Iceland: Skyr

If you ask somebody from Iceland what food from home they miss most when they're away for prolonged periods, an answer you're really likely to hear is "Skyr!" (It rhymes with "hear", by the way.)

This is one of the older continuously-eaten foods in the world, dating straight back to the Viking days -- a reminder of the times when those Scandinavian peoples known for going out viking* were still depending on cattle for milk and meat. (Later they went in more for sheep.) Skyr is sometimes incorrectly translated as "Icelandic curds", giving people the erroneous idea that it's something like cottage cheese. Others refer to it as a yogurt, but it's not that, either: the organism used to culture the milk is different, and the setting agent is rennet -- another indicator that this product goes back to the days when the people who devised it were working with cows rather than sheep, as rennet used to be made from calves' stomachs. (These days it's produced artificially from vegetable sources.) Because a setting agent is used in making it, skyr is officially a kind of cheese.

But why get all hung up on the definitions? Skyr is tasty -- its refreshing, slightly tart flavor is similar to créme fraiche, though its sourness is a little more delicate. (This makes it particularly good with fresh fruit.) It's low-fat, easy to digest, and amenable to being flavored in all kinds of ways... so it's no surprise that skyr is one of the most popular foods in Iceland. There are many national brands (and most of them have websites: you can see a typical one here).

Skyr is offered to the Icelanders in all kinds of forms -- drinkable skyr, fruit skyr, savory skyr, creamed skyr, you name it. (One of the most surprising: skyr with aloe vera.)

If you're more interested in buying skyr than making it, and you're in the US or the UK, check out this site to see if it's being offered by a store or chain near you.

Otherwise, you can always click "read more" for a recipe for making skyr at home.

*"Viking" is also a verb, meaning to go out raiding.

Note: in the US, the rennet tablet referred to is most easily found under the brand name "Junket". Some health food stores also carry liquid rennet in both non-vegetarian and vegetarian forms: if you're using liquid rennet for this recipe, use just two drops.)

MMMMM----- Recipe via Meal-Master (tm) v8.02         
Title: Icelandic Curds (Skyr)  
Categories: Icelandic, Dairy       
Yield: 8 servings         

4 qt Milk     
1/2 pt Sour cream     
1/2    Rennet tablet     

The milk is brought to a boil without burning it, and then cooled to  
 blood heat (98F).  A cupful of the sour cream is whipped and mixed   
with some of the milk until thin and smooth:  then it is poured into   
the milk.  At the same time, one-half rennet tablet is dissolved in a   
little cold water (about a tablespoonful) and poured into the milk,   
which is stirred to mix the ingredients.  The mixture is allowed to   
stand at room temperature for 24 hours.      

Then the skyr is scooped from the pot and strained gradually through a   
fine linen sieve (several layers of cheesecloth may be used instead).   
It is thus separated from the whey.  The skyr which is left in the   
sieve should be about as thick as ice cream.  Four quarts of milk   
should make about one and a half quarts of skyr.      

When serving, whip skyr well with a spoon or whipper to a smooth   
ice-cream-like consistency.  The consistency should not be grainy or   
like cottage cheese.     

 Icelanders eat skyr as a dessert with sugar or cream.  (Or fruit.)