Home » The Secret of Bulgarian Yogurt
Food & Drinks General News Global News News

The Secret of Bulgarian Yogurt

Bacteria to optimize digestion and extend life? Here’s the story of an ancient superfood and what makes it so special: Bulgarian yogurt.

Narrow, winding roads pass through thick forests cloaked in heavy fog that is both cool and seemingly impenetrable. The drive to northwestern Bulgaria is not for those prone to carsickness. But though the area may be one of the economically poorest in the European Union, it’s rich in stories, like that of goatherd Dimitar Vitanov.

“I’m actually a bookkeeper by trade, but I decided to help my father on our little goat farm here in the village. It’s less stressful and hectic in the countryside than in the city, although the work is physically more demanding. But I have considerably fewer worries, I have peace and quiet, I feel better — I can’t really describe it,” says Vitanov, who is in his mid-40s. He says he and his father have 130 goats.

When Vitanov isn’t making cheese and other goat milk products in his small dairy, he spends the day with the goats on surrounding meadows. “Sometimes I take a little radio along,” he says. “But sometimes I forget to take it, and then I spend the hours alone with nature, the animals, and that’s it.”

On some days, a neighbor from the village takes the goats out to graze while Dimitar Vitanov and his father make cheese — a white feta-like variety called Sirene and a yellow cheese called Kaschkaval. “We have to carry out the process in a very precise manner,” says Vitanov, explaining each step of cheesemaking in careful and minute detail.

Every Wednesday, he drives to the capital Sofia, where a farmers’ market is held in the city center. It’s an effort that’s paying off. “We can’t keep up with demand for our products,” says Vitanov. “People even come out to the farm to buy our products!”

He says their goat-milk yogurt is especially popular. The reason for that is simple, says Vitanov: “It helps you live longer and cures illness,” he claims. But is that really true?

Bulgaria’s bacterial cultures 

So what makes Bulgarian yogurt so special? It lies in the tiny microorganisms, bacterial cultures, which occur naturally in milk and which are native, and specific, to Bulgaria.

In 1905, Bulgarian scientist Stamen Grigorov analyzed the composition of yogurt from his home country. He brought a traditional Bulgarian clay pot called rukatka, filled with homemade yogurt, from his village to his lab at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, to analyze it as part of his microbiology research. He soon isolated and identified the lactic acid bacterium responsible for allowing milk to ferment and become yogurt.

Grigorov’s research into the exact composition of yogurt was continued by the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Elie Metchnikoff, who was born in Kharkiv Oblast in what is now Ukraine. In his book, “The Prolongation of Life,” published in 1908, Metchnikoff established a connection: Bulgarian farmers who consumed large amounts of this yogurt also tended to live longer.

That sealed the reputation of Bulgarian yogurt, which in the following decades enjoyed great popularity and rivaled other well-known yogurts, such as the one from Greece.

There’s a fundamental difference between Greek and Bulgarian yogurt. Greek yogurt is put through a sieve, resulting in its creamy, mild consistency. The Bulgarian variety is tart and somewhat firm because it is not strained. Thus the whey, which contains high-quality protein and minerals, is preserved.

Source : DW