Thursday, August 20, 2009
If you haven’t noticed the fro-yo phenomenon sweeping through U.S. major cities like an ice storm – with chains like South Korea’s Red Mango and L.A.-based Pinkberry joining the ranks of TCBY – you must be living in the Antarctic… or Monterey.
Yes, the Peninsula has remained on the fringes of this yogurt face-off (Carmel’s Yogurt Heaven being the only fro-yo joint on the block until recently). But the winds are a-changing.
Last spring, Earthbound Farm Farmstand launched two flavors of housemade frozen yogurt: lowfat honey/natural and nonfat raspberry. This summer, MYO arrived on Cannery Row.
One sunny Carmel Valley afternoon, I decided to combine a quick shop with some yogurt tasting at Earthbound. I picked up half a yellow watermelon and spinach before ordering a small (4 ounces, $2.95) swirl and refrained – barely – from selecting any of their seven toppings ranging from almonds and granola, to chocolate cookie bits (95 cents each).
Having always been partial to TCBY’s white chocolate mousse, my tongue was initially assailed by the tartness of my cup’s contents. But once my puckered pout dissipated, I began to enjoy the refreshing, au naturel flavor of the honey yogurt. The raspberry, on the other hand, is definitely an acquired taste.
What sets Earthbound’s frozen yogurt apart from many others is that they make it in-house using Straus Family Creamery plain yogurt. “We have a certified organic kitchen with two chefs and a cook on staff, so we’re able to make the mix ourselves according to our own recipe,” explains Earthbound Farm co-founder Myra Goodman. “We just keep refilling the machine with our homemade mix.”
My conclusion: Don’t be put off by the tartness and the thinner consistency of the yogurt (Goodman claims their new machine whips the yogurt to a fluffier, creamier, smoother dessert, but you’ll have to be the judge). I like that the all-natural yogurt is made with recognizable organic ingredients like yogurt, milk, honey, sugar and raspberries and packed with good-for-you probiotics. “It’s so healthy some customers even have it for breakfast!” Goodman says.
Her favorite combo: Half honey, half raspberry (so she can enjoy each flavor individually), topped with a blend of toasted walnuts, almonds and coconut flakes.
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In June, MYO (Make Your Own) opened to capitalize on the fro-yo and self-serve crazes.
Fun is the operative word at MYO. Decked out in vibrant colors of tangerine, seafoam blue and mustard, the space exudes instant warmth and welcome. One wall resembles a candy store with peachies, sprinkles, gummies, M&M minis, jelly beans – the list goes on – in transparent tubes. In the corner, a buffet console is filled to the brim with fresh fruit and more decadent treats.
I followed the crowd to the self-serve machines. Cradling the huge cup in one hand, I deliberated over flavors including Dutch chocolate, Irish mint, pomegranate-raspberry, mango and strawberry-banana. After a few samples, I decided on a medley of tart/natural, mango, Irish mint and white chocolate macadamia (hey, it was research).
Half the fun was trying to pump the yogurt into perfect swirls. Stepping over to the buffet, I topped it off with mini mochi, strawberries, mangoes and kiwis. My friend, of the more conventional bent, had a chocolate and vanilla swirl, then went crazy with brownie bits, cookie dough, Heath Bar crumbles and cheesecake chunks.
Everyone is in control of the destiny of their dessert, says co-owner Stewart Roth: “There’s no better way for people to choose for themselves, whatever toppings they like, however much of each topping they like, and only pay for what they really want.”
To pay, we placed our loaded cups on the cashier’s scale. At 45 cents per ounce, the total for both came up to about $10, including a 20 percent locals’ discount.
Local himself, Roth felt it was important to open a community-minded store. In addition to discounts and a stamp card, MYO provides reusable cups to frequent buyers.
MYO sources its yogurt from different suppliers. Roth and his staff ensure all the flavors they serve are top-notch: “One manufacturer may make a great chocolate, but we’ll go to another who makes a better vanilla,” he explains. “We want the best flavors in everything, even if it means a lot of sampling, research, and meeting vendors.”
Even the cookie dough and brownie bits must meet their quality standards. For those who prefer a healthier treat, fresh fruit arrives daily from local supplier Del Monte Produce.
The yogurt also exceeds the National Yogurt Association’s standards and contains beneficial live and active yogurt cultures that promote digestion. The eight flavors come in non-fat, non-dairy, and no sugar-added varieties, all without sacrificing flavor. Roth says the no sugar-added strawberry-banana relies mostly on the fruit’s natural sugars. (I believe him; the lingering aftertaste of artificial sweeteners was absent.)
My favorite was the mango, just the right balance of sweet and tart with a rich mouth feel, while my least favorite was the Irish mint, which was too minty. I loved the fresh fruit and the mini mochi, but next time I’m going for a more sinful combo – cookie dough and Oreo cookies, here I come! Roth’s favorite combo: orange burst sorbet mixed with vanilla (orange cream!), topped with peaches and brownies.
EARTHBOUND FARM FARMSTAND 7250 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel • 8am-6:30pm Mon-Sat; 9am-6pm Sun. • 625-6219.
MYO 685 Cannery Row, Monterey • 10am-10pm Mon-Thu; until 11pm Fri-Sat. • 375-3769.