Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tom Ashbrook, Kurt Timmermeister, WBUR and Home Made Yogurt (Madzoon)

Kurt Timermeister, Growing a Farmer: How I Leaned to Live Off the Land. NY, W. W. Norton, 2011
Growing up, I would always hear talk among the women, usually in Turkish and Armenian with a few words in English thrown in. . . one of the favorite subjects was where to go if your yogurt fails -- which dandigin (lady of the house) had the best magart (yogurt starter).   EVERYONE made their own madzoon in those days. (From here on, I will be using the word madzoon for yogurt, as madzoon is our Armenian word for yogurt.) There was no "store-bought" madzoon that I know of.  And I always thought that madzoon and magart, whoever made it, were all the same, chemically speaking, although I have to admit that my mother's madzoon tasted so good that I once described it to my elementary school friend as tasting like ice cream! (She was horrified when she tasted it and found that it tasted nothing like ice cream!)  Recently when I was talking about the woman on Dexter Avenue in Watertown who was famous for having the best magart in town, I was asked how one woman could have a starter that was any better than another?  I didn't know the answer, but I was soon to find out!

Reading Kurt Timmermeister's fascinating treatise On Growing a Farmer, (to which I was first introduced while listening to Tom Ashbrook's fascinating interview on WBUR, fascinating because Tom himself was brought up on a farm in the midwest,) I came upon a discussion of  how to make yogurt (madzoon). I was given pause when I read the following on page 146:
"The cultures that the milk is inoculated with vary, but are all variations of Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. The easiest way to find these cultures is in supermarket yogurt.  They are often listed on the container. The smallest producer is generally the best, although, surprisingly, not all are the same. As yogurt is a rather basic product, I expected all commercial yogurts to resemble one another.  I look for small regional Greek yogurts.  I get the best results with those.  The flavor and texture of the eventual yogurt depends on the specific cultures. The large national yogurts have so much going on in them that they scare me. Try a few different ones; it is surprising which you will enjoy and which you will eventually avoid."

So my mother, my grandmother, and my aunts WERE right and my memory had not failed me.  There are varying cultures, and the woman on Dexter Avenue really did have a culture that made the best yogurt.

Off to the supermarket to see for myself.  Chobani Greek Yogurt . . . there it was, and I decided to buy some to try my hand at making madzoon using Chobani Greek madzoon as magart.  And true to my hope, the madzoon that I produced using Chobani's magart was the thickest and sweetest madzoon I had ever made . . .

From Chobani's website:

Only natural ingredients. Free of preservatives and artificial flavors.
·      Free of synthetic growth hormones. (Milk from cows not treated with rBST)
·      Includes 5 live & active cultures, including 3 probiotics - L. Thermophilus,  L. Bulgaricus, (which are required by law in order to call the product yogurt), Lactobacillus Acidophilus,  Bifidus, and Lactobacillus Casei.  They note that they use milk from local dairy farms located within 15 miles of our plant.

I decided to research a bit more and learned the following.

STONYFIELD ORGANIC PLAIN WHOLE MILK YOGURT contains cultured pasteurized organic whole milk, pectin, vitamin D3, 6 live active cultures (which in tiny almost impossible to read print) are L. Thermophilus,  L. Bulgaricus,  L. Acidophhilus, Bifidus, L. Casei, L. Rhamnosus

BROWN COW YOGURT contains pasteurized milk, pectin, l. Thermophilus., L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus & Infidus.

DANNON contains l.acidophilus, s. thermophilus, l. bulgaricus

ACTIVIA contains bifidus regularis (exclusive to Activia), s. thermophilus, l. bulgaricus

DanActive,  which is a probiotic dairy drink and not considered yogurt, contains l. casei immunitas, s. thermophilus, and l. bulgaricus.

So there it is, folks.  Take your pick. Let me know which magart you decide to use, and if you have a local dandigin who can provide you with magart better than the store bought brands, I'd love to have some!

N.B. For directions on how to make madzoon, see Marash Girl's blog post: http://marashgirl.blogspot.com/2011/04/madzoon-yogurt-recipe.html


  1. mother's madzoon was the best, as was everything that came from the stirring of her soul and pots in the kingdom of her kitchen. what was especially fun, was drizzling clover honey, the first and lightest honey of the season, from our bee hives over the madzoon. when the maple syrup season arrived, to do the same. what a mom we had. it was the intensity of the contrast between the textures and the bitter/sweet, perfect as a repast while listening to the stories that ebbed and flowed from pambook jack, and his educated in five languages best friend who hated to cut hair and hated even more the customers who arrived to disturb his seance with ideas and novels and time and history and valleys and mountains of men and minds, van topalian, and his breathless, 'remarkable' before the gravity of life, hadgi and his woe, his weekly trip to the gravesite of his son, lost on a ship while fighting for the freedom sought by his parents fleeing from the turks and landing on the shores of the land of the free, charlie pambook and the loss of his innocence on the sands of iwo jima patiently and lovingly, and forgivingly responding to the wide eyed queries of the youngest boy in the household and his fascination with combat and soldiers, and heroes and action, harry mooseghian and the concrete block of darkness he hid in his soul from his flight from the turks as a teen age boy, encountering mountains of skeletons at riverside, and the stench that drowned out the perfume filled flowered ravines of the slaughterhouse province. and what towered above all that was the Eden of our home, an Eden that encompassed the realm of mother's kingdom and the realm of daddy's garden, orchard, and bee hives. it was this Eden that was the filter for all that had occurred before, was occurring then, and was to occur in the future.

  2. Speaking about "magart", I remember as a little girl, I would sometimes be sent by my mother to Digin Acabe's house. She had the best madzoon in the neighborhood and therefore would have the best magart. Growing up, yogurt was a big part of my life. It was always made in the same tan pottery bowl, then wrapped in a towel. Sometimes my father would make it and would let me have the "kepoog"(the cream on top). Yum............

    N.B. when I would make Turkish coffee, I would always try to get "kepoog" on top, the foamy layer on top that is usually considered a treat.