Monday, March 06, 2006

The Best Place to Dip Your spoon... into a pot of St Benoît Yogurt

photograph picture St Benoit plain yoghurt yogurt

Today marks the start of the Second Annual Independent Food Festival and Awards and I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to give an award for "The Best Place to Dip Your Spoon" to French brothers David and Benoît de Korsak for their wonderful product, St Benoît Yogurt.

The reasons I love St Benoît and their yogurt are many:

First and foremost, this yogurt tastes real. If you are more used to eating mass-produced, artificially sweetened brands of yogurt containing thickeners, stabilizers, preservatives and fake flavours, I can't guarantee that you are going to like St Benoît's more natural version. It tastes so pure, so tangy, so creamy and so fresh all at the same time. Your tastebuds will be dancing on your tongue for joy if you will only give them time to adjust to this unique new taste experience and allow them to differentiate it from the mass-produced yogurts they are more used to.

Delicious Natural Flavours. Personally, I am firmly in the plain yogurt camp. At breakfast-time I like to pair it with June Taylor or Lulu's Garden preserve. Sometimes I even make up a fresh jelly from seasonal fruit to go with it. If you prefer your yoghurt pre-blended and ready-to-go, St Benoît offer their own strawberry and plum flavoured yogurts made using organic fruits grown in the orchards of their Sonoma County terroir. Their most popular seller is a yogurt with honey made by the Marshall's Farm busy worker bees.

St Benoît yoghurt is good for you. Not only does it have high levels of calcium and protein compared to the same volume of milk, because it is cultured after pasteurization, it is also contains plenty of the live cultures that aid digestion. Read more here.

This yogurt is not as dangerous to the waistline as the cream on the surface might have you believe. Recently St Benoît started putting nutritional information on their yogurt pots. Because I have noticed, in general, that artisanal food producers tend to shy away from sharing these facts, I asked Benoît de Korsak what prompted the change. One reason, he told me, is that he was receiving a lot of emails asking for such information so he felt there was a need to communicate it, especially because the yogurt is less rich than what most customers who contacted him thought. I know how those customers felt. Because the pot is large (213g/7.5oz) and the surface of the yogurt is covered with an irresistable layer of yellow jersey cream that belies the lighter tangy yogurt underneath, I had wrongly assumed that it must be horrendously fattening and was limiting myself to just half a pot a day. When I found out that entire pot was only 169 calories I doubled my intake. I wish more artisanal products would include nutritional information. In the case of St Benoît it certainly made good business sense - I now buy twice as much as I used to!

photograph picture St Benoit plain yoghurt yogurt containers

It's really not as expensive as its naysayers claim. If you buy a pot of St Benoît plain yogurt from their market stall, it will cost you $3.25 for 7.5 oz. Of this total, $1.25 is a deposit that will be reimbursed to you when you return the pot for reuse. Total cost of actual yogurt, therefore, $2.00. Two bucks is what you will pay for 7oz of Total Greek yoghurt at Wholefoods. De Korzak further makes a case for the value of his yoghurt. "When you look at the price per ounce and not the absolute price, we are not the most expensive yogurt in the SF Bay Area. Also you need to compare comparable products. We are the only artisanal yogurts available. Most of our competitors make hundreds of thousands or millions of yogurts every week. We currently make only 2000 yogurts a week. Additionally, our margin is actually less than the industry standards because we only use local high quality farmstead ingredients which makes the yogurt more expensive than a yoplait yogurt. Also we only use natural ingredients. We do not use milk powder, we only use whole 100% Jersey Cows milk which is more expensive than any other milk."
If you still find it too pricey, consider that it is paramount to St Benoît that their yogurt production does not impact too harshly on the environment. If you value the environment too, then spending a few extra coins on a product that has a real commitment to addressing environmental issues is going to be money extremely well spent.

St Benoît's commitment to the environment is genuine.:

"We believe the land we benefit from is unique and as a business we want to protect it"

Cleaner Transportation - St Benoît use a Compressed Natural Gas vehicle for their yogurt business. "The CNG truck is very reliable. The maintenance may be a little more expensive but again it fits our philosophy and is worth every penny", says de Korzak.

Potato Spoons - St Benoît use biodegradble spoons made from potato starch for people who want to sample their wares at the market. De Korzak notes, "One key principle of our business is to harm the environment as little as possible. Even though we pay four times more for biodegradeable spoons than plastic spoons, we then feel more comfortable using 1000 spoons each Saturday."

photograph picture St Benoit use biodegradeable spoons made from potato starch

Reusable Ceramic Containers - St Benoît yoghurt is sold in adorable ceramic pots that are far too likeable to ever be thrown in the trash. A deposit encourages customers to return them to the place of purchase for a refund. I asked de Korzak if he was happy with the precentage of your customers who return the pots for recycling? "Yes and especially at the farmers market where some Saturdays we have close to a 90% return rate. It also shows the loyalty of our customers who come every week, rain or shine", he replied.

New lids
- Until just last week St Benoît's yogurt pot lids were made from plastic which de Korsak explained to me that they were not happy using. Their preference was for foil lids, but initially there wasn't a way for them attach them to the pot satisfactorily. So they contracted an engineer to build them a special machine that would do the job. Hey presto: the St Benoît product line now has lids that are now more environmetally friendly than they used to be.

But what about the impact of business growth? Even when it comes to the success of their venture, the de Korsaks' key principals have an effect and instead of the brothers being set on global domination they intend to remain as local sustainable producers. "We keep it locally so that we can properly supply", admits de Korzak. Even so, the business is growing and as of last week, St Benoît now sells its yogurt at The Ferry Building Farmer's Market on Tuesdays as well as Saturdays.

What about the future?
Although I can't persuade Benoît de Korsak to use their rich, Jersey milk to make me a Bay Area version of my beloved and much missed Cornish clotted cream, I can disclose that I may not be a plain yoghurt kinda girl for much longer. The brothers have been experimenting with a new flavour for their St Benoît yogurt and I have been lucky enough to have had a couple of pre-launch tastings. It's something to look forward to, but I think I am going to build up the suspense and keep you guessing as to what their latest pairing might be until it is offically announced later in the Spring.

In the meantime, if you live in the Bay Area, get down to the Farmer's Market or visit one of St Benoit's stockists to find out for yourself just how good an award-winning yogurt tastes.

photograph picture St Benoit use biodegradeable spoons made from potato starchThe Independent Food Festival and Awards are founded on a simple concept:
Food can be a wonderful part of life. A growing legion of people in the world think of every meal as an opportunity for a great experience. And yet, sometimes it seems like an ever shrinking number of people actually make great food. tasteEverything is dedicated to the idea that the more people share their great experiences, the more likely it is that the people who make great food will prosper and increase in number.

Discover other food awards being presented today and throughout the rest of this week over at the 2006 Independent Food Festival and Awards.

Links, Resources and Further Reading

Bay Area Resources:
Yoghurt | from St Benoit
The Ferry Building | Market Place
Saturday Morning | Farmers Market
Accidental | Yogurt Labeling

St Benoît blogged and reviewed elsewhere:
101 Cookbooks
Sweet & Savory
I'm Mad and I Eat

Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: Was the Barbie & Fritz flat romance really a year ago?

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The Best Place to Dip Your spoon...


  • At 6/3/06 01:37, Blogger plum said…

    Mmmn, looks more like a creme caramel than plain yoghurt! That top layer of Jersey cream is definitely deceptive. But those pots are so cute, I think I would be very tempted to hang onto them and use them for all those little things around the kitchen that need a cute little ceramic jar!

  • At 6/3/06 04:38, Blogger Robyn said…

    I love good yogurt!....I WANT THIS YOGURT! Waarh! $2 sounds good to me (I pay more for the sheep's milk yogurt I really like, doh), although that pot is so cute, I might wanna keep it.

    CREAM IS AWESOME. Are people afraid of the cream? The delicious faaat? Noooo! Ahhh! Insane!

  • At 6/3/06 05:57, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good for you to have a good yogurt maker in SF. I think it is great to support a small business like this, so that it stays small and authentic. I personally love yogurts and because never found one that pleased me a lot here in Boston (I only think of two I love and can buy), I make my own.
    Great info! Et vive le St Benoit (ahaha, my brother's name is Benoit!, so I can only agree to like it already, although he is not a saint, far from it!)

  • At 6/3/06 08:26, Blogger Amy Sherman said…

    Great post. I must confess I don't think I have ever indulged in "artisanal yogurt". Perhaps I need to be converted?

  • At 6/3/06 11:49, Blogger Dana said…

    I too am a plain jane kind of yogurt gal. These yogurts would surely cost me 3.75 eash as I would never be able to part with the cute cute little jars.

  • At 6/3/06 12:18, Blogger Delphine said…

    best "yaourt " ever, I confirm.

    I don't mind spending money on them, they really worth it, thanks for making me discover it.

    I wish I was courageous enough to go to the farmer's market every saturday.

  • At 6/3/06 15:00, Blogger deborah said…

    what a wonderful post. if i could i would seriously consider relocating just to haev access to this yoghurt. i must start investigating similar companies over here!

  • At 6/3/06 16:13, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sam, I am *this* close to hopping on a plane and living on this yogurt for a week. Or indefinitely. It sounds wonderful, and your enthusiastic words were just the tonic I needed at the end of a long and wearying day. Thank you for sharing them with us!

  • At 6/3/06 17:57, Blogger Greg said…

    yummy stuff.. going to try it soon.

  • At 6/3/06 18:55, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    Sam: I just piggybacked onto your post. It was so well done, and I was tired, and feeling larcenous.
    So, thanks.

  • At 6/3/06 21:17, Blogger MMishka said…

    Great post. I love David and Benoît de Korsak for their wonderful product.
    "My spoon is in St Benoît Yogurt!!!"

  • At 6/3/06 23:46, Blogger shuna fish lydon said…

    Thank you, Sam, for an amzing entryway into the IFBA. I worry that mine won't be as good as yours, but at least I have someone to count on for sheer inspiration!

    Also I would like to add that this yogurt has a very different "culture" than what we, Americans, are used to. They are importing it from France, hence on the other payers of their unique flavour profile.

  • At 7/3/06 03:44, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Sam,

    Doh here's yet anoher thing that makes me really want to go to the Ferry Plaza! When/if I do, I'd definitely grab their yogurt and a June Taylor jam and eat them togeter straight away. AND get some more yogurts for later, and save all the empty pots. They're too cute. Thanks for the great post!

  • At 7/3/06 08:00, Blogger Dagny said…

    It looks lovely but the thought of Cornish Clotted Cream ... I think you should keep trying to persuade them.

  • At 7/3/06 09:16, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I live in yoghurt land greece
    but I wish all yoghurt producers will follow suit of recycling pots.
    did i hear clotted cream..... strawberries and clotted cream

  • At 7/3/06 10:26, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Mmmm. I'm always disappointed with the yogurt in the States that tries to taste like pudding.

    Next time I'm in SF, I'm definitely making a special trip to pick some up.

  • At 7/3/06 12:43, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That's it! You've sold me...the next time I go to the Market, I'm buying a few containers of this yogurt. Every time I go I'm tempted to buy some, but I always talk myself out of it b/c I think it's too expensive & too fatty. Thank you for showing me the light!

  • At 7/3/06 14:37, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    We are going to be in the Bay Area in the summer (near the end of summer, for a family wedding), so I have yet another lovely food I must try from the Farmer's Market!

    Great write up! (And I am afraid that I would not be able to give the pot back--it would have to come home as a souvenir of the lovely yogurt!)

  • At 7/3/06 15:47, Blogger FJKramer said…

    I've been meaning to write about this yogurt forever! From my first taste at the Ferry Building Farmers' Market more than a year ago any other yogurt seems like a compromise.

    I get mine at Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley, CA, not as fun as the farmers' market but a lot more convenient.

    I did keep a few of the pots around for awhile, but then they just multiplied so much that I figured out if I returned them how many pots of yogurt I could buy with my deposit money.

    A sidenote, when I was in Paris last year, the cateteria at the impressionist museum sold yoplait yogurts in pots. American tourists were so charmed, they were washing them out in the water fountain to keep as souvenirs.

  • At 7/3/06 21:25, Blogger Hungry Hedonist said…

    You are really making me regret my spring break plans for NYC, as I should really be heading over to the Ferry Building for some yogurt. I haven't tried St Benoit, but Wallaby (also sold at Cowgirl) is pretty good.

    I love dairy products in ceramic/glass containers. I feel it is why Strauss Family Creamery milk tastes especially good (other than the high quality) compared to other milks.

    Thanks for a great (albeit homesick-inducing) post!

  • At 9/3/06 04:05, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Beautiful post, Sam - you've convinced me! My mouth is watering!

  • At 11/3/06 16:17, Blogger Sam said…

    I arrived at the St Benoit market stall today at 11.30 and they had already run out of plain yogurt!
    I had an unexpected day off which had resulted in leisurely laziness on my part.

    So one word of advice: Get there early if you want some.

    Luckily I knew of a nearby outlet where they keep also some in stock so I dashed over there straight away before anyone else got wind that it was in short supply. Phew, my breakfast for the next week was saved by a whisker.

  • At 8/4/06 13:55, Blogger xtinehlee said…

    Oh! I bought some San Benoit awhile back, with such great expectations...alas, it is not all that great...I much prefer the Greek FAGE yogurt, and most recently my discovery of La Fermiere yogurt. Compared to these yogurts, San Benoit's pales....though the crock is quite cute!

  • At 4/1/07 19:45, Blogger Darin said…

    I used to have commercial yogurt once each day, offcourse they have sweetened, stabilizers and preservatives..
    but I'll never try natural yogurt..
    it's hard to find good yogurt like that..

  • At 2/3/07 13:35, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That could be great also for babies, who need just natural food without chemistry. Very nice homepage... and as I know and feel your dear parents, ms&b, this product and its philosophy must be a real thing to admire.
    Thinking to export to EU?
    Greetings, Tamino Petelinsek


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