A selection of popular and lesser-known cultured dairy for Fine Dining Lovers, 21 March 2016.
There’s renewed enthusiasm about the cultured dairy products of our forefathers. Food historian Anne Mendelson (Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages) thinks the interest in ancient milkways may stem from the “growing “know your food” movement.” A keen advocate for whole, unhomogenized milk, she says there’s immense interest in fermentation on the whole in the United States. Cheryl Sternman Rule, author of Yogurt Culture, adds: “We’re in the midst of a widespread DIY love affair across many food categories, but in the fermented foods sphere especially.”
Inspired by my recent trip to a dairy farm in Iceland, here’s a round up of 10 (out of infinite) cultured dairy products to try.
I visit Efstidalur, an Icelandic working farm owned by the same family since the 17th Century, to learn about skyr. Skyr is the famed 1000-year-old Icelandic cultured diary product somewhat similar to thick yoghurt, but closer to a cheese in reality. Its origins can be traced to the Viking settlers, around 874 AD. Versions, long ceased, were made in nearby Scandinavian countries too. Guðrún Snæbjörnsdóttir, daughter of the current farm owners, tells me about Sundays when the family ate skyr whipped with fresh cream and brown sugar. The skyr at the farm is thicker than any I’ve tried – it needs to be flicked, or licked off the spoon to get it to budge. There’s an air of mystery about how skyr come about. Guðrún’s brother Sölvi, dairy farmer and chef suggests the cowboy tale of someone riding with a saddle bag of milk on a long journey and the contents thickening because of the rennet released from the bag made from the stomach of a calf or young animal. Combined with bacteria in the saddlebag and the galloping of the horse, the milk separated into curds and whey. Et voilà: skyr. That’s one popular version about skyr, and how yogurt as we know it, came about…