Want to live to be over 100? In Georgia and the surrounding Caucasus region, where there is no shortage of centenarians, one rumored key to longevity is a thin, mildly tart fermented dairy product called matsoni. Known for its probiotic strains that boost gut health, aid in calcium absorption, and increase immunity, the yogurt-like substance is often served in clay pots at breakfast. In the countryside and in cities, familiar morning cries of “matsoniii, matsonii” can be heard as door-to-door sellers make their rounds. Ia Tabagari, an ethnologist and co-founder of the food tour company Living Roots, says that her matsoni seller is fifth generation. “I remember her mother-in law selling matsoni to my mother-in-law,” she says.
“Almost everyone who keeps cattle makes matsoni,” says chef Ketevan Mindorashvili, who runs a restaurant at the Pheasant’s Tears Winery in Sighnaghi. Matsoni is generally made from some combination of cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk, but Mindorashvili makes her version with buffalo’s milk. She serves the slightly stringy fermented dairy with foraged wild herbs, dolloped over minced lamb-stuffed dolmas, added to soups that are said to be terrific hangover cures, or as a starter for khachapuri (cheese-stuffed bread—read more about the dish here). “It can be used to soothe sunburn, too,” Mindorashvili adds, confirming that the dairy’s benefits extend even beyond the plate.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 shallots finely diced
- 1 teaspoon long-grain white rice
- 2 cups matsoni or plain yogurt
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 1½ cups vegetable or chicken stock plus more as necessary
- 2 cloves garlic pressed
- Kosher salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 to 3 sprigs dill finely chopped
- Warm olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and rice and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until shallots soften and become translucent. Do not let shallots brown.
- Meanwhile, combine matsoni, egg, and stock in a blender and process until smooth. The mixture should be thin enough to pour; if it is too thick, add more stock until proper consistency is reached.
- Add garlic to saucepan and stir well with a wooden spoon. Add matsoni mixture and whisk constantly until simmering, 5 to 8 minutes. Lower heat if soup starts to boil.
- Season with salt, pepper, and dill to taste. Serve immediately.