Let’s end the week with yogurt. Not just any yogurt, though; let’s talk about Icelandic yogurt, otherwise known as skyr.
Now I’d never heard of skyr until I heard about Siggi. Who’s Siggi? He’s a friend of my friend Sasie, one of Craig’s film school classmates. When I first met Sasie and told her that I was a food writer, she said: “Oh you have to meet my friend Siggi and try his yogurt!”
Now that’s quite a weird thing to say, except that Sasie’s friend Siggi has a remarkable yogurt story. I made a date last Saturday to go to Siggi’s TriBeCa loft to sample his skyr and to make skyr smoothies. Not a very typical Saturday, but Siggi’s not a very typical person. This is his story and the story of his skyr.
Siggi is from Iceland. He grew up there and ate very typical Icelandic food. “We eat very healthy in Iceland,” he told me in his living room after our introductions. “Lots of fish, not a lot of fat. That’s why we’re all so tall and skinny.”
Indeed, Siggi is tall and skinny and serves as a walking advertisement for an Icelandic diet.
“And do you eat lots of yogurt in Iceland?” I asked, segueing to the main reason for my visit.
“Yes,” he said. “But our yogurt–which is called skyr” (pronounced SKeer) “has no fat and no sugar and it’s incredibly good for you.”
Skyr’s dietary properties aren’t the result of sinister lab work or the addition of strange supplements and chemicals like most yogurt we see in America. “Essentially, skyr came about because of resourcefulness. After using the cream to make butter, the leftover non-fat milk was turned into skyr.”
What makes skyr extraordinary is how rich it tastes without any fat. I know this because I forced Siggi to let me sample some in the middle of his skyr story.
It tastes like a decadent dessert–its density is due to the fact that it’s strained–and yet, unlike, say, a big bowl of ice cream or whipped cream it’s actually good for you.
“It’s basically just pure protein,” said Siggi. “And we don’t use any artificial sweeteners. Our flavored skyr has agave, which is natural sugar from a cactus.”
He squeezed some agave syrup on to my skyr and it took it to a whole new level, much like eating a really flavorful cheese with really good honey.
“Wow,” I said. “This is some seriously good skyr.”
Eventually, I asked Siggi how he got into this business.
“I was working in finance and I wasn’t very happy,” he told me. “So I started making yogurt at home.”
“Did your roommates think that was weird?”
“They did,” he said, “Though they’re used to me making a mess in the kitchen.”
Unfortunately, Siggi’s attempts to make skyr at home didn’t really work. “The conditions weren’t right,” he explained. “You need a very specific temperature for the skyr to come together.”
Eventually, Siggi had an opportunity to make skyr on a dairy farm upstate. “We went up there and got to work and before we knew it we had skyr. We made so much of it that when I came back I didn’t know what to do with it all.”
He gave it away to friends in jars and one of these friends gave it to someone at Murray’s cheese who, in turn, gave it to the buyers there. “They tasted it and they loved it and eventually they got back to me and told me that if I wanted to produce my skyr, they would buy it.”
And that’s exactly what happened; Siggi was in business. First, he sold to Murray’s and then soon Dean & Deluca and Eli’s wanted it too. Finally, the big kahuna–Whole Foods–ordered Siggi’s skyr too.
“Now you can get it at Whole Foods all along the east coast and west as far as Nebraska.”
Siggi’s skyr comes in various flavors–pomegranate and passionfruit (“People get mad that it’s not red, but we didn’t want to dye it–we want it to be all natural”), blueberry, orange ginger…
…but the plain skyr is a perfect canvas on which to be inventive.
“Let’s make some skyr smoothies!” said Siggi.
The next few hours were hilariously fun. Siggi had a whole table covered with possible smoothie ingredients: pineapples, grapefruits, coconut milk, cilantro, strawberries, blackberries, almond butter.
“Let’s do coconut first,” he said. He threw some skyr into a blender and we added coconut milk, some agave (for sweetness), some lime juice and mint leaves.
We blended it all up and the result was strangely compelling. “Mmm,” said Siggi. “It would be even better with some alcohol.”
My favorite was perhaps the most simple: blackberries, strawberries and something called Bilberry nectar. “Bilberries are smaller, more tart blueberries,” Siggi explained.
Strangely, Siggi frequently deferred to me as some kind of food authority. “What do you think we should do next?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not really a chef.”
“C’mon,” he said. “Be creative!”
Siggi had a juicer out so I suggested that he juice a bunch of pears he bought and mix it with almond butter and skyr.
“Almost like a dessert,” he said eagerly.
He peeled the pears, I cut out their cores, we juiced and then blended with the yogurt and almond butter.
One of Siggi’s roommates came home around then and after tasting my invention said: “I think all these things would taste good by themselves, but I’m not sure they go together.”
Siggi and I toasted anyway:
Then we made a pineapple cilantro smoothie which I think was my 2nd favorite, though Siggi didn’t like the texture of the cilantro. “I used too much,” he said, chastising himself. “Maybe I should strain it.”
At this point, I was pretty skyred out and ready to be on my way.
“Well Siggi,” I said. “It was great to meet you and to try your skyr.”
“Here,” he said, handing me a bag. “Take some skyr home.”
He gave me a big bag of skyr–all the flavors–and Craig and I have been pigging out on it all week. Though it’s not really pigging out when there’s no fat in it, right?
“Before you go,” said Siggi. “You have to have some Icelandic schnapps.”
I had a shot of Icelandic firewater and then made my way out the door, a bagful of skyr on my arm.
“That was fun,” I said to myself as I made my way on to the train. And I’m glad I got to share some of that fun with you, reader, before the weekend. If you want to try some of Siggi’s skyr (and I really think you should), head over to Whole Foods (assuming you live east of Nebraska) and give it a try. Here’s the official website (skyr.com) if you want to read more about it. And if you want to make smoothies out of it, you have permission to copy my pear juice and almond butter smoothie (even you, Mrs. McCain….) Just make sure to give me credit!
Thanks, Siggi, for a great day of smoothies and skyr.