How Icelandic Skyr Yoghurt Cheese is made

  • With its thick, creamy texture, you may easily mistake skyr for yogurt.

  • In reality, skyr is a cheese made from pasteurised skimmed milk, with no cream in it.

  • Þorgrímur Einar Guðbjartsson from Erpsstaðir Creamery in Budardalur, Iceland takes us through the making process of this special cheese.

  • His creamery was first devoted to making ice cream, but he later started to make skyr with the leftover milk as a fun way to preserve it.

Followins is a transcript of the video.

Ju Shardlow: We're here in West Iceland, and we're gonna go and visit a creamery making traditional skyr. Now, skyr is an Icelandic yogurt cheese, and it's so unusual that it's not even really a cheese. So let's go and find out how it's made.

Sharing his skyr knowledge with me is Þorgrímur Einar Guðbjartsson. His creamery was first devoted to making ice cream, but he later started to make skyr with the leftover milk as a fun way to preserve it.
Þorgrímur Einar Guðbjartsson: Why do we make skyr in Iceland? Basically, it was to store the milk after you have taken the cream off to make it into butter. Butter was the currency, and butter is only maybe 3% of the milk quantity. So you have 97% skimmed milk left. That's a lot. You have to store it somehow. Preserving, making food, it's in my genes. My ancestors are farmers. And it gives you really good fulfill at the end when you see the storage. I have enough for the winter. I can provide my family, my kids, myself with everything.

Ju: Einar makes skyr once a week all year round and more often in the summer. He starts the process by separating the milk from its cream and then pasteurizing it.

Einar: Pasteurization temperature is about 63 to 72 degrees Celsius, but we need the milk to be around 50 degrees when we separate it. Otherwise it has influence on the texture of the cream. If it's too low, for example, you will have less cream, and if it's too high, you will also have less cream, as the fat molecules, they will sort of go on a big party in the heat. So they don't know what to do. The fat is lighter in weight than the milk. So what happens in here is that we have a spinning rotator in there. Centrifugal separator, which goes very fast. And by spinning the milk like this, it will throw out the fat molecules.

Ju: Right.

Einar: They will go "pff." And the main source of the milk, which is water, will remain in there and go out the other way as skimmed milk. Ju: Yeah.

Einar: Into a tank. The cream we get out of the machine is about 53% to 56% cream, so it's a little bit heavier than normal cream you have in the buckets today for your pudding or whatever. The cream we then take into the cellar and store it until we make ice cream. This is usually one of the moments I enjoy myself in the creamery. It's because I like cream.

Ju: Oh, right, you like cream, yeah. [both laugh] It looks very perfect coming out.

Einar: Smooth and nice. Ju: The whole process of making skyr, how long does it take? Einar: It takes about 24 to 30 hours.

Ju: 30 hours? Wow, OK.

Einar: Phase one.

Ju: Done, yeah. The skimmed milk then cools down at 40 degrees for half an hour.
Einar: I have here skyr from last week, leftover, which I use as a starter every time I make a new batch. So I will just pour it in here. And then we stir it. [whisking] [whisking]

Ju: And how long will you leave that for now?

Einar: Now it will sit for maybe four, five, six hours. I will come here after four hours and have a look at the coagulate. So, as soon as the whey starts to come out of the product, it's ready to cool down and start the next process. And now we just have to wait until 1 o'clock in the morning.

Ju: Yeah.

Einar: And I'll see you then. Ju: Because there's 23 hours of sunlight, you just don't sleep in the summer then?

Einar: I avoid sleeping in the summertime as much as I can. I really enjoy, for example, at 1 o'clock last night, I went outside here with my cup of coffee. There was no wind, there was not a sound from the birds, as the birds had already fallen asleep, so I was just sitting out there. You realize, you know, what life is supposed to be like. You're supposed to be enjoying the nature.

Ju: After fermenting, the milk needs to be cooled down to 20 degrees to stop the fermentation, and then it's stirred for three or four hours to get a smoother texture. The following morning, the milk is poured in these linen bags, which allow the whey to slowly drain out. [liquid flowing] [splashing]

Einar: You can see it's already floating in the whey. You see it's draining out. The main thing we used the skyr whey for in the past was to preserve food. You boil the food, and then you store it in the barrel with whey. The consistency of the product at the moment is the same as yogurt. So you — and the phase, making yogurt and skyr is the same until we take it out into the bags.

Ju: And then it changes after that. It becomes something different.

Einar: Yeah. The bacterias are different from the start.

Ju: So that's when it stops being yogurt and starts being skyr.
Einar: Yeah. It becomes a cheese.

Ju: It's like a sack of jelly. Yeah, that is, I just kind of wanna lay down in there. [laughs] It's quite satisfying. It's like a nice, really soft, wobbly pillow, yeah.

Einar: This is what I will need next week or when I produce skyr next time. And now you can see the consistency of the milk, you know. You see how smooth it is? We want it to be like silk. You can also see the small particles.

Ju: Oh, yeah, you can see them in there.

Einar: It looks like you have poured sugar or salt over it. All this will be gone when those small items have joined together successfully into what we call skyr. Ju: The skyr in the bags can take 10 to 20 hours to fully drain out. A bag that previously weighed 20 kilos would now weigh just 5.

Einar: As you remember, yesterday, when we put the coagulated milk in here, it was a full bag with smooth surface, and you wanted to sleep on it. But now you don't want to sleep on it. All the liquid is gone, and this is the dry stuff we have remaining.

Ju: Wow, it's like a clay, yeah.

Einar: It is. And this is exactly what we want it to look like. We want it to be flexible like this. It's still smooth enough so it will float around, it's not gonna stay as a block. If I would have it sit for maybe four, five hours more in the bag, it might be more like a block, and then it would be more difficult to put it in the packaging, and you would also need to add more liquid to it when you mix it up for consuming. This is the final product. You can just take it as it is now and eat it. You can also add something to it, if you want, for flavoring. For example, if you have some, what's your favorite taste in fruit?

Ju: I like lemon, like a lemon sorbet kind of taste.

Einar: You could add lemon to it, and then you would have lemon-tasting skyr. This is the final product, ready for consuming. And I'm gonna give you a little taste of it.

Ju: Yeah, nice.
Einar: I can hear that you are hungry. [Ju laughs] And this is a rhubarb syrup we make from our own harvest. And even though skyr is sour and rhubarb is sour, but when you make the syrup, you add some sugar to it. So with this together, it will be really tasty. But before we add to it, you taste it.

Ju: Mm! Yeah, it actually tastes really yogurty. It's just a nice, thick, creamy yogurt.

Einar: But there is no cream in it; it's skimmed milk.

Ju: Yeah, I know. Just, yeah.

Einar: It's so funny, people always talk about how creamy skyr is, but it's... there is no cream in it. Ju: Yeah.

Einar: OK, have a little bit more.

Ju: Mm. I'm being spoon-fed skyr.

Einar: I'm gonna add this on top.

Ju: Mm.

Einar: And now you're gonna have something really enjoyable.

Ju: Mm! That's great. That's really, really nice. Mm. That's super sweet.
Einar: We have a saying. "Þeir sletta skyrinu sem eiga það."

Ju: OK, I'm not gonna even try and attempt to say that. [both laugh]

Einar: It means literally, "Those who have the ability of doing something, they do it." For example, I can make skyr, so I do it. And I do it literally, and I try to do it as good as I possibly can.