This time, it’s personal. Today’s cheese has eluded me for decades. But that’s all over now.
When I was a little girl my Icelandic grandma made a delicious dairy treat for us “from the old country” called skyr. Skyr was a thick yoghurt type desert, only better. Not that there’s anything wrong with yoghurt-but skyr is more tangy, somehow more fulsome, and most importantly, only grandma knew how to make it. It was special. Grandma died when I was 17 years old taking with her endless games of cribbage, trips to the Bingo hall,and of course-her secret recipe for skyr. I’m going to be honest, skyr kind of dropped off my radar then. I didn’t realize how much I longed for it until about 3 years ago, when my mother, my sister and I planned a trip to Iceland. Imagine my surprise to find skyr waiting for me at the airport in Reykjavik. I mean, it was literally everywhere! Skyr is so beloved and dominant in Iceland that in the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s famous outdoor geothermal spa, there is a swim up skyr bar. That’s right , a swim up skyr bar. What kind of country has a swim up skyr bar? I quickly acquainted myself with skyr in Iceland and ate it every single day, it was heaven.
Now wait, I know at this point you are thinking to yourself this is a cheese blog, silly, not yoghurt, but here it is…SKYR IS CHEESE!!!!! Even though it looks and acts like yoghurt, it’s actually made with rennet, and thus is a cheese. Technicality! It’s like a soft special cheese traditionally made of raw skimmed cow’s milk. Icelanders really dig their skyr. They have been making and eating skyr since the 9th century, and it continues to be a big part of the diet in Iceland. As it is a cheese, it actually allowed them to store milk for longer than normal, which was quite handy on those ocean voyages while they were dong their important Viking work such as discovering some continents and pillaging others. Skyr these days is especially popular with people trying to gain muscle or lose fat-and who doesn’t want that? It is a shockingly great source of low-fat protein. It’s actually a perfect food. Can you tell I love skyr? This message was brought to you by skyr.
When I returned back to Canada I recognized that I needed skyr, and I needed it all the time-in my stomach. Alas, skyr is nowhere to be found in all of Canada. Trust me, I looked. Not to be foiled, I figured if I could get some skyr starter and a yoghurt maker, I should be good to go making my own. First, I was under the impression I needed raw cow’s milk to make skyr. I looked high and low and eventually discovered that it was highly illegal to sell raw milk in Canada, so that was out. It turns out that most skyr these days uses pasteurized milk, so I still had hope. Then I realized that I also needed real skyr as a starter, to seed my batch-it’s a special bacteria you see, you can’t just fake Streptococcus salivarius subsp.thermophilus, you know? I should have brought some back from Iceland, but I was too freaked out to sneak it across the border, fearing some dairy related border incident. Once again, I was foiled. I tried various other pathetic techniques like kefir grains and butter milk, but nothing was skyr, nothing was real and nothing worked. It was a failure.
Finally, last week, while in New York City I was reunited with skyr. An American company “Siggi’s Skyr” is making skyr in the USA using Icelandic skyr techniques and starter. It certainly appears to be the real thing. Of course, it’s not here in Canada, nor in my fridge, but at last! Although for some reason it hasn’t come to Canada, Siggi’s skyr is everywhere in New York, which seems to be a waste to me. I saw it in at least 3 stores in Manhattan, it sits beside the yoghurt-even though, as I have made clear, it is a cheese. It’s much more expensive than yoghurt, at least twice the price, so that’s a little prohibitive. But really, it’s skyr, it’s worth it.
Siggi’s skyr comes in a couple of different flavours, mostly kind of weird ones like pomegranate and passionfruit and coconut, not your tradition Icelandic flavours. Although it apparently comes in a drinkable form, I only sampled the firmer skyr in a bucket. Siggi’s skyr comes in a plastic tub, when the lid is removed the interior is already mixed. It’s thick, much thicker than yoghurt, and has no discernible smell. This is not an aged cheese, it’s the love child of cream cheese and yoghurt, it’s extremely fresh and spoils easily.
Hmmm. Well, a little bit of a let down! Serves me right for all the build up. I’m just not crazy about the texture of this skyr, I find it a little thicker and grainier than I remember. It’s really thick, especially if you are thinking yoghurt, you need to chew this stuff (just a little bit). The taste is also not what I was looking for. I am sampling the passionfruit flavour and it just doesn’t seem sweet enough for me. This skyr is sweetened with agave, and I think the agave could be a little more generous. Actually, a lot more generous, come on! The skyr I ate in Iceland also had a real lemony tang to it that I am missing here, this seems more subdued, and I’m not sure why that is. While I think skyr in general is fabulous, I’m not sure if I’m the hugest fan of Siggi’s skyr. Total bummer! However, now that I know it’s in the USA, I think it’s time to try my hand at skyr making at home again. All I needed was some Streptococcus salivarius subsp.thermophilus and a jug of skimmed milk to make Willow’s Skyr, and that-my friends, is definitely my slice (or spoon) of cheese!