It’s that time again: Local Food Month, cleverly timed to coincide with harvest season. Whenever I travel outside the local area I am reminded that we are so lucky to have access to food that hasn’t been shipped from a thousand miles away. You could spend an hour rummaging through a Publix or a Winn-Dixie in Florida and not find any local food at all. Here’s a link to the event listings and don’t forget to check out the “Red Carpet Premiere” Saturday night at the Eureka Theater which will feature food, films and fun. The Humboldt Made site has all the details and a link for ordering tickets in advance.
At the same time I’m relishing the local cheeses, jams etc I can’t help wondering why there’s no local source for a food I eat everyday, and a lot of you do too. I’m talking about YOGURT. It’s easy to make (we used to make it in our dorm room at Davis) and when In later years I had occasion to visit the Continental Culture Company in Altadena, I found that their operation wasn’t much more complicated. They had one building that was hot and humid, where the culturing took place, and another that was refrigerated for storage purposes. Later they became a huge company and I used to see their products all over Southern California, in health food stores. Now, they’re out of business, mourned by their fans a having been the only lactose-free yogurt available. I didn’t know there was such a thing.
I used to buy the 39c Lucerne yogurt, oblivious to its mushy texture and lack of flavor but then, like a lot of you, I discovered Chobani and got hooked on its heft and chalkiness. Chobani retails locally at Winco for about a buck and at Murphy’s for $1.50 or so. So my 39c investment has become at least a dollar. Chobani was in the news this morning for contamination problems in its Idaho plant. Their growth has been spectacular. The Economist has a very interesting account in its August 31st issue of how Hamdi Ulukaya, a son of Kurdish immigrants in Turkey, bought an 85-year-old yogurt factory in upstate New York in 2005. This year he will sell more than $1B , a healthy chunk of America’s $6.3B market. The company is changing; Mr Ulukaya is hiring a COO and a new ad agency.
So what’s the difference between “Greek” yogurt and any other? Greek yogurt is strained to remove the whey, the watery liquid that separates out during the process, leaving more protein than in the supermarket stuff, in fact about twice as much. No, I don’t own stock in the company. Mr. Ulukaya retains sole ownership.
So what is stopping some Redwood Coast entrepreneur from entering this market? We have the dairy infrastructure, the marketing image of green fields and free-roaming herds and a population that would probably support a local yogurt if one were available. It seems like a natural. You could have “Redwood Raspberry” or “Humboldt Honeycomb”. If someone finds a way to make our major ag product palatable to the taste buds, you could get into “Weedwacker” or “Green Giant” although I guess that’s copyrighted . Anyway, the possibilities are endless. And you don’t even have to pay me a consultant’s fee. Just gimme some good yogurt.
UPDATE: The lime Chobani I ate earlier today was apparently from the batch (06-12, exp Oct 7) that some people, mostly kids, have become sick from and which Chobani is replacing with coupons in what is called a “voluntary recall”. I feel absolutely fine. Another opening for LOCAL yogurt!