Many English translations of the sagas mention “sour curds,” but Icelanders know the stuff by its proper name, skyr. Shortly before medieval outlaw Egil Skallagrimson got into a famous drinking-and-barfing contest at the home of Armod Beard, he downed a hearty bowl of skyr, and his descendants still enjoy the thick, sour, yogurt-like cheese curds:
When the farm laborer rises in the morning he expects his allowance of skyr as a matter of course, along with his black bread and coffee. And when the chance visitor from town drops in, he welcomes a plate of skyr, along with cakes and coffee, as the most satisfying form of refreshment. Nor is the taste unpleasant, but one needs practice in order to empty a soup-plate full of it with good grace.
One brand of imported skyr has been available in parts of the U.S. for several years, but I was stunned today to stumble across Siggi’s Skyr, every six-ounce cup of which is made in America by an entrepreneurial, homesick Icelander who refined the recipe in his TriBeCa apartment and set up a skyr operation on a farm in upstate New York.
Skyr is an acquired taste, and Siggi’s Skyr isn’t cheap—it’s around $2.50 for six ounces, as opposed to $1.99 for the same quantity of the imported brand—but it’s powerful stuff: no fat, 16 grams of protein (which makes it more protein-rich than an entire chicken thigh), 13 grams of carbohydrates, and the calcium of two-thirds of a cup of milk.
Of course, the American who wants to eat like a Viking faces hard questions: Should one buy the imported skyr and support Iceland’s cratered economy? Should one buy the domestic stuff and support a very weird small business? And for crying out loud, with flavors like “pomegranate and passion fruit,” why doesn’t it come in galangal?