If you think cheese is the biggest staple of the French diet, think again. Here in France, le yaourt (yah-OOrt) is consumed morning, noon and night. Either for breakfast, as a dessert at lunch or dinner, and even as a snack, although probably not more than once or twice a day at most.
The variety of yoghurts on offer was one of the biggest differences I noticed when we moved to France. The category takes up an entire aisle in the grocery store – both sides. Strictly speaking, however, this part of the dairy section offers not just yoghurt but other ‘produits laitiers’ (dairy products) and alternative desserts from soy and lactose-free vegetal sources.
Another difference is that yoghurt in France is almost exclusively sold in individual servings — pots de yaourt — rather than the family-size containers in North America.
French yoghurt is traditionally made from cow’s milk. You will also find variations made with goat’s milk (chèvre) and sheep’s milk (brebis). Sheep’s milk yoghurts are most often referred to as Greek-style or ‘à la grecque’ (although not all so-called ‘Greek’ yoghurts are made of sheep’s milk). The best ones are thicker and more sour-tasting (my favourite — yum!). Most varieties of yoghurts also come in non-fat or ‘0%’ versions, accounting for its own section on the dairy aisle.
The French also enjoy ‘fromage blanc’: literally ‘white cheese’ or quark, which is similar to ricotta or cottage cheese but without any visible curd. It belongs to a family of fresh cheeses that are similar to yoghurt such as faisselle and the thicker, richer petit suisse. Fromage blanc is often served for dessert with fruit compote or a simple spoonful of sugar. In restaurants, it sometimes comes in a little puddle of crème fraîche.
In France, yoghurt must adhere to strict regulatory guidelines in order to be labelled as such. It is made of milk that is fermented by two types of bacteria: lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus. While they sound less than appealing, those are the little guys that do all the work for our gut by pre-digesting the milk proteins and making them more easily assimilated in the body. (More details in French here: https://www.europe1.fr/societe/le-yaourt-est-il-vraiment-si-bon-pour-la-sante-3625073)
Yoghurt is undeniably a key part of the diet here. French kids don’t drink milk, or at least not much. They get their calcium from yoghurt and cheese. My kids grew up and thrived on a steady diet of yoghurt and petits suisses.
Now my daughter is vegan, and I have recently discovered some tasty dairy alternatives made with almonds (not great for the planet, but alas…). I am not a fan of soy, but I do support dairy alternatives for dietary and moral reasons that each of us must decide for ourselves. Clearly, it is a trendy new category taking up more space in French dairy cases.
As for me, I am a die-hard yoghurt fan. Each morning, I have a plain, probiotic yoghurt for breakfast with fruit and nuts. My evening indulgences often include a Greek-style low-fat yogurt with a bit of fruit or honey. Unless, of course, I go for ice cream. But that’s another story!
How do you like your yoghurt – or not?
Yum! I like my yoghurt with seasonal fruit. Greek style is best, but I will eat any variety with equal enthusiasm.
I had to laugh, though, at those magic words “fromage blanc”, which brought to mind the Monty Python sketch where people were being turned into Scotsmen by fromages blancs from outer space that wanted to win at Wimbledon. Why Scotsmen? Because everyone knows they can play tennis! LOL!
That’s hilarious! I have not seen that sketch but will look for it. I love Monty Python — although not quite as much as yoghurt. 😋
We shifted from the fruit yogurts to Greek yogurt, adding fresh or frozen fruit, and then shifted again to Greek yogurt from the farm. Huge leap in quality. The farmers use glass jars, which regular customers can wash and return, even the lids. Glass weighs so much more than plastic, but when it’s kept local and not trucked thousands of miles, it’s a good choice.
I loved those little glass containers when we were in France this spring. I didn’t realize that not only were they ‘recyclable’, they were in fact refillable!! This is what I love about the French approach to food – even here in Canada. It is still very much aligned to its origins as opposed to the North American approach of treating food as a manufacturing process.
I wish we had a farm like that near us! Love the glass pots but none are sold around here of the Greek type. The times, they are a changin’ though, so I’ll keep an eye out for new offers.
I always loved yoghurts and all their alternatives, fromage blanc, petits suisses, even the “Laughing Cow” as a kid . But alas knowledge came as often to spoil the pleasure … I learnt that EVERY diary products are a slow poison for human body (except our mother’s milk but this doesn’t last long enough to be consciously appreciated) .
I discovered this first with my baby, regularly catching small bronchitis until a highly wise doctor told us to stop giving him milk . We did and bronchitis stopped . Later I heard variants of this info from several sources I happened to respect, generally therapeutists who don’t behave like the “mechanics” our western science produced . Then time came for me to undergo several small physical annoyances and, I kid you not, a part stopped when I forever quitted milk and the rest disappeared when I gave up my beloved youghurts .
Damned ! First they tell you smoking triggers problems and it ends with forbiding yaourt ! I tell you, better to not know, otherwise we might hear bullshits like alcohol or drugs are bad for our health .
Ha, ha. Well, there is bad for the health and then good for the soul. I think some dairy fits the latter category, and the health consequences be damned! Still, glad that you were able to connect to the right info if it helped your baby stay well and also improved some tiresome adult symptoms. I tolerate yoghurt but not milk. When I was pregnant with my first, I conscientiously started drinking milk each day until I had a terrible sinus problem. A wise mid-wife (sage femme) told me to cut down on ‘mucus products’ and get my calcium elsewhere. I did and the sinus cleared up right away!
And by the way, I will always remember how my daughter used to scarf vache kiri. She would pop them out of their silver paper liners and down the hatch in 3 seconds! Never thought she’d go vegan…😂
My boys love them but I stick to cheese lol!
You are a die-hard Frenchie!
I love yogurt and it’s a key component of my diet. In fact I just finished my morning bowl of granola and yogurt. I don’t drink milk and never have, even as a child, so I rely heavily on cheeses and yogurt.
I lean heavily towards the very thick and creamy versions but in a pinch, I’m not too picky 😉
Interesting that. I find lately that a few dietary tweaks can make such a huge difference in how we feel. I still drink milk in morning coffee but a year ago switched from 2% to skim. How much better it feels! Yet yoghurt, even full fat, causes me no issues at all.
I love yoghurt but the flavored ones are sweet and the natural ones really tart. So I eat them sparingly!
Try the plain with just a spoonful of jam or honey. Takes the tart edge off!
Thanks for the tip Mel. I will give it a try. But you shared a great fun fact I never knew of the French….their love for yoghurt!
Very interesting! I love seeing the food stuffs and markets elsewhere. I’ve profited from giving up cow dairy, but LOVE goat yogurt. I buy the large containers of plain, full fat, and flavor it with my own vanilla and honey – the sugar content of flavored yogurts is unbelievable. Fun to know what a major component of the French diet it is!
Glad you found it interesting! Agree that sweetened and flavoured yoghurts have too much sugar (and sweetness, period). Vanilla and honey sounds great!
I was amazed that for a country that eats so much yoghurt, they don’t provide large family tubs (as I was used to in Australia and the UK). I am also amazed just how hard it is, despite the huge selection, to find sugar and fat-free fruit yoghurt…even the ones with no added sugar seem to be very sweet…or perhaps I have yet to find them! However, I have at least one every day. Miammmm.
Yes, it is weird, eh? I also searched high and low for those healthier versions and finally decided to make my own. A bit of honey, confiture, compote is so easy to add and it tastes so much better than the overly sweet ones on offer.
I remember being baffled during my first trip to France by the sheer variety of yogurt options, even in tiny neighborhood épiceries — until I tried a couple, and discovered why they’re so popular. But just as surprising to me is the fact that alternatives (such as almond and soy) are catching on in a culture of such culinary purists. Now you have me wondering whether during my next trip maybe I should try those too. (The “alternative” yogurts, that is; not the purists 🙂
Do try them, Heike! If only to see how much better the real stuff is, ha ha! Seriously, to me there is nothing better than a good yoghurt with just the right amounts of sweet and sour. For a treat, try La Laitière in the glass container with compote on the bottom. Yum! But for those who can’t (or won’t) eat dairy, some of the alternatives are really pretty decent! Hope your next trip is soon, but perhaps after this awful heat wave!
I save the little pots and use them for all kinds of things—pocket change, drinking glasses, and the like.
Fromage blanc: os there bacteria in it, like in yoghurt?
Other pressing question: do you pronounce the T in “yaourt”?
Yes the T is pronounced in yaourt (and in yoghurt too) .
In fromage blanc there are no bacterias . it is made through 2 intermediate phases, le “petit lait”,(I think you say “whey) or lactoserum, and le “lait caillé” (soured milk)