Gammelgarden Creamery Skyr: Icelandic-Style Yogurt Made in Vermont
How many women ask for a Jersey cow for their 50th birthday present? Most women want jewelry, or perhaps a special trip to an exotic location. Stina Kutzer loves cows, and her gift of 3-day-old Babette was the beginning of Gammelgarden Creamery in Pownal.
Back then, Stina had an unformed dream of someday operating a small dairy providing local milk products. When Babette gave birth to twin heifers, a rare occurrence, Stina suddenly had three milking cows. As her herd grew, she started making and selling butter. Stina’s family is Swedish, and she investigated Swedish yogurt and learned more about the history of yogurt and cheese throughout the world. One day she hit upon a winning combination: Strain the milk, add live cultures and a thick, creamy, Greek-type yogurt was born. A conversation with the milk inspector convinced her to market her product as something other than yogurt, due to the technical equipment requirements for making commercial yogurt. Her research led to Iceland’s Skyr, a soft cheese-like yogurt with a centuries-old history. According to the original stories of the Norse Vikings, Icelanders have made Skyr since settlers from Norway first arrived on the island in the ninth century.
I was first introduced to Skyr when the friendly staff at Powers Market in North Bennington offered samples to my running group one frosty Sunday morning. We quickly bought out their supply, and eagerly looked forward to enjoying Skyr on a regular basis. Initially my husband was skeptical, but his new favorite dessert is a mixture of fresh local berries topped with maple Skyr.
Technically Skyr is a soft cheese, but it looks like and tastes like a thick, creamy yogurt. The taste changes slightly depending on the weather, what the cows eat and which cows are being milked. Nutritionally Skyr is very similar to 1%–2% fat Greek yogurt, with about 16 grams of protein and 120 calories per cup. Hand skimming the cream from the full-bodied Jersey milk gives Gammelgarden Creamery’s Skyr a creamier, thicker texture and smooth mouthfeel. Today Stina milks four cows. Producing Skyr is a family operation including Stina’s sister and business partner Marta Willett; her husband, daughters, son, brother-in-law, nieces and nephew; and the occasional help of local high school students and last year an intern from NOFA (Northeastern Organic Farming Association).
Stina milks twice each day, typically getting 20 gallons of milk. She milks into stainless steel buckets, which she then loads into a child’s green wagon to transport the fresh milk from the barn to the milkhouse about 50 yards away. The milk is filtered, strained and poured into a 66-gallon bulk tank, where it’s chilled to 45° within 15 minutes. Stina hand-skims the cream off the top of the milk before she pours it into the pasteurizing vat, getting about two gallons of cream from 10 gallons of milk. She makes 15 pounds of butter per week from the cream, and the milk is then pasteurized. She adds two different types of yogurt cultures—one tangy and one mild— plus a very small amount of vegetable rennet and lets the yogurt sit overnight, maintaining a live-culture-friendly temperature of 100°– 115°. The next day she hangs the product in homemade cheese cloth bags over white plastic dishpans, letting the watery whey drip out until the Skyr reaches the consistency she wants.
Stina produces two types of Skyr: a plain, unflavored variety as well as one mixed with maple syrup from a farmer who lives near her sister in Middlebury. Skyr is packaged in 16-ounce plastic containers and sold at farmers markets in Bennington, Manchester and Dorset. Stina, or sometimes her husband or daughter, delivers Skyr packed in coolers filled with ice to a few local stores in Bennington County and over the border in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Stina’s story is pure Vermont: She acted on her dream of a small dairy to produce high-quality food from local ingredients; drew on her heritage to develop a unique product; relies on her family for help with production, distribution and bookkeeping; figured out how to make Skyr within the technical and food safety guidelines mandated by the state; and enjoys working on her small farm with her beloved cows. Gammelgarden Creamery Skyr may have roots in Iceland, but its taste is all Vermont