Yogurt Without a Fridge: A Look at Shelf-Stable Dairy

Some things in our food world we just take as a given - like dairy products are always in the fridge. But walk the aisle of any European grocery store and you’ll see rows and rows of dairy on a shelf. So what are we so afraid of?

I went to Normandy France, home of history, cider, and a whole lot of dairy cows to find out.

I was tagging along with GoGo Squeez Yogurtz. Launched last year in the US, they are trying to convince American consumers to approach dairy like the French do – accepting shelf stability, but without preservatives or any unfamiliar ingredients.

Normandy is the perfect spot to talk about dairy, because its cows’ milk is legendary for being high in protein but low in fat. So a factory in the middle of fields is the perfect spot to get schooled in the ways of shelf stabilization.

The process starts with a yogurt made from the milk of those famed Normandy cows. The milk is heated, cultures are added and it starts fermenting. After a few hours sitting it has turned into yogurt. A few items for flavor and texture are added – tapioca starch, cane sugar and fruit pectin and puree. Then it is moved into those pouches that have now become so ubiquitous.

So how does it stay on the shelf? It’s just a matter of time and temperature, through a process called retort. The pouches have the air removed and they are completely sealed. Then they are heated, similar to being in a pressure cooker. It’s basically the same thing you do with a jam – seal it, heat it and then it remains stable until you open it all back up.

But how does the cooked version compare with the culture-filled, un-cooked raw yogurt?

I was able to taste the difference and see for myself. The before and after was key – we are so used to thinking that packaged products have to equal preservatives or indecipherable ingredients. It feels counterintuitive with dairy, but we’ve been pressure cooking and canning food long before we had the scale and equipment to move it into a factory. The taste is, obviously, not as fresh as when it is raw, but it’s a pretty great substitute for the go.

And of course, it’s hard to argue with those picture perfect Normandy cows.