Tuesday, March 8, 2011

skyr.is: Vanilla

Skyr? What the hell is skyr?

Well, I first heard of skyr on an early episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern where Andrew was in Iceland, and decided that should I ever find it "in the wild" here in the United States, it was something I was going to have to try. It just sounded that good.

If you've never heard of skyr -- and unless you are a seriously hardcore Björk fan, or you've watched every Travel Channel piece on Iceland where the host vomits after sampling locally made hákarl, you probably haven't -- no worries, Gigi is here to explain it to you. Skyr is a dairy product that, while it outwardly resembles a super-thick yogurt (like Turkish yogurt), is actually a form of soft cheese. My understanding, prior to actually seeing it, was that texture-wise it would be like a cross between Greek yogurt and cream cheese. It can be flavored with various fruits mixed in, as yogurt often is. In Iceland the most popular variety is unflavored, although it is traditionally served topped with fresh cream and sugar.

Also, and equally appealing, is the fact that Icelandic livestock is raised the old school way, grazed naturally on the grasslands without the use of growth hormones, chemical feeds, and other nasty stuff. Obviously the milk produced by these animals is of a quality you probably won't find anywhere in the United States (unless maybe there's an Amish dairy near you), so how could the skyr made from that milk not be good? I'm telling you, it just sounded better and better. But would I ever come across any?

Yes! As luck would have it, the branch of Whole Foods on Manhattan's Upper West Side happens to carry a commercially imported version. While I did not find the plain variety on the shelf (they do carry it, but were sold out) they did have a vanilla flavored -- which is as close as I could get.

So how was it?

Well, the contents of the little tub looked exactly like (the far more commonly available United States) Greek yogurt. The package gave no indication that I should do anything to the product other than to give it a good stir prior to eating...so that was all I did to it.

The texture reminded me of a cross between Greek yogurt and sour cream. Basically not as thick or as thin as either; sort of in the redheaded stepchild middle ground. And once I actually tried it, that was pretty much the perfect description of the mouth feel as well. It had a nice aroma -- tangy, yet clearly vanilla.

But how did it taste? I know I keep going back to Greek yogurt, but that really is the easiest comparison. It was very much like vanilla Greek yogurt, but less acidic. It's sweeter than Greek yogurt, though not as sweet as a typical American yogurt. There's also another flavor note that I can't exactly place. Sort of like a soft cheese -- perhaps mascarpone, or maybe if I was really stretching it, I could say it reminds me of the aftertaste of cream cheese. But even that doesn't exactly pin it down. It's not a bad taste at all, just a tricky one to identify.

I would have liked to try it served in the traditional way, but I didn't have any cream or sugar on hand to mix in, so I had to skip that. But I did have some sweetener (yeah, my favored Splenda), so I also tried adding a packet to see how that changed the flavor. I'm not sure that this version actually needed either addition, but it was still fun to try. I will admit I did like it a little better with the added sweetness. Yes, it was good straight from the tub, but I think my sweet tooth is taking over a little. I can also tell you that the added sweetness pushed the flavor I couldn't quite nail a lot closer to that of cream cheese.

All in all, I'd like to see skyr gain wider availability in the United States. It's tasty, and for me it's a happy medium for when I don't want something as sweet as a mass market American yogurt, yet at the same time I'm not in the mood for something as tangy as Greek. This really bridged the gap between the two perfectly.

If you're an open-minded yogurt fan and you come across this on the shelf, it should not be missed!

Whole Foods


150 calories per 6 ounce serving

Fat free


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