One of the main points of national pride for Bulgarians is the fact that the bacterium which causes milk to naturally turn into yogurt was discovered by a Bulgarian scientist and was named after their country. In 1905, Dr. Stamen Grigorov discovered Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus bacterium, which until 2014 was simply known as Lactobacillus bulgaricus. Today, Dr. Grigorov’s village Studen Izvor hosts a small museum dedicated to him and his discovery.
The bacterium discovered by Dr. Stamen Grigorov is found naturally in Bulgaria and the region, which is the reason why milk left outside can turn into yogurt by itself, without any special treatment. If you try traditional Bulgarian yogurt, you will also notice the difference in its taste: it’s sour unlike the yogurt sold in other countries which is often slightly sugary or neutral. It is also not as creamy but more jelly-like. In fact, in Bulgarian language, ‘yogurt’ refers to anything foreign or not prepared in the traditional manner, while the Bulgarian yogurt is called ‘sour milk’ (kiselo mlyako).
In 1972, while Bulgaria was still a communist country, Japan bought the technology and yogurt samples to produce Bulgarian yogurt (and is producing it still today). This fact was publicly acclaimed by the national propaganda and even today, every Bulgarian will tell you that Bulgarian yogurt is so good that it has reached the far lands of Japan.
Until 20 or so years ago, many Bulgarians still made their own yogurt at home. The process is easy and straightforward. You need a spoon or two of yogurt which you put in jars of fresh milk and keep in a warm place. After a few hours, the yogurt is ready. Homemade yogurt tastes sour and will spoil in a few days, while industrially produced yogurt in Bulgaria doesn’t taste so sour nowadays and has a longer expiry date.
Yogurt is one of the typical Bulgarian culinary delights you should try on your trip to the Balkan state. Many Bulgarians eat it alone or add it to traditional dishes such as stuffed peppers with rice or green bean stew. One of the locals’ favorites is the cold summer soup tarator made of yogurt, dill, diced cucumbers, and garlic. If you water down yogurt and add a little bit of salt to it, you get ayran, a popular drink you will find on almost every restaurant menu in the country, as well as in every supermarket and bakery. Ayran is also believed to be one of the best Bulgarian hangover cures which earns it extra points. Yogurt is also strained and the thick, creamy result is used as a base for the Snezhanka salad (the same ingredients as the tarator) and desserts with blueberry or green fig jams.