Friday, March 23, 2007

Woodstock Water Buffalo Yogurt

One-word verdict: Thick.

The backstory: People tend to make a big deal about super-thick yogurts, but I’m not sure I see what all the fuss is about. I’ve been hearing raves about strained, Greek-style yogurts like Fage for a while. But possibly even more head-over-heels are the reviewers in these articles and some commenters on this recent Chowhound thread about the “ricotta-like” texture of Woodstock Water Buffalo Milk Yogurt, a curiosity from Vermont that I’d been eyeing on the shelves of Whole Foods for a while.

Why hadn’t I tried it sooner? In short, because it’s high in saturated fat and expensive. But when it went on sale recently for $1.25 a (6-ounce) cup, I decided to see for myself what the hype was all about. I had been hoping to give the Chai flavor a shot, but it was sold out so I went with the next-most-original flavor I could find—Vermont Black Currant—and a cup of Vermont Maple.

Nutrition: The covers of Woodstock’s yogurt cups say "super premium," and as with ice creams bearing the same claim, they contain about twice as much saturated fat as your standard product: 5-6 grams sat fat (5 in the maple, 6 in the black currant) per 6-ounce cup. The sugar content isn’t bad: 15 grams sugar in the maple, 18 grams in the black currant. There were 163 calories in the black currant and 170 calories in the maple, which seems typical for the line, though some flavors (like chai) break the 200-calorie barrier.

Apparently the stuff is naturally high in calcium (22% daily value) but the black currant flavor was also weirdly high in sodium (185 mg). According to the Woodstock website, none of the other flavors top 100 mg sodium per cup, so I don't really know what's going on here. (Are black currants salty?)

Well, how is it? Did I mention thick? This stuff is really, really thick. Despite the reviews I’d read and the “No Need to Stir” warning on the lid, I still wasn’t quite prepared for a texture that you could practically slice into rounds like a tube of polenta.

I jest, but only a little bit. You could turn this stuff upside down and none of it would fall out of the cup. As for the ricotta comparison, I would say that it’s smoother and a bit thicker than ricotta cheese, but not too far off.

I'm dwelling a lot on the texture because it’s really the most arresting thing about the yogurt. The flavors are incredibly mild—not bland, but pretty subtle. The black currant flavor—which intrigued me because you usually only see black-currant-flavored things in Europe—was a little sweet but not too exciting (and contained no fruit pieces, it was all pureed in). I preferred the maple flavor, which, despite containing less sugar, tasted more unabashedly desserty. It actually reminded me a bit of kulfi, the dense Indian ice cream, so I can only imagine that the Chai flavor must be really kulfi-esque. I'll have to keep an eye out for it. Anyway, I could see myself potentially carving the maple flavor into some fun shapes and serving it on top of fresh berries for a fancy dessert more than I could see myself buying cups for daily consumption.

Back to the texture again, I noticed from the ingredients list that most flavors contain some "Vermont spring water." Well, if this is buffalo yogurt (buffalogurt?) in its diluted state, it must really be bricklike to start with! (Not surprisingly, the company also makes cheese.) I'd actually venture to suggest that they could dilute this yogurt even more, which would also help bring down the sat fat and calorie count.

Where’s it made? South Woodstock, VT (260 miles from NYC).

Processing/Earth-friendliness: The container is your yogurt standard: #5 plastic. The source of this yogurt is a herd of water buffalo on one 250-acre farm. They are not treated with rBGH and live in a “free stall barn complex.” Whether they graze or are treated with antibiotics isn’t clear from the company website, but I have e-mailed them to ask (until then, I'll give them half-credit for animal friendliness).

Interestingly, in reading an article to try to find out more about the animals on said farm, I discovered that “water buffalo” are not the buffalo native to North America—in fact they are a whole other species, actually native to India and Southeast Asia! (But before you get all up in arms about it, keep in mind that cows and sheep and goats are all introduced species in North America, too...just less recently introduced.)

Ingredient notes: The ingredients lists for these yogurts are nice and short (cultured milk, fruit puree and sugar [or maple syrup and natural maple flavor], spring water, and 5 live active cultures). No preservatives, and definitely no thickeners needed! However, weirdly, it seems like the company is trying to make said list look a lot longer than it actually is by padding each ingredient with about five adjectives ("pasteurized, homogenized, cultured whole water buffalo milk...Vermont black currant puree/maple syrup...Vermont spring water...natural milled sugar...”). Then they spell out all five live active cultures they use, genus and species (and in one case, subspecies). Whew! Are they trying to make their yogurt look more complicated than it is?

Embrace the simplicity, my friends—it’s the best thing you’ve got going for your yogurt! (Contrary to what you may believe about the selling power of the word “Vermont”…lucky your farm’s not in New Jersey, huh?)

Price: Regularly $1.69 a cup at my local NYC Whole Foods, I got the stuff on sale for $1.25...which, sorry, is still pretty pricey.

The bottom line: I appreciate the lack of hormones, thickeners, and preservatives in this yogurt and, joking aside, the company's apparent commitment to sourcing a lot of ingredients local to its Vermont farm. Neither the texture nor the flavors I tried really did it for me, but it's not like they were by any stretch bad. But I've got to say that, at its current price and saturated fat levels, I won’t be rushing to buy this product again.


Vermont Black Currant:
taste: 2.5; texture: 2; sugar: 1; no thickeners/preservatives: 2; naturally sweetened: 1; animal friendliness: 0.5
TOTAL = 9/20

Vermont Maple:
taste: 3.5; texture: 2; sugar: 2; no thickeners/preservatives: 2; naturally sweetened: 1; animal friendliness: 0.5
TOTAL = 11/20

Link: Woodstock Water Buffalo Yogurt.


NYHH said...

Fattening and expensive? Count me in! I mean, wait.

Also, can you review my fave yogurt, the pink grapefruit one? I utterly love it, but I would like to know how awful for me and the environment it is....

TD said...

Emmi Swiss Pink Grapefruit 'Gurt is totally in the queue--in fact, a review is already in the works. Stay tuned. =)