Sunday, April 27, 2008

*nerdy squeal*

I found Skyr in the grocery store! *squeal* ... Okay, I will explain, because I'm sure very few people outside of Iceland and maybe Scandinavia and Canada have ever heard of this stuff...

Skyr is the national dish of Iceland according to the Icelandic Tourist Board. It's a very, very soft fat-free cheese. This package that I'm looking at calls it a yogurt, but it's actually a cheese. It's very thick, thicker than the thickest sour cream, but not as thick as cream cheese. It's somewhere in between them. And it taste a little like sour cream or plain yogurt. But it's completely fat-free, and very high in calcium and protein, and always made from skim milk. There are three ingredients in plain skyr: skim milk (preferably unpasteurized cow's or sheep's milk, if we're being strictly traditional), live cultures and rennet. That's it. No sugar, no artificial anything. It is yum! I do like it! Skyr that's made from sheep's milk is naturally sweeter than that made from cow's milk, but I think the idea of cow's milk is probably more palatable to Americans, so the skyr that I found at the grocery store is made from cow's milk.

Next question would be, why am I spazzing out over it? Well, it's a very old kind of cheese and therefore it makes my inner (who am I kidding? there's no "inner" about it!) history geek scream and bounce around for joy. The Vikings pretty much subsisted most of the year on skyr, fish and other dairy products in Iceland. They had some limited types of vegetables (potatoes might be big there now, but they didn't have them in the 9th century - or for some time after the 9th century - obviously) that could be grown, but grain could not be grown there (as it was too cold, even for rye), at least not ever in any quantity, so most if not all of their grain was imported from mainland Europe or the British Isles, and so grain couldn't be as much of a staple of their diet as it was in other parts of Europe. They made bread, beer and porridge out of the grain. Which might be why one of the traditional ways to eat skyr is stirred in equal amounts with porridge. You can take a look at the traditional Icelandic foods listed at wikipedia and see what kinds of fish and meat dishes they ate. I can tell you, I don't think I would want to try most of them ever, even on a dare or if paid. And why they didn't use some of this stuff on Fear Factor, I don't know. 'Cause it's definitely Fear Factor material. Not that I ever watched that show, so maybe they did use some of these things.

Traditionally, skyr keeps well without refrigeration, although, the people who regulate such things in the US recommend refrigeration because there are no preservatives added to it. It does have some sodium, but only that which is naturally occurring in milk.

Skyr came about through innovation and desperation in an environment where everything edible needed to be put to good use. Butter was an excellent way of preserving the fats in milk, and blocks of butter could be and actually were used as a kind of currency (since they were also easy to store, weigh and transport). Viking women would spend a lot of time making heavily salted butter and cheese, which obviously, produced a lot of skim milk and whey. Whey, I'm not sure what they did with it, other than they could have drank it as it was. But the skim milk they could preserve for months at a time very effectively by making it into skyr. And so, they did.

And I finally got to try some today. hee! *blissfully geeked out*

That is all. :D

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