If you live in the US and shop in supermarkets, usually there are just a few choices of yogurt, ranging from lots of mass-produced store brands to a few upscale organic selections. But visiting the yogurt aisle at the grocery store in France is always an exciting event for me.
The choices just go on and on and on and on and on and on and….
There’s plain yogurts made from cow, sheep, and goat milk.
There’s soy yogurt (à la vache! in this land where cows are sacred…)
There’s names like Fjord and Jockey.
There’s off-beat flavors like fig, kiwi, prune, and wheat (yes, wheat.)
Small fromageries sell dainty glass jars filled with tangy, farm-fresh yogurt. Enormous hypermarches like Auchan boast multiple refrigerated aisles stocked with nothing but yogurt and fromage blanc, a cousin to yogurt (fromage blanc and fromage frais are soft, fresh cheeses, eaten with a spoon.)
When yogurt is sweetened, the labeled usually proclaims avec sucre de canne, with cane sugar, which is highly regarded here as a sweetener, in spite of the many sugar-beets harvested in France. In the US, high-fructose corn syrup is used, which is much cheaper than sugar but has an icky syrup-y aftertaste that I don’t like. If you’ve ever compared a American Coke with a Coke from Mexico or Europe, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
I’ve always been tantalized by le Petit Suisse since stories of French people descending on a San Francisco supplier during their
Open Warehouse events which are legendary.
Le Petit Suisse is not yogurt, but a very rich little pot of fresh, sweet fromage frais. The first thing you notice is it’s about half the size of the standard (4 oz) French yogurt (left, which is about half the size of a standard American yogurt (8 oz).
Le Petit Suisse is made from skim milk, cream, and ferments lactiques. It was developed by a Swiss dairy worker, Monsieur Gervais, whose name is still emblazoned across the packaging. He’s credited for developing it over 150 years ago in Normandy, a region justly famous for it’s smooth, creamy, and unctuous cheeses like Camembert de Normandie, Epoisses and Pont L’Evêque.
Being France, naturally there are lots of rules involved if you want to enjoy it properly.
Overturn the little pot and squeeze it slightly to release the cylinder. Tip le petit Suisse on its side, then unroll it while peeling off the paper. Then you sprinkle a generous amount of turbinado sugar (called cassonade, or unrefined cane sugar) over the top, or serve it with a spoonful of jam. And dig in. It’s tangy-sweet taste lends itself to being served with a fruit compote as well, although I prefer it as shown. And I like to savor it with a tiny spoon; its richness is best enjoyed in small doses.