Today, the yogurt section of the grocery store is one of the most overwhelming areas, flush with cups of Greek and Icelandic, of whole milk and 0% fat, of Swiss-style and goat milk, of fruit-flavored and drinkable.
But when Angela Fout came to the the U.S. as a fourteen-year-old in 1983, choices were limited, if not non-existent. Having grown up eating salted yogurt with cucumbers and tomatoes in her home country of Lebanon, she couldn't find a good yogurt product (let alone a savory one) stateside.
So she learned how to prepare her own yogurt, following her mother's instruction as dictated over the phone, straight from Lebanon. And now, over thirty years later, she's still making her family's very old, proprietary recipe—but now, she's doing it for a living, running Sohha Savory Yogurt with her husband, John. "We were smart in the beginning," Angela told me, "to focus on savory yogurts, to name ourselves Sohha Savory Yogurt. No one did savory yogurt when we started."
While there may be more savory yogurts on the market, Angela explains what makes Sohha special: It's made by hand and strained using cheesecloth—a 36-hour process. (Others, Angela says, use machines for straining, or add in thickeners or powdered milk.) And, since the best-quality yogurt starts with the best-quality milk, Angela spent a year researching dairy producers to find local milk from healthy cows that's not ultra-pasteurized.
Recently, Sohha Savory Yogurt moved out of their 10- by 10-foot stand at Chelsea Market in Manhattan and into a bigger space further uptown (if you're familiar with NYC geography, it's on 123rd and Amsterdam, right near Columbia University).
In addition to a yogurt bar, where there's a choice of toppings both sweet and savory, you'll find pita wraps, parfaits, salads (topped with dollops of yogurt, of course), smoothies, and lassis—as well as ayran (a cold yogurt drink made of yogurt, water, and salt), Turkish coffee, baklava, and caramels and soap, made not from yogurt but from the whey that comes from straining it.
Whey caramels (left) and whey soap (right)
If you can't make it to the Sohha storefront in near future, you can experiment with making your own yogurt—Angela reassured me that no two homemade yogurts are alike, and that yogurt-makers will figure out the techniques that work best for them.
Top your batch with Sohha's spice blends—dry or oil-packed—and eat it just like that, or spread it on toast, mix it into to pastas and salad dressings, or dollop into marinades, shakshuka, or scrambled eggs for a rich tanginess.
A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.