Thursday, September 15, 2005

Food for Fighting - in praise of Skyr.

Fascinating article in the NYT food section on tuesday on the Imminent Icelandic Food Invasion

Whole Foods is to start carrying serious Icelandic lamb, fish and dairy products, including the legendary skyr.
(ok, here is actual useful info in english, here is the official skyr propagande site).
The article, by the way, completely mischaracterises skyr, it is true it can be a base for a berry parfait - indeed one of the best deserts I have ever had was skyr with blueberries and cream. But, it is so much more.

Skyr is not cheese. Nor is it yoghurt, though it is somewhat reminiscent of greek yoghurt.

Talking of which, locals note, Wegman's is now carrying the full line of Total Greek Yoghurt (it is in the "expensive organic" cooler next to the Soy drinks and Free Range Tofu sausages). Despite many years in the UK I never got around to the greek yoghurt (more fool me, but it was during the Involuntary Yoghurt Avoidance Phase, following the Unpleasant Incident of the Rotten Sainsbury's Own Brand Yoghurt and Too-Long Car Trip...). However, a few years ago I was at a meeting in Crete and on a friend's advice tried the yoghurt with local honey for breakfast - and the stuck with it every day, and then religiously half-filled the coolers with Total each time I passed a TJs (the other half was tamales, if you must know).
So, the bad news is that there is now one less excuse to make the ~ 120 mile drive to nearest TJs, the good news is that central PA has incrementally improved food selection.

So, What is Skyr:

it is a non-fat, high protein, high calcium cultured dairy product.
It is more textured than yoghurt or cottage cheese, it is less firm than any reasonable cheese.

It can be eaten straight, with milk or cream, kids like it sprinkled with sugar (I'm partial to a touch of brown sugar) and it is wonderful with berries and fruit. It comes "raw" or "blended" (whipped with a bit of milk, sugar and sometimes fruit flavouring). Purists insist on it raw, though most sales are blended. I personally approve of the blueberry and orange flavoured varieties, but consider the other newfangled flavours highly suspect. But kids like them...

It lasts forever.
It is good for breakfast (near ideal in fact), it makes a great lunch, especially if complemented with some fruit and maybe a sandwich. It makes a fine dairy base for desert. It is good for quickie outdoor lunches and great to take camping.

How good is it? It is the base "nesti" (travel food) for anyone wanting to row across the Atlantic and arrive off the mainland in fit and fighting form. A wooden tub (birch or pine) with a large dollop of skyr will last the whole voyage and keep you going through all but the worst of storms ready to kick some english french ass.
It will keep your family alive for weeks of winter, it will help you ride out the total desolation of a volcanic eruption (especially if you can get a bit of fresh whale blubber to supplement it).

It is close to being the perfect food.

So, if you're lucky enough to live within commuting distance of a Whole Foods, then go buy some, but leave some for the rest of us.

Damn, this is an actual reason to seriously contemplate moving. I don't think State College can absorb a Whole Foods with Wegman's here. Need to start correlating WF locations with interesting Universities...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Boulder, CO Whole Foods has been selling icelandic lamb for the past two years or so, but only during a relatively short season (presumably this corresponds to the season when it is actually available.) Very tasty, though pricey (about an additional $1.00/pound over the price of New Zealand lamb.)

On the downside, you'ld have to share a campus with Ward Churchill and the ghost of Petr Beckmann...

4:12 PM  
Blogger yami mcmoots said...

I tried the fruity blended skyr while in Iceland, and it was yummy, but I didn't find it to be a significant improvement over any other sort of fruit-flavored processed dairy snack. But I didn't have a chance to appreciate its natural preservative qualities...

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who spent WAY too much time during my formative years at Wegmans (Lord, I wish I was kidding, but it was Rochester, NY, and there wasn't much else to do until the Horizontal Boogie Bar opened up [music club, now called the Water Street Music Hall after the Bosstones caused a loft collapse which mandated a renovation]), have no fear about the current dearth of Icelandic cuisine. Weggies, the Google of the supermarket world, may not always react first to any new trend in food purchases, but they are devastatingly quick. Within a year or two, Skyr will have at least two shelves in the dairy section, or so I would bet. BTW, is it a Wegmans or a SuperWegmans (i.e., bigger or smaller than a football/soccer field)?

10:52 AM  
Blogger Steinn said...

Hey, I remember the Boulder Whole Foods, stocked up on dry good before heading up to Aspen when I visited last summer. Never scanned the lamb section, though I remember you telling me about it before.
I saw Icelandic yuppie water last month in the Whole Foods in Evanston, grabbed some as a matter of principle, since I needed something to combat airplane dehydration and it was still cheaper than the hotel "courtesy" water.
Wegman's here (a "regular one" I fear) carries Icelandic cod and haddock "fresh frozen", not bad, and I always annoy the counter guy by specifying which fillet I want (summer at a "fish factory" as a teen well spent, I guess).

I can only hope Wegman's jumps on the bandwagon, State College is becoming more civilised and has its good points (finite house prices, good for kids), but still isn't there at the "full-size" university town level.
I visited Rochester for the summer AAS a few years ago, I see the point about why the Wegman's coffee bar might be a the hangout. Depressing downtown (not helped by 1) the toilet in my first room having overflowed before I checked in; 2) the hotel catching fire while I at dinner the first night (small laundry fire, but they still evacuated everyone for a couple of hours and, 3) it was cold and rainy and I drove straight up from the AMNH opening where it was 30+C and I had not sweater or coat with me - otherwise a good meeting and nice town).

One reason I am not so fond of the modern blended skyrs is precisely that when you add enough sugar and tropical fruit gunge, then it tastes just like every other dairy product with sugar and fruit.
The "raw" skyr really gives you the distinction - it is not as sour as yoghurt and the texture is much better (to my tastes) and when you read the nutritional info you really see a difference.
Fruit in skyr really should be in chunks; blueberries are the most accessible combo, some people swear by raspberries but what you really want is "crowberries" (krækiber) - if you could get any. If not, some juice or liquor makes a nice addition. Just be careful not get them confused with lamb droppings...

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Checked the Whole Foods near us here in Raleigh, but they had never heard of skyr. (sniff)

I'll keep an eye out, but it may have to wait until our next trip north. Let me know if you'd like us to bring up a jar of the locally-produced "Bone Suckin' Sauce" for... ... ... sheer amusement value.


6:13 PM  
Blogger Steinn said...

If skyr does show up at some Whole Foods, I'll travel some considerable distance to get it... With coolers I could fill the fridge from anywhere within 250 mile radius.
Stuff is seriously good. At least for those of us who grew up on it.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently tried skyr at Whole Foods and fell in love with it, especially mixed with fresh berries. The tag on the salad bar bowl said it contained skim milk and vanilla. When I called to get more info about it, the prepared-foods manager told me it was loaded with sugar and "really bad" for you. Now I'm confused. It tastes so good that it would seem to be really bad for you, but all the reports I read about say just the opposite. Any thoughts?

12:11 PM  
Blogger Steinn said...

So, raw skyr is basically just cultured skim milk, it is slightly dry and crumbly, and probably not what Whole Foods is selling - which is a shame because it is very high in protein and calcium, is fat free and low in sugar (it has some lactose from the milk).
Most skyr is "whipped", it is stirred, usually with a little bit of skim milk, to make it creamier and smoother textured; it is also extremely good for you and is low sugar (on occasion a bit of sugar is whipped in at the factory, but usually sweetener is left to the consumers disgression).

There is a line of flavoured, whipped skyr. Those come in two classes - high sugar ones aimed at kids, they basically add "kid friendly" flavourings and lots of sugar to hook them.
Then there is an "adult" line of flavoured skyr, they ought to be using much less sugar and aim the flavouring at a more mature palate. I have never had "vanilla skyr", I am conservative on the flavoured stuff, I'll acknowledge blueberries, won't eat but recognise as traditional the strawberry blend, and am quite fond of the orange flavour (they got me young with that one) - personally I don't like the other flavours and generally won't try them, I like it plain and would take it unwhipped if I could find that. But my wife really likes the tropical fruit flavours and loves all the berry versions (everyone agrees the fresh berries are best, with blueberries or crowberries [krækiber] by far the best, though my aunt claims raspberries are good too).

If Whole Foods is going with sugared vanilla, then they are making a big mistake; they should lead with either berry flavour or unflavoured...

Ok, I just checked the Skyr website - there is a Vanilla Skyr from the "MS" company with NO added sugar (3 gm hydrocarbons per 100 gm serving) and there is a "KEA" company
"Skyr with Vanilla" which does have added sugar, 12 gm per 100gm serving. That's 96 Calories per serving, with 2/3 of those from sugar. What can I say, darned northerners (KEA is the north coast dairy, MS is the unified dairy company HQ'd on the south coast).

My understanding was that the Whole Foods deal was with MS and I would have thought they'd ship their own brand in preference to KEA, in which case there is no sugar added.


1:50 PM  
Blogger Steinn said...


Carbohydrates, not hydrocarbons... it is hard to transliterate correctly when reading Icelandic and writing in English.

Nobody invade or nothing. No hydrocarbons here, no sirree.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Steinn said...

PS I don't have any in the office, but a quick google shows 17 gm of sugar per 100 gm of yogurt in a major brand name flavoured yogurt. Which sounds about right.
So the full sugar-added skyr is still less sweetened than a pot of supermarket brand name regular yogurt.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Steinn. Much appreciated information!

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just returned from Iceland with enough Skyr to last me till my next visit. Last fall I attempted to make Skyr. It's possible and you can find recipes online (trust Nanna). But it is hard. My milk cooled too quicky and it never solidified. This morning Whole Foods told me that their vendors, who would be the ones to import Skyr and deliver it to Whole Foods, do not yet import Skyr. I just called the local vendor for Whole Foods here in Boston and am awaiting a call back from them. Perhpas if more people call Whole Foods, and also call their dairy vendors, we can raise enough of a roar to make this really happen!

10:50 AM  
Blogger Gar said...

im current in Iceland I'm loving my Skyr. It has a Greek yogurt consistency, which I love also. I can never go to back to the American yogurt now.

1:17 AM  
Blogger Cathy Raymond said...

The Wegmans in my area now sells the Siggi's brand of skyr. Just saying.

1:00 AM  

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