Icelandic Skyr is a delicious, thick, cultured dairy product.
Usually known as Skyr Icelandic yogurt, this ancient creamy foodstuff is actually a type of soft cheese, more like a soft ricotta or quark, but with the sour tartness of a thick Greek yogurt.
This post continues our journey through Europe’s vast array of cultured dairy foods. Start here to discover 16 European milk drinks you’ve never heard of.
In this post
- what is skyr yogurt (or skyr joghurt)
- why make it
- what you will need
- how to make it
- how to eat it
What is Icelandic Skyr?
The earliest known reference to Skyr (pronounced “skeeer”, with a slight trill on the ‘r’) is in the Icelandic sagas of the 9th century. We don’t know how the recipe for making Skyr might have changed in the last thousand years, or how the bacterial cultures have changed over time, but the basics are likely to be exactly the same.
Skyr is a type of ‘fresh cheese’, in the same culinary family as quark, paneer cheese, cottage cheese, labneh, and queso fresco. These fresh cheeses are eaten throughout the world, and they all use basically the same method to produce:
- Separate milk into curds and whey (using acids and/or heat)
- Strain the whey out (strain for longer or shorter times for different varieties)
- Eat while fresh
The differences, of course, are in the details.
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Skyr vs Quark is mostly about the unique bacterial strains used to culture the milk and create the acid environment. Quark is also traditionally a moister cheese, and has a sweeter flavor than its Iceland cheese cousin.
Skyr vs Greek yogurt is about the fact that rennet is sometimes used in the production of Skyr, that Skyr is always made using skim milk, and that modern commercial Greek yogurt is often made using thickeners to gain the desired consistency.
Skyr vs Cottage Cheese is about the different acids used to break the milk into curds and whey. With Skyr, the acids are produced by culturing with acid-forming bacteria, while cottage cheese is typically made by adding lemon juice or vinegar to warmed milk.
So What makes Skyr unique?
- Skyr is usually made with very low fat milk. Traditionally from raw milk that has had the thick cream skimmed from the top.
- Bacterial cultures found in Skyr seem to be mostly thermophilic, like yogurt-making cultures as opposed to mesopohilic like with quark and other fresh cheeses.
- Skyr is fermented long enough to gain a strongly tart flavor. (But not everyone agrees with this. Read this thread for an interesting discussion about “real Skyr” vs “bought Skyr”)
- The whey is quite thoroughly drained: four cups of milk will produce only one cup of Skyr.
To get the truly authentic Icelandic yogurt flavor of course, you need to also use raw milk from stocky, traditionally pastured Icelandic cattle, but we’ll do the best we can with what we have!
Skyr health benefits
Like all cultured foods, there are several benefits associated with Skyr yogurt.
Firstly, turning milk into curds is a fabulous way of preserving protein for the long, lean winter months – especially in a very cold environment like Scandinavia where refrigeration is not a problem. Food preservation (coupled with deliciousness) is the reason why Skyr has persisted for a millennium in the number one spot for traditional Icelandic food. Skyr protein content is usually about 12%.
Secondly, the live cultures in Skyr make it a probiotic food. (Check out my Introduction to Kombucha post for a good summary of what probiotics are).
Lastly, it is likely that the various acids produced by the lactobacilli have antioxidant and other health benefits – just as they do in kombucha.
Where to buy Icelandic Skyr
Like pretty much all cultured foods, beginning with the right culture is an important part of achieving the right result.
For your first batch of Skyr, you will need to purchase some traditionally made Skyr with live cultures.
And of course, not everybody is excited at the idea of two days of fiddling about in the kitchen punctuated by long stretches of waiting. If you just want to eat the Skyr, rather than make it, then that’s quite alright too!
I’ve, naturally, linked to the Skyr brand that is carried by Amazon, as it is the retailer that the vast majority of my readers have access to, and having a one-stop-shop makes life much simpler, but do check out your local stores to see if you can find Skyr there. (Sign up for a free 30 day trial of Amazon Prime here!).
Siggi’s Icelandic style skyr. (Check out current pricing here). Siggi Hilmarsson is the Icelandic entrepreneur who introduced American palates to Skyr back in 2006.
Other brands of Skyr include Icelandic Provisions Skyr, Isey Skyr and, KEA Skyr.
But. If you find it completely impossible to obtain ‘real’ Skyr, don’t panic!
According to one article that I’ve read, back in the old days Skyr-making was approached much the same way as sourdough making. People would leave dishes of skimmed milk outside, open to the air, for passing lactobacilli to grow. They would even experiment with leaving them in different places to see what difference that would make.
That being the case, it’s very unlikely that there is “one true mix” of Skyr cultures, and that you can start with any live culture yogurt mix and achieve similar (if not exact) results. You could even experiment with other sources of lactic acid bacteria and see what you get!
Related: Make yogurt using a kombucha scoby
Will it be traditional Skyr? No. But we don’t have the right cows anyway, so why not give it a go.
Will it be delicious? Oh, yes. If you like tart creamy cheesy foods, then yes. I can almost guarantee it.
Gathering your Skyr-making supplies
You will need:
- Saucepan (Click here to see the pans with the best customer reviews)
- Dairy thermometer (I use one like this)
- Whisk (A stainless steel balloon whisk)
- Strainer (This looks a good size)
- Cheesecloth (Unbleached, lint-free cheesecloth)
- Plastic wrap or bowl-cover (Like these ones – or just use the saucepan lid)
- Large bowl to catch the whey (A bowl like this is best for me, as the kids can’t break it!)
- You will also need some way to keep the Skyr warm for 4 to 6 hours while it ferments and curdles. You can pop your saucepan into a bigger pan filled with hot water and check the temperature once and a while, or use your slow-cooker in a similar way. Try and avoid too much in the way of fluctuating temperatures.
- 1 litre (or quart) of low-fat milk
- 1 tablespoon Skyr
- Some recipes also call for rennet, but not all of them, so it’s clearly optional. In the interests of making things as simple as possible, I choose to leave it out entirely.
- Pour the milk into your saucepan and gently heat it to 90°C (195°F). Monitor it closely with the thermometer as you don’t want it to boil.
- Keep it that hot for about 5 minutes, and then cool it down to 43-40°C (105-110°F)
- Whisk the tablespoon of Skyr thoroughly through the warm milk.
- Keep the mix at 40-50°C for 4-5 hours.
- At this point you should be able to see that the Skyr and whey have separated.
- Line your strainer with your cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.
- Pour the mix carefully through the cheesecloth and leave to drain.
- Cover the strainer with plastic wrap or some other sort of lid to keep it clean.
- Once the whey has mostly stopped dripping you can gather your cheesecloth up and hang the Skyr to finish draining for 12 hours or longer, depending on the thickness you want.
How to eat Skyr
Traditionally Skyr was eaten with cream and berries (or, in more recent times, brown sugar) as a dessert.
It was sometimes also thinned down – either with some whey, or with water – if a slightly thinner yogurt was needed.
You could even thin it right down and drink it, in much the same was as Turkish Ayran is prepared.
Obviously, however, you can eat Skyr however you want!
Skyr would make a delicious addition to a cheese-platter or an antipasto dish. The creamy-sour flavor would pair really nicely with sun-dried tomatoes and salty crackers. Yum!