New York was baking hot, seeming to shimmer in the blazing sunlight. The skyscrapers turning from grey into a silver as they reflect back the sun’s rays. The sun beat down, sending commuters and hipsters running for shade and air conditioned shops, and turning the subway system into an underground oven. Typically, the English tennis players had already been knocked out of the early stages of the US Open, citing the heat as the reason why. I was in New York for other reasons, but I couldn’t let this opportunity slip by. I had to take the chance to find this; Siggi and his Icelandic Skyr. I had read about this guy, and was utterly enthralled by his story. Moreover, I couldn’t resist a tub of cool Icelandic Skyr in this sultry heat.
Skyr is an Icelandic dairy product. Although you wouldn’t be wrong to think of it as part of the yoghurt family, it is actually a form of soft cheese and is slightly acidic. It is virtually fat free, which is a bonus. Like most things, it was brought to Iceland by the Vikings, although I’m not sure that they were particularly health conscious. I certainly can’t imagine them counting the calories. Skyr is part of my staple diet when I’m in Iceland – I probably eat more than is strictly good for you but it is delicious and here is nothing like it here in the UK.
Siggi was more than pleased to discuss his baby, Siggi’s Skyr, and the whole story seemed so amazing, I couldn’t wait to speak to the man himself. I managed to speak with Siggi on the phone, his Icelandic accent not being at all influenced by several years in the US.
Siggi moved to New York in 2002 for Grad School, and in 2004 found himself in the city at Christmas, and for the first time, not going home for Christmas holidays. Feeling somewhat homesick for his friends, family, Flatbread and Skyr, Siggi asks his mother to send over some recipes so that he can attempt to make his own Icelandic food, especially as Skyr is nowhere to be found in New York. In his own words, Siggi said that he was missing Iceland and the ability to drive only an hour to find that ‘instant feeling of aloneness’. In a city of 8.4 million souls, Siggi made his first batch of Skyr. He didn’t say whether it cured his homesickness or not, but it must have gone well, as Siggi went on to produce further batches from an agricultural college in upstate New York during the spring of 2005.
The limited produce was rapturously received by New York foodies. So well, in fact that Siggi was able to commence his own company – Icelandic Milk and Skyr Company – and move production to Norwich, Chenango County, New York where doe eyed brown cows eating pristine green grass produce organic milk for Siggi to turn into yummy Skyr. By 2008, Siggi had doubled his companies size (ok, from two to four employees!), and was producing Skyr for stores up and down the Eastern seaboard. Not bad for something started in his own diminutive kitchen. Siggi plans to centre on the North American market, with the next stop being Canada. I remarked that the Icelandic – Canadian connection should make this any easy transistion, a ready made market maybe? Siggi just chuckled to himself. I ask whether – fingers crossed – he plans to start producing Skyr in the UK, and despite a lot of requests, he doesn’t. I almost shed a tear. He does have some tips for me though. ‘Try the grapefruit one’ he says. Its his favourite as he doesn’t like anything too sweet. His biggest seller is the blueberry one. My stomach is rumbling now, just thinking of it.
A few weeks later in New York, I do try the Grapefruit one, and its fine. It’s fine, but its a bit too sharp for me. The blueberry one, though is absolutely divine. I’m instantly transported back across the Atlantic to Iceland. Siggi has managed to produce little pots of Skyr miles from its home. In doing so, he has produced little pots of Iceland, too.
Siggi’s Skyr website.