Tuesday, September 06, 2011

My Big Fat Icelandic Obsession: SKYR!

When I was in Oregon last month visiting my dear friends, John and Keith, who (as I have shared many times, because I'm so proud of them!) own a fabulous wood-fired bread bakery and now pizzeria, I accompanied Keith on an errand to Fairview Farm Goat Dairy near Dallas to acquire feta cheese. The farm had one of those wonderful little sheds with a refrigerator in it and signs to help yourself and pay on the honor system. Keith was getting his pre-bagged and marked order out of the fridge when I spied something called marionberry skyr--the sign called it a "Viking cheese." I had no idea what that meant, but I quickly snapped up a small carton and took it back to my friends' house.

The next morning, we had it spread on some toast, and it was SO delicious! Smooth, tangy, sweet, and a very pretty lavender color from those wonderful Oregon marionberries. The texture was thicker than Greek yogurt, but not quite as thick as softened cream cheese. It was just WONDERFUL, and yet it made me sad. What was I going to do without this magical substance once I returned home to New York?

As soon as I got back, I started my experimentations. I trolled the internet, found a "recipe" that looked right, verified the methodology with the folks at Fairview Dairy, and made two batches with goat's milk from the grocery store. The first batch did not form curds, and I thought maybe my liquid rennet was past its prime. So I tried a second batch with Junket tablets, and it still didn't form curd. Oh, it made some lovely yogurt, but it didn't make cheese. I was left to conclude that the grocery store milk was ultra-pasteurized--that is, super-heated so that it breaks down the proteins in the milk which will then no longer form curd.

Clearly, I had to find a local source of goat's milk. I called around and posted an appeal on Facebook, and all roads seemed to lead to Welbian Farm in Peru, NY and to Donna Pearce, champion goat breeder. Donna is a lovely woman who invited me to her house, where I instantly fell in love with her pack of dogs (a mastiff, a pointer, and two little terrier-like yappers), and we chatted amiably about mutual friends, the similarities between goat shows and dog shows, and pasteurization processes, as she fed me different kinds of yummy goat cheese in her kitchen. She also sold me four gorgeous gallons of fresh goat's milk. YAY!

For the next four nights in a row, I processed one gallon of milk which yielded one pint of amazing skyr, a soft yogurt cheese. And I learned A LOT that week. Here is an abbreviated list of conclusions to which I have come:
1) Blackberries--even local wild ones--cannot hold a candle to Oregon marionberries. :-(
2) Local wild blueberries in the skyr are more traditional and superlative in flavor!
3) But the best flavor of all is simple vanilla bean. MMM! So awesome with homemade granola!
4) You can use an electric yogurt maker with the little jars removed to incubate up to two quarts of milk in a large glass measuring cup covered with foil.
5) Even better than an electric yogurt maker is an ice chest with two milk jugs of hot water tucked along the sides.
6) To get the right, super-smooth consistency, you must whisk the final product and bust up any little cottage cheese-like bits.
7) Skyr freezes beautifully and when thawed, returns to its lovely consistency (again, use the whisk to fluff it back up).

A thousand thanks to Jules of Jules Food for the boilerplate methodology. I will be stealing unabashedly from her blog but adding my own thoughts/comments/adaptations.

Skyr (Icelandic Yogurt Cheese)

4 quarts (1 gallon) nonfat milk--NOT ultra-pasteurized (skyr is traditionally made from skimmed cow's milk, but I used whole goat's milk)
Siggi's Skyr, or another brand if you can find it
7-8 drops liquid rennet or 1/2 Junket tablet dissolved in a little cold water (I have used both liquid rennet from http://www.cheesemaking.com/ and Junket tablets with equal success)

Equipment:
good thermometer
good quality stock pot, stainless steel
big towels for wrapping up pot
cheese cloth or a big square of muslin works better (I prefer flour sack towels--you can get a multi-pack from Sam's Club on the cheap)
kitchen twine/string
a large strainer
whisk

Make sure all of your utensils are CLEAN. Heat the milk slowly up to 185 F degrees and hold at that temperature for at least ten minutes. Use a heavy-bottomed pot and gently stir every so often to keep the milk from scorching. After ten minutes at 185 F degrees, turn off and cool to 100 F degrees. (This will take about an hour and half, or you can hurry it along by submerging the pot in a sinkful of cold water.) When the milk is at body temperature, mix about 1/4 cup of your starter (Siggi's or other live active culture yogurt like Stoneyfield) with a couple of tablespoons of the warm milk--one tablespoon at a time--in a small cup until it seems combined and pourable. Add this mixture to the warm milk and stir very gently, being careful not to scrape up any milk solids that may have formed at the bottom of the pot. Next add the rennet and stir very gently, using an up and down motion.

Cover your pot and wrap it in 2-3 towels and leave it out on the counter for 12-16 hours or until it soldifies into a solid mass with some visible whey around/on top of it (it shouldn't still look like milk or runny yogurt or something has gone wrong--your milk was probably ultra-pasteurized!). The counter method works fine if your house/kitchen is always warm. Other folks put their pot in a gas oven with a pilot light, or by a wood stove or other home heating source. I have used both my electric yogurt maker and an ice chest with two gallon milk jugs of hot water tucked in, and both systems work great (the latter actually worked a little better, much to my surprise).

Using a long, serrated knife, cut the curd into one-inch rows lengthwise, then turn and do it again across. With a slotted strainer, spoon the curds into a strainer lined with cheesecloth/muslin/a flour sack towel until all is in. Gather the four corners of the flour sack towel up, bind with a good length of kitchen twine, and suspend from a kitchen cabinet knob with a large bowl underneath to catch all of the whey. Let this hang for an hour or two while most of the whey drains from the curds and it reaches the desired consistency (a little drier than you want, because you will be whisking in some flavorings). I would say that you're shooting for something not quite all the way to cream cheese.

Empty the cheese into a bowl and whisk for about 200 strokes until smooth and light. Add about 1/4 cup of any kind of fruit puree that you prefer (or as little/much fruit as you like) and/or a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste, and then sweeten to your taste with sugar. Whisk everything together with another 50 strokes, and then store they skyr in the fridge or freeze for keeping longer. Thaw at room temperature (or overnight in the fridge), and whisk back to a smooth, light consistency. You may even want to loosen it up with a splash of cream...and another pinch of sugar might not hurt either! ;-)















Wild Blackberry Skyr

Wild Blueberry and Vanilla Bean Skyr

















One really good idea is to layer skyr and whole fruit (in this case, peaches and plums sprinkled with lime juice) in a small glass or jar to make yummy little skyr parfaits! But my favorite way to eat it is with homemade nutty granola. YUM!

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