One of our favorite aspects of Bulgaria’s tasty cuisine is its yogurt, which is appreciated worldwide due to its health benefits and creamy texture. In Kalofer, a village nestled in the mountains of central Bulgaria, our wonderful hosts, Tony and Stefan, taught us how to make yogurt (Кисело мляко, or kiselo mlyako). The couple’s infant son, Iliya, also lent enthusiasm, in this sleepy town where it’s not uncommon to see sheep, goats, and cows freely grazing among the half-timbered brick barns and wildflowers.
It’s believed that the people of the Balkans have been making yogurt for more than three millennia. Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, the bacteria responsible for making Bulgaria’s prized yogurt, is appreciated as far away as Japan and China. Bulgarian yogurt dominates about 60% of the Japanese market and many believe that the yogurt is rich in probiotics (good bacteria) which aid in digestion.
As good as commercial Bulgarian yogurt is, it cannot compare to the homemade variety that we made with Tony & Stefan, which was rich, tangy, and creamier than its commercial cousins. When I asked Tony and Stefan their favorite recipes in which to incorporate yogurt made from their recipe (below), they said that they like eating it plain. When we tasted it, we agreed.
With commercial Bulgarian varieties of yogurt, we have grown quite fond of scooping a cup of the white goodness, then blending it with walnuts and honey (or a dollop of the homemade apricot or pair preserves we’d been given by locals).
However you enjoy yours, Добър апетит! (Dobãr apetit!)
1. Purchase milk. Tony and Stefan bought sheep’s milk from a dairy farm in Kalofer. The traditional process is to BYOB = ‘bring your own bottle’. The cost for roughly 1.5 liters of sheep milk was 3 Bulgarian Lev ($2 USD or €1,50).
2. Boil the milk in a double boiler. Let milk cool until warm. An easy test, Tony explained, was to put a pinky finger into the milk. If your finger can rest inside for a few seconds without feeling as though it’ll burn, the milk has cooled enough.
3. Remove the surface cream, which is similar to a light butter, from the pan, dividing it into roughly-equal amounts and placing one dollop into each jar.
4. Use ready-made Bulgarian yogurt as a starter culture. Combine about 2 Tablespoons of room-temperature yogurt into a bowl, along with about one cup of the sheep’s milk. Stir.
Tony pointed out that people who regularly make Bulgarian yogurt have their own starter culture in a jar, but she used a commercial container of yogurt. If you’re not in Bulgaria, an online search will show companies selling Bulgarian yogurt culture starters.
5. Evenly blend the sheep’s milk and starter/sheep milk combination. Then spoon the mixture into the jars. Cover them with lids.
6. Wrap the jars in a blanket or two to keep them warm. Let the covered jars stand overnight – about 8 hours.
7. In the morning, it’s time to refrigerate, then enjoy the yogurt.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.