Skyr is the traditional yogurt of Iceland. It is made by incubating skim milk with live active cultures. The whey, the water naturally found in milk, is then strained away to make for a much thicker, creamier, concentrated yogurt. So to make just one cup of skyr, with all that water going out, you need 3 - 4 times the amount of milk required to make a regular cup of yogurt. As a result of this process skyr comes out with 2-3 times the protein count of standard yogurt.
According to the Sagas, the original stories of the Norse Vikings, Icelanders have made skyr since settlers from Norway first arrived on the island in the 9th century. The word skyr is probably derived from the Icelandic word skera, which means to cut or slice–– a reference to the ideal thickness perhaps? The modern word for regular yogurt, jógúrt, didn’t exist in Icelandic until the 20th Century. Before then, regular yogurt was sometimes referred to as Búlgarst skyr, or ‘Bulgarian skyr,’ because of its popularity in Bulgaria.
Skyr was always, and is still, made from skim milk after the cream had been floated off to make butter. The skim was incubated with cultures and the resulting yogurt strained to take out the whey. Traditionally, the whey that subsequently came off the skyr was then used to pickle various foods in the summer to help last out Iceland’s long, arduous winters. Thus, skyr was part of a process that historically was centered on maximizing the yield and storage time of milk.
Skyr is a big part of the modern diet in Iceland. It has enjoyed a resurgence of kind in the past decades, in particular among athletes and the nation’s prominent musclemen as a highly coveted and convenient source of protein for them muscles!
Today, all Icelandic skyr is made from cow’s milk. Up until the 19th century, however, skyr was made from both sheep and cow’s milk. Siggi’s skyr is made solely from cow’s milk.
Until early last century, skyr was made on many if not most family farms and homes in Iceland. The process was revered as an art form, even as magic, and numerous words existed in Icelandic for failed attempts at skyr making. With the advent of modern dairy farms, small-scale skyr production in Iceland slowly became less common. Recalling his father's nostalgia about how his grandmother made skyr on the old family farm, Siggi mustered up enough confidence to try his hand at making skyr in New York, his new home. Those experiments – some more successful than others – led him to team up with some kindhearted farmers in New York and build a modern-day process line, about which you can find out more in our story.