Editor's Note: Amelia Natural French Style Yogurt obtains the milk it uses from local Oklahoma sources. The story has been edited to reflect this.
If you want to have an authentic taste of France, the best place to start may be in Nowata.
That is where Tony and Maria Barros settled with their family in 1994, with the goal of starting a beef cattle ranch.
However, the difficulty of finding the sort of yogurt they enjoyed prompted the family to make its own. At first, the recipe — which had been a part of Maria Barros’ family for generations — was made strictly for family consumption.
Before long, the family was constructing a facility on its property to handle mass production, and in 2017, Amélia Natural French Style Yogurt went on the market.
It’s one of the many “international” styles of yogurt that are showing up more and more in the dairy sections of local markets. One can find yogurts ranging from the thin and tangy Bulgarian-style yogurt to the dense, almost ice cream-like Icelandic style known as “skyr” (pronounced SKEER).
What makes Amélia yogurt French is the process by which it is made, said Jenefier Wickham, the company’s general manager.
“Mr. Barros is a pilot, and he travels to France about once a month,” Wickham said. “He studied with craftsmen there to learn how to make this particular style of yogurt, and we copy that process here. It makes for a very creamy yogurt that isn’t as sour or as tangy as some other products. People say it’s more like a dessert.”
The yogurt is made with milk obtained from local sources.
Amélia yogurt is also unique in that it comes in a small ceramic pot, which helps preserve its flavor and texture.
Yogurt is a relatively simple product — just milk, or a mixture of milk and cream, to which has been added bacterial cultures (one of which, according the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, must be streptococcus thermophilus — other strains are used to develop particular flavors and textures). The mixture is heated to remove some of the moisture and help it to thicken.
Some variations are later strained to remove excess whey, resulting in a thicker, almost pasty texture, while other styles leave the whey in the yogurt for a smoother, pudding-like texture.
Yogurt started coming to prominence in the United States in the 1960s as part of the “health food” craze of the time, and soon, manufacturers were adding sweeteners and fruit to appeal to American tastes.
Greek-style yogurt, which is strained of its whey, began showing up in American grocery stores in the mid-2000s, although TV chef Graham Kerr, who in the 1990s put away the foolishness of his “Galloping Gourmet” days to focus on healthier cooking, extolled the virtues of what he termed “yogurt cheese.” That was his term for plain strained yogurt that he then used for low-fat, low-calorie dips, sandwich spreads and salad dressings. (Kerr recommended adding the drained whey to grains and beans to create a complete protein.)
Skyr is the Icelandic version of yogurt. Like Greek yogurt, it is a strained product that traditionally uses skim milk to make a dense, intensely tangy and lightly sweetened yogurt. Lomah Dairy in Wyandotte makes what it calls “yoski,” which uses full-fat milk rather than skim.
It may seem odd that Oklahoma is the home of a French-style yogurt, but the fact is all “international” yogurts on the market in the United States are made in the United States.
The “Aussie” style of yogurt marketed under the brand Wallaby is made in California, while Icelandic Provisions’ skyr yogurt is manufactured in New York City. Oui, a French-style yogurt from Yoplait, may have its roots in France, but it’s made in the U.S.A.
In a sample of five different styles of yogurt — American, Greek, Australian, French and Icelandic — the most interesting and flavorful were two very different styles.
Tasters especially enjoyed the subtle sweetness and the creamy texture of Amelia Natural French Style and were pleasantly surprised by the pungent aroma and the smooth yet firm texture of Icelandic Provisions’ skyr.
Icelandic Provisions can be found at local Whole Foods, while Amélia products are available at stores throughout Oklahoma.
“Things have really taken off over the past two years,” Wickham said. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to grow at a pace that we’ve been able to control. But it’s our goal to go nationwide in the near future.”
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