The story of siggi’s skyr starts in New York City during the holiday Season of 2004. Siggi Hilmarsson was for the first time in his life not going back home to Iceland to spend the holidays with his family. Feeling homesick and missing a staple of his childhood diet, he digs up some old articles on and recipes for skyr, the traditional yogurt of Iceland, sent to him by his mother. Undaunted by the articles’ arcane measurement system and his total lack of relevant measuring devices, Siggi makes his first batch of skyr in his kitchen.
Siggi continues to experiment with rather mixed results but his skyr shows enough promise that he decides to move his experiments from his home kitchen to a full-scale dairy plant at Morrisville College, a local agricultural college in upstate New York. In the spring, Siggi makes his first “professional” batch of siggi’s skyr.
Somewhat unexpectedly loaded with several hundred cups of quite delicious skyr and an all too small fridge, Siggi hurries to dole them out to friends around New York. One of them, Liz Thorpe, a dairy guru and VP at Murray’s Cheese, shares with her colleagues who agree that Murray’s would stock siggi’s skyr if it were commercially available. With that, Siggi becomes certain of the product’s potential, quits his day job and with backing and support from his former professor founds the Icelandic Milk and Skyr Corporation.
Siggi then moves the production to a dairy plant in Norwich in Chenango County, New York, where he can buy milk from local family farms that grass feed their cows and do not inject them with any type of growth hormones.
At the dairy in Norwich Siggi perfects his procedure and creates his first yogurt flavors using subtle, not-so-sweet, all natural ingredients. From the beginning siggi’s skyr is sweetened with agave nectar, a low glycemic sweetener, instead of sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
In the summer, Siggi starts selling his skyr at the Real Food Market, an outdoor market in Lower Manhattan and at Murray’s Cheese in the West Village and The Market at Grand Central Terminal.
Despite the odd little hand-applied labels, siggi’s skyr is a success and frequently sells out. Recognizing that he can’t keep up with the growing demand for siggi’s skyr using an old style, largely manual, production process, Siggi raises some money from friends and family to build a more modern, higher-capacity production line.
Siggi starts buying a bunch of dairy plant equipment and as capacity gradually increases, siggi’s skyr adds several great New York stores as customers, including Dean & Deluca in Soho, Stinky’s Cheese in Brooklyn, Zabar’s on the Upper West Side, The Bouley Bakery in Tribeca and Saxelby Cheese on the Lower East Side.
In the summer, Siggi donates some skyr for a breakfast buffet at a weekend retreat of artists, environmentalists, journalists and biologists at an old barn in Long Island. They give the yogurt good marks. One guest happens to work for Whole Foods Market and, as word spreads to its headquarters in Texas, the natural and organic market becomes keen on stocking siggi’s skyr.
Late in the year, siggi’s skyr launches a new cup design that uses 40-50% less plastic than regular yogurt cups and is supported by a recyclable cardboard sleeve. Sveinn and Boris are responsible for the new design!
siggi’s skyr is launched in nearly 100 Whole Foods stores on the East Coast. The Icelandic Milk and Skyr Corporation doubles in size (from two employees to four)!
With more distribution demand goes bananas and, sadly, also exceeds all plans and in the summer, siggi’s skyr has to close the factory temporarily to build even more capacity. While working, Siggi receives a lot of encouraging poetry from his customers, like this haiku from Stacy Prince:
Tangy sweet mouthful
Clean as snow and good and whole
Pudding of my heart.
In the fall, the upgrades are completed and siggi’s skyr returns triumphantly to the stores increasing distribution further West and adding some nice customers like The Fresh Market in the South East. With more to come…