Nounós Yogurt: A Bit of Greece in West Babylon

The yogurt is sold in distinctive glass jars with regular flavors—including the delicious orange‐fig—and two seasonal flavors.

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Sure, you’ve had Greek yogurt before. But you’ve probably not had it the way they make it at Nounós, the latest entrant in what I think is the best phase of yogurt in the U. S.: strained. At Nounós, says Steven Ioannou, who founded the company last year with his godfather, John Belesis, the yogurt is strained in bags of cheesecloth, through which the whey drips out.

And here’s why you’ve never had it made this way before (unless you make it at home): The FDA does not permit it.

“We’re the first guys to do it,” says Ioannou, “because [Gov.] Cuomo wants to promote the state’s dairy industry.”

Cheesemakers have been straining milk through cheesecloth forever, but due to the relative newness of Greek yogurt as an artisanal food, no one had applied to make yogurt this way. For now, the permitted methods outside New York include a tremendously expensive machine that larger producers use and thickening agents. “Greek yogurt is not defined by the FDA,” says Ioannou. “There’s no law protecting the name.”

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Ioannou and Belesis were both born on Long Island and moved to Greece as youngsters to attend school and have their first taste of Greek yogurt before moving back to finish college. After graduating with a business degree from Adelphi right in the middle of the recession, Ioannou had to get creative. The first idea was a yogurt shop in Southampton, but he and Belesis, who was working as a computer programmer for MLB.com, couldn’t find a product they liked. So they decided to make it themselves. After all the permitting and the dispensation to use cheesecloth, the men decided to sell it to retail shops, a business model Ioannou knows well from working in his family’s supermarket. Response was so great, they had to find a bigger space and ended up in West Babylon.

The yogurt is sold in distinctive glass jars with regular flavors—including the delicious orange‐fig—and two seasonal flavors. For the fall, they’re making pumpkin spice and apple spice à la mode, which is apples with vanilla yogurt.

When it’s time to create a new flavor, the whole family gets involved. “Are you kidding,” says Ioannou. “You know how big our family is? They barge in here and start working and criticizing us. The have to approve the flavors before I can even think about changing them. It was nice when they all were in Greece this summer. It was real quiet here.”

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Eileen M. Duffy

Eileen M. Duffy DWS holds a diploma in wines and spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Her book on Long Island wine Behind the Bottle came out in 2015. Visit her website, eileenmduffy.com, to find out what else she's working on.