In the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, masterful yogurt makers mix tart and sweet in a creamy, decadent fermented yogurt and preserve the byproducts of the Whey. Iranian writer, business owner, and expert on yogurt, Homa Dashtaki, lies at the center of the business, securing the jars of this timeless essential kitchen item with a label embellished with a white mustache drawing.

In her latest book, Yogurt and Whey: The Recipes of an Iranian Immigrant’s Lifestyle, Dashtaki uses her experience of yogurt a lifetime Whey to tell the story of her faith, culture, and relationship with food through her recipes. She focuses on sustainability in food production and fighting against waste by instilling these ideals in her 12-year-old yogurt and Whey business, The White Mustache, which is named after her facial hair. Her first kitchen partner was her father.

The White Mustache has been determined to expand its market share for Whey to reduce waste. Instead of throwing away the liquid, Dashtaki and her team bottle the nutritious drink that is yellow and green and advise consumers to use it in smoothies, marinades for meats, brines, and post-workout hydration. The company is exploring the possibility of making Whey chips for pets. 

Growing up in Iran, Her family always made their yogurt. It was the base for almost all meals – sweet or savory – at any point of the day. Dashtaki remembers conversations over boiling milk forged closer ties with her father. It also helped when she emigrated to America in 1987; she was able to connect with her father. United States in 1987, with the tiny Zoroastrian society she discovered within Southern California.

“Yoghurt forces you to slow down. It takes a long time for the milk to boil – and an even longer time for the milk to cool. And in that time, everything feels better,” she explained. “Yoghurt was the excuse for this togetherness, the result of longing to connect and rebuild some semblance of communal village activities around food that we’d been yearning for ever since we left Iran.”

The White Mustache remains steadfast in its determination to increase Whey’s market to help reduce the amount of waste. (Credit: Tatiana Gorbunova/Alamy)

For Dashtaki, the lessons of perseverance, gratitude, and concentration she learned from yogurt and the subsequent recipes prevent her from “losing her whey.”

One of the recipes listed includes Cake Yazdi, a moist but still crumbly yogurt dessert that reminds me of her childhood in the desert of Yazd province in Iran. Yazd is the home of the desert, is situated in the middle of the country, and is among the last remaining centers of Zoroastrianism.

As a Zoroastrian raised within one of the many clusters of Zoroastrian villages in Yazd, Dashtaki’s connection to food is entwined with her religion. According to Dashtaki, “Zoroastrian living in the deserts of Yazd is dictated by the crops, the weather, the availability of water and how many sheep can be sold or slaughtered. These factors informed our cuisine and the festivals and celebrations that mark our calendar.”

The farm-to-table culture taught Dashtaki to think about using every product before throwing it away. In this environment, such a product as yogurt could be used to tenderize a meat dish, moisten desserts, or even be consumed as a stand-alone drink.

Yogurt, as well as cardamom and rosewater, are delicious Iranian traditional recipes that are made into the Yazd deliciousness. These ingredients evoke a robust nostalgic feeling for Dashtaki, which led Dashtaki to begin a 7-year quest to make her loved Cake Yazdi.

“There’s something about Cake Yazdi that tastes like delicious desert nights air. It’s light but it’s dry in the moistest way possible,” she added.

Dashtaki was initially hesitant to make the recipe again due to the fear of the possibility of “getting it wrong,” but she decided to try regardless due to her love of the food. Dashtaki needed to reproduce its taste and the emotional experience that should be a part of every bite.

For Dashtaki has learned lessons in perseverance, gratitude, and concentration that she has learned from yogurt as well as its subsequent recipes to prevent her from “losing her whey” (Credit Michael Cervieri)

“I didn’t want to touch that recipe; [it] had nostalgia written all over it. I was like, ‘If I can’t recreate it – the shame on my family, and the sadness I would feel over getting it wrong.” Dashtaki had difficulty identifying the recipe because her family didn’t cook the dessert at the house, so she created a Cake Yazdi like the one made by the Yazd bakeries of her childhood.

“I kept getting it wrong. I couldn’t get the right recipe. But [One day] my aunt’s daughter-in-law gave me a secret family recipe that she got from my aunt, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be it’. For many years, that version of the recipe was the Cake Yazdi recipe that was [going to be] in the book. And I gave it a ton of authority because of the source. But it just didn’t taste right. Then I [thought], ‘Do I have the arrogance to not only mess with my aunt’s recipe, but also this very traditional cake that I have such a nostalgic feelings for?’ And apparently I did.”

She knew that certain aspects of the dish would be rigid, such as the tart pan with flutes that give every cake its unique shape or the perfect pairing with black tea (prepared through the Persian Samovar). But the first version of the recipe needed to include yogurt. When she followed her intuition and added the spongy binding agent, she found it crucial to soften the rice flour and enhanceenhance the dessert’s creamy yet soft texture.

“Finally letting the yoghurt lead the way and become an ingredient in the cake was very helpful. Not using honey but sugar was also very helpful,” she added. Additionally, she was able to confront her over-indulgence by using cardamom and rosewater and modified the recipe to suit. Staples are every day in the Iranian kitchen. The two ingredients are intended to add an underlying flavor and not overwhelm the food.

Fortunately, Dashtaki’s hard work produced a deliciously dense Cake Yazdi, acclimated by her childhood pals who have the same fond memories of the dessert as she does.

“There is no review, there is no critic who could top this feeling,” said Dashtaki in reaction to her recipe’s popularity.