considers “Greek yogurt” more a marketing gimmick than a bona fide foodstuff; Maria Loi, a.k.a. the Martha Stewart of Greece; and, as informal referee, the suave, diplomatic Eric Ripert, who begins each day with a tub of nonfat Fage, topped with nuts and honey.
Methodology: All yogurts were made in New York, unflavored, tasted blind, and ranked in order of collective preference.