When the native-born Icelander, Siggi Hilmarsson, came to the U.S. he was repulsed by all the over sweetened foods available. Having been raised on raisins for candy and raw vegetables for snacks, his palate was overloaded with the heavy sugar content in most American food. Missing the food from home, he decided to try to make skyr, a yogurt from Iceland. After several attempts, the first of which tasted pretty awful, he perfected the recipe and skyr is now available in health food stores. Skyr has three times the amount of milk than most yogurts available and the only natural sweetener in it is agave nectar.
The first time I made the yogurt at home it wasn’t what I wanted. The second time it was OK. I never got it consistently perfect, and I could never really figure out what was going wrong. It’s a simple product that people have been making in Iceland for hundreds of years. After using the cream to make butter, the leftover nonfat milk gets turned into skyr. It’s simple but it’s not easy. It’s chemistry: The yogurt responds to the environment, and you really need to make it in a plant to be able to get consistently good results.
So I took a vacation from Deloitte and went upstate to try to make the yogurt. You need a really specific temperature for the skyr to come together, and you can’t really do that in a home kitchen. So I found this dairy plant that is a part of an agriculture college in upstate New York to make it in. It was only rented out when it wasn’t being used by the students. And I didn’t know this, but you have to have a compliant label to take the yogurt out of the plant and this person at the Department of Agriculture has to approve it. I didn’t know that until I was about to start making the yogurt and the guy at the test facility asked me about it. So I had a day to do a label and to decide on a name for the product. So under this pressure, last minute, I picked the name Siggi’s Skyr. I did my first professional batch of yogurt there and it tasted awesome. When I was making it in my house I’d have six or seven cups, and now I had 300 cups. So I started giving them away… one of the people I gave it to was a friend who worked at Murray’s Cheese. And without me knowing it she took the samples to a staff tasting. Then out of the blue I got an email from one of her colleagues saying they liked it and they wanted to start selling it. That’s when I started to think maybe I could make a real business of it. I was still young, I didn’t like my day job, I had this product I was mad about, and I had somebody willing to sell it. So I quit my job in the fall of 2005. And a few days before I started selling at Murray’s [about a year after he quit his job] I started selling at the [Nolita] Green Market, and we sold out there on the first day!
Photo by roboppy.