Skyr, recipe and instructions

The Viking settlers are believed to have brought the knowledge of how to make skyr with them from Norway, and may have developed it further after settlement. Since that time, the knowledge of skyr-making has been lost in Scandinavia.

Skyr looks like thick yoghurt, and the taste is reminiscent of it. But skyr is actually a type of fresh cheese. Because it is made with skim milk, the fat content is very low, allowing it to be eaten with cream and sugar without too much guilt. It is also an excellent source of calcium. Making it takes time, but it's well worth the effort.

Skyr is not widely available outside Iceland (it is sold in limited amounts in some speciality shops in the USA), which can make it hard to produce in other countries. The reason for this is that in order to make skyr, you need skyr. There is a special bacteria culture that gives skyr its taste and texture, and the best way of getting the bacteria into a new batch is by mixing a portion of prepared skyr into it. Sour cream or buttermilk can be used as a starter in place of skyr, but the taste will be slightly different.

This recipe makes 16 to 20 servings, and can easily be reduced. The skyr can be stored for 4-5 days in a closed container.

10 l skim milk, preferably not pasteurised
8-9 drops OR 1 1/2 tablet rennet
10 g skyr, for the bacteria starter. If not available, use 1 tbs live culture sour cream or buttermilk.

1. Heat the skim milk up to 86-90°C, and cool slowly for about 2 hours, down to 39°C. Stir a little scalded milk into the starter to make a thin paste and mix into the skim milk with the rennet (if you are using dry rennet, dissolve in a little water before adding).

2. Close the cooking pot and wrap in towels or a thick blanket. The milk should curdle over a period of about 5 hours. If it curdles in less than 4 1/2 hours, the curds will be coarse, but if it curdles in more than 5 hours, the skyr will be so thick it will be difficult to strain. When the milk is curdled, cut into the curds with a knife. When you can make a cut which will not close immediately, then you can go on to the next stage.

3. Line a sieve or colander with cheesecloth or a fine linen cloth and pour in the skyr. Tie the ends of the cloth together over the top and hang over a bucket or other container so the whey can drip off. If the skyr-making has been successful, there will be little whey, and it will not float over the curds, but will be visible along the edges of the sieve and in the cuts you made into the surface. You can judge the quality of the skyr from the appearance of the curds when you pour them into the sieve. If the skyr is good, it will crack and fall apart in pieces, but should neither be thin nor lumpy. Do not put a layer thicker than 7-9 cm into the sieve. Keep the sieve in a well ventilated room, with a temperature no higher than 12° and no lower than 0° Celsius. The skyr should be ready to eat in 12-24 hours.

4. The skyr should be firm and look dry when ready. The whey can be used as a drink, to pickle food, or as a replacement for white wine in cooking.

Problems you may encounter, and how to solve them:
If the whey does not leak off the curds or floats over the curds, or the curds do not shrink from the edges of the sieve, then something is wrong. The milk has not been heated to a high enough temperature or has been cooled too quickly, so that the rennet has not had time to work. The more milk you curdle at a time, the relatively less starter and rennet you need. A large container cools slower than a small one, and the effects of starter and rennet last longer.

About the starter:
It is best to use skyr for the starter. If the skyr is sour, it should be mixed into the milk while it is still 80°-90°C. This will remove the sourness. Don't add the rennet until the milk has cooled to approx. 40°C. When the weather is cold, it is best to mix it in when the milk is a little over 40°C (say, 41° or 42°). In cold weather, the milk also needs to be covered more tightly while it curdles. This is especially important if you are making a small portion of skyr.

Eat the skyr as it is, or stir some milk and sugar into it and serve with cream and fruit/berries (bilberries/blueberries are traditional, but crowberries or strawberries are also good). It is also good with müesli and/or brown sugar, honey or maple syrup.

The historical information comes from the teaching leaflet Súrt og Sætt, by Sigríður Sigurðardóttir, published by Byggðasafn Skagfirðinga, 1998.
Recipe translated from Nýja Matreiðslubókin by Halldóra Eggertsdóttir & Sólveig Benediktsdóttir, Reykjavík, MCMLXI; additional information: my grandmother.

In Iceland, you can buy skyr in any supermarket, with a choice of many different flavours, ranging from plain to the traditional bilberry/blueberry, to vanilla, pear, chocolate, etc. You can also get refreshing drinks made with skyr and fruit.


Anonymous said…
I am going to try to make skyr following your instructions but using a skyr that I purchased in the US. Do you know the name of the culture that is actually used in traditional skyr in Iceland? I would love to know it's name so I can study it a bit more. Thank you for this recipe and your knowledge!
Bibliophile said…
Anon, I think there are various lactobacilli involved. Two I have seen mentioned in writing are Streptococcus salivarius subsp. thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus. These are also used to make yogurt. It's the rennet that really makes the difference between yogurt and skyr.

Good luck with your skyr-making.
Story said…
I just tried making skyr today and love the results. The taste, however, was a little different than I expected. I've heard using unpasteurized milk gives a better taste (which i did not use). What are your thoughts? I also used buttermilk as I live in the U.S. and do not have access to skyr. Thanks for posting!
Bibliophile said…
Story, I have always heard it said that unpasteurised milk gives a better flavour to skyr, but I haven't had the chance to test it myself. In the old days before the dairy cooperatives were granted a monopoly on making milk products the skyr was made on the farms, using raw milk, and the bacteria involved would be slightly different from farm to farm, so that the skyr from each farm tasted slightly different.

As for using buttermilk, which I must add I haven't tried using in skyr, you will get something similar to skyr, but not exactly what the standardised modern product is like.

By the way, you should be able to get skyr from Whole Foods Markets stores in the U.S., although availability may depend on where you live. If you do find it, get the unflavoured, sugar-free version for making skyr at home.
Story said…
Siggi's drinkable probiotic flavored "Icelandic yogurt" was the only thing available at Whole Foods in my area in California. Thanks for your input! I'll be posting my results in the next week (once I get my photos offloaded).
Anonymous said…
I had the chance to go to Iceland and I was happy to find out that you can bring in Dairy products to the USA. Which is great. So maybe you can buy it and have it shipped over.
Anonymous said…
Please if you can answer quickly; I am making skyr and cannot seem to find rennet in neither liquid not tablet form. Is there a possible substitute, or must I have that certain rennet?
Bibliophile said…
Anon, you need rennet to make skyr. It doesn't matter what kind. Without rennet, you're just making yoghurt.
Rob said…
Hi Bibliophile - I've just today finished making a batch of skyr in the UK using skyr I purchased recently in Iceland. I've followed the recipe you've outlined here but the end product seems lumpy and no amount of hand beating can smooth it out. Any ideas what might have gone wrong? Thanks
Bibliophile said…
Rob, I haven't come across this problem before, but my guess would be that the skyr may have curdled too quickly.

You could try adding some milk/cream and then going at it with a mixer, but from the sound of it, you would probably end up with something resembling cottage cheese. It should still be edible, just drier than regular skyr.
Rob said…

Thanks very much for the response. After keeping the first attempt in the fridge for a couple of days it seems to have gone quite bubbly. I have one more pot of genuine skyr to try again with!

Thanks again for the recipe!
Bibliophile said…
Bubbly? That sounds ominous. There's definitely some fermentation going on there. Better not try to eat it :-)
I hope the next batch works out better.
Unknown said…
Hey! I just wanted you to know that I featured your recipe on my blog!
Unknown said…
I just came back from Iceland where I had farm fresh Skyr and needed to see if I could make my own. I used 4 litres of pasteurized skim milk and followed the rest of the recipe, using Skyr bought at the store here in Canada as the starter. . I only had Junkets rennet on hand and used half a tablet dissolved in 1/4 cup distilled water. It worked perfectly! I served my whipped Skyr with a drizzle of cream, a good drizzle of maple syrup and some blueberries. Holy crap! This is the bomb! Thank you for your recipe, I'll be making this regularly.

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