The renowned Greek physician Galen wrote about the beneficial health effects of yogurt back in the 2nd century A.D. It took nearly 1,800 years before Americans turned it into a health-food staple. While such old standbys as Dannon and Yoplait continue to feed most of the yogurt demand, offbeat yogurts--many of them made from different kinds of milk--have been popping up on gourmet and health-food store shelves. One longtime favorite of yogurt aficionados--the Greek-made Total, which has both cow's-milk and sheep's-milk varieties--was introduced in New York City ethnic groceries in 2000; sales have since doubled, and the yogurt has just been introduced in supermarkets nationwide.
We gathered a group of yogurt lovers to test some of the specialty brands that are trying to wean consumers off cow's milk. Here's what we found:
SHEEP'S MILK Compared with standard cow's-milk yogurts, we thought sheep's-milk yogurt was thin. Old Chatham Sheepherding Company's full-fat plain yogurt was not very creamy--it tasted almost watery--and had a sharp, tangy flavor.
SOY MILK The soy-based yogurts we tried--Whole Soy and Silk, in plain and vanilla flavors--were chalky, gritty and sour, with a chemical aftertaste. You might go for them, but a typical reaction from one of our testers was "awful."
GOAT'S MILK Can be hard to find because it's a seasonal product. And we had a tough time locating the plain variety; it's usually flavored with vanilla, maple syrup or fruit. It is lower in fat than cow's-milk or sheep's-milk yogurt--and it tastes like it. Redwood Hill Farm's vanilla-flavored yogurt was the best of the lot: it had a smooth, light texture but was excessively sweet.
COW'S MILK We discovered the old standbys are still best. The low-fat (2%) version of cow's-milk Total was creamy and cheesy, with a strong, Brie-like taste--in general, yummy. We found Dannon's low-fat yogurt pretty good--smooth with a mild, inoffensive taste. But if you don't care about calories or fat, our overall favorite was Brown Cow's Cream Top whole-milk yogurt. It was thick and creamy, with a full, tangy--but not too sharp--flavor. As one tester put it: "perfect."