Teddy Ivanov moved to the U.S. from Bulgaria in 1998 for a culinary internship and has worked in the industry ever since. Ivanov owns Tivanov Catering in St. Louis, and last fall, he launched YoBul!, a line of small-batch, authentic Bulgarian yogurt. You can grab YoBul! in the St. Louis area at Global Foods, United Provisions, Lucky’s Market, City Greens Market and Balkan Grocery, as well as the farmers’ markets held at Tower Grove Park, Schlafly Bottleworks and the Washington University School of Medicine, plus a few international stores in Chicago, which boasts the largest Bulgarian population outside of Bulgaria.
Why did you launch a line of Bulgarian yogurt? We made homemade yogurt all the time in Bulgaria; it’s a staple in the culture. [Here], I couldn’t find yogurt I was used to eating. I took a trip to Bulgaria with my fiancée and daughter five years ago, and when they tried Bulgarian yogurt, they asked, “Why can’t we find this in the U.S.?” I started giving it more thought. I took it as a challenge and started looking into how we could produce it. I made a couple trips to source the culture and talk to yogurt makers in Bulgaria.
What is different about Bulgarian yogurt? Bulgaria is the only place in the world that the yogurt culture Lactobacillus bulgaricus can be naturally harnessed – [it] needs to be imported from there. A lot of companies make it look and taste close but it’s not exact. [The yogurt] has to have a certain texture; we call it choppiness. It’s made of sheep’s milk, which is denser, has more protein and has a thicker texture. Sheep’s milk is seasonal and hard to find in the U.S., so we launched our brand with cow’s milk. But in February we started producing a 50:50 blend of sheep and cow yogurt.
How do you make your yogurt? We make it in small batches and source the cow’s milk locally from a small farm in Trenton, Illinois. Our sheep’s milk is sourced from three states: Kansas, Missouri and Wisconsin. We use a cup-set process, which means we incubate the milk and cultures in the cups in a quiet and dark environment at a consistent temperature for six to seven hours. Our plain yogurt is made of cultures and whole milk. For our flavored yogurt, we flavor the whole milk with organic flavor extracts and sweeten with Stevia plant extract.
Tell us about your flavors. In our 24-ounce containers, we offer plain, coconut and rose. I decided to go with rose because Bulgaria’s two national symbols are yogurt and its large rose valleys. We source the rose extract from Bulgaria; it has a unique and refreshing flavor. In our 6-ounce containers, we offer raspberry, orange, coconut and the plain cow and sheep blend. In February we also began offering a 100-percent sheep’s milk plain yogurt. It almost has the texture between sour cream and mascarpone cheese. When people try the sheep’s milk yogurt, they’re like, “Oh, wow!”