When I was a child I began an annual ritual. I commandeered the television for one whole night to witness the be-all end-all event for the prepubescent girl: The Miss Universe Pageant. The woman stood like an icy blue statue, glittering in the stage lights. My 7-year-old self sat transfixed, staring at the television. Where was this lady from? I wondered. The woman rotated her body to face the camera. “Miss Iceland” read the sash.
With help from an interpreter, Miss Iceland stumbled over dottirs and sons and probably some question on politics during the Interview Round. The next young woman (Miss Brazil?) walked up for her turn, and I vowed to always remember Iceland.
As I learned more, Iceland’s lava desert, sparkling glaciers, geothermal pools, and unspoilt hills had me, and still have me, entranced. That and Miss Iceland’s icy blue dress years ago on the television. It all seemed so different, exotic, and cozy. I’m determined to travel there one day and the best I can do now is live vicariously through friends who have visited. “Did you try the fermented shark?” is usually one of my first excited questions. Then, “What about the halibut?” And always: “Did you try skyr?” Most of the time, a wrinkled nose and huff of disgust is the general reaction on the shark query. The halibut question usually brings a shoulder shrug and an, “Uh, yeah, I guess.” Skyr, however, is more the quizzical look “Sk-what?”
Skyr is a is yogurt-like, fat-free cheese, and an excellent source of calcium, specific to Icelandic cuisine. It is often eaten with cream and fruit, with added sugar. Skyr is wholly unavailable in the U.S. (except some Whole Foods over on the East Coast, and a smattering of other specialty shops), so I doubt I will easily ever get my hands on such a special bit of dairy. I even checked my local Whole Foods just to make sure. American groceries are bursting with other choices: there was kefir, Greek yogurt, lassi, regular yogurt, fruit flavors, chocolate, caramel, probiotics, baby yogurt, and the variety of fat percentages. I spied siggi’s probiotic non-fat Icelandic drinkable yogurt, which I assume is flavored, drinkable skyr touted with the familiar “yogurt” label to appeal to provincial American audiences, but no plain, thick skyr. So what better than to try to make my own.
After skimming the internet for recipes, I decided on melding a few different recipes. Although I did allow curds form 20 hours instead of the more-often recommended 5 hours (at least) and felt the consistency of the curd was right at 20 hours judging from the descriptions I read. However, I still don’t think I came up with true skyr. Sources say that to experience the taste of true skyr is to make it with a small bit of skyr (pettir) (I used buttermilk as a substitute, also recommended if no skyr is available but taste is different). Using rennet in skyr makes it different than yogurt, and the cooking process is a little different.
|Skyr with honey-sweetened cranberry jam|
Secondly, I used pasteurized milk, since this is what I had, and I think it affected the overall flavor. There was kind of a…how do I say it…mechanical taste to it. I am convinced that if I had an Icelandic kitchen in which to cook, unpasteurized milk, some pettir, and possibly a different brand of rennet (such as a liquid form instead of a tablet), I would have perfection. Perfection: just like Miss Iceland. She should have been Miss Universe that year.
The original recipe states this makes 12 servings. Unless these are very small servings, I felt it was closer to 6 servings. Or maybe I just know how to eat a big bowl of skyr.
UPDATE July 2013: My photo of skyr has been featured in the Summer 2013 edition of Culture magazine! It’s a magazine all about cheese, not about the theatre. This quarterly magazine publishes great recipes and how-to instructions on cheese-making. You can buy a hard copy, or a digital version.
- 6 cups fat-free milk (unpasteurized is recommended for better taste)
- 1 cup fat-free + 1 tablespoon white vinegar (to make buttermilk)*
- 1 tablet of rennet (I used the Junket brand though the liquid form is probably better)
- Cook 6 cups of milk over medium heat to boiling then cool slowly to 98 degrees Farenheit. I used an instant read thermometer to check the lowering temperature. It took about 40 minutes.
- Mix up 1 cup of milk and vinegar and allow to sit at room temperature to curdle. Mix a couple of ladles of cooled milk into the buttermilk and whip smooth (I used a whisk). Pour this mixture into the remaining milk and mix. Also add rennet dissolved in 1 tablespoon water and mix.
- Allow mixture to cool slowly over 5 hours in a bowl wrapped with towels. I transferred my mixture from the original pot into a cool bowl surrounded by towels. If cooling is too fast, the mixture will be gritty. I allowed my mixture to sit another 15 hours at cool room temperature (for 20 hours total).
- Let's stop and assess the last step. When the milk is curdled, cut into the curds with a knife after 5 hours. When the cut does not close immediately, then you can go on to the next stage. This could be less than 20 hours, but for convenience and my assessment, 20 hours worked well as a point to go on to the next step.
- Pour the mixture, now somewhat gelatinous curds, into a sieve lined with a water-dampened cheesecloth or clean tea towel. When pouring the curds into the sieve, you can tell if you have the right consistency: it should be gelatinous and crack and fall apart into pieces as you pour. This is exactly how my mixture looked after 20 hours. There should not be lumps or thin liquid. Allow to drain in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. I drained for 24 hours.
- Whey will drain into the bowl below the sieve; if you have a good batch of skyr, the whey should be not too voluminous. Mine whey measured around 3 cups (I'm not sure if this is considered "too voluminous.")
- Skyr is ready when it looks firm and dry. Mine looked like American cream cheese but was not as firm. Whip in blender to make smooth. Mix with sugar, cream, and fresh fruit. I mixed mine with fresh apricots and with honey-sweetened cranberry jam (will post recipe soon). Enjoy with a beautiful view and dreams of Iceland.