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The Yule Lads of Iceland #8: Skyr-Gobbler

Hopefully you already saw my post last Tuesday with an overview of the Icelandic tradition of the Yule Lads. If you haven’t, go back and read that first so this will make more sense. According to folklore, today — December 19 — is the day when the eighth Yule Lad arrives.

The eighth Yule Lad’s name is Skyrgámur, which translates as Skyr-Gobbler. His particular brand of mischief is that he has a great affinity for Skyr, which is similar to yogurt. It’s a “traditional Icelandic cultured dairy product. It has the consistency of strained yogurt, but a milder flavor. Skyr can be classified as a fresh sour milk cheese, similar to curd cheese consumed like a yogurt in the Baltic states, the Low Countries, Germany and Russia. It has been a part of Icelandic cuisine for centuries. Skyr has a slightly sour dairy flavor, with a hint of residual sweetness. It is traditionally served cold, either plain or with cream. Commercial manufacturers of skyr have added flavors such as vanilla, coffee, or fruit.”

Here’s how he’s described in the 1932 Icelandic poem, “Yule Lads,” by Jóhannes úr Kötlum:

Skyr Gobbler, the eighth,
was an awful stupid bloke.
He lambasted the skyr tub
till the lid on it broke.
Then he stood there gobbling
– his greed was well known –
until, about to burst,
he would bleat, howl and groan.

Skyr-Gobbler arrives each year on December 19, and leaves again on New Year’s Day, January 1.

And here’s a more thorough explanation, by Robert Nelson, on Medium.

Skyrgámur brings us back to a familiar theme…a Yule Lad who sneaks into your home to steal food. In this case, the offending miscreant is after your skyr, a kind of Icelandic yogurt. This yogurt was usually kept in a cool, dry place in a barrell-like tub.

Frankly, there’s little need to delve into why Skyrgámur is after your yogurt. After all, Icelandic yogurt hit the big time about ten years ago and is a fixture on American grocery shelves to this day. The national brand is Siggis, and Trader Joe’s carries their own version of Icelandic yogurt as well. Icelandic yogurt swooped in after Greek yogurt had made a splash in the early part of the 21st century, and is marketed as a healthier alternative to regular American yogurts.

Skyr is made from different cultures, which provide a naturally sweeter taste than yogurt, without the addition of extra sugar. It’s also very thick…it takes more milk to make skyr than to make yogurt, and as a result, it’s a very dense consistency. Icelanders are accustomed to “cutting” their skyr with regular milk to lighten it up a bit. So there you have it, your insider tip: add milk to your yogurt for a lighter consistency and to make it last longer!

At any rate, Skyrgámur knows that skyr is delicious, but doesn’t care much for the milk trick…he’ll just gobble it straight out of your tub. Not very sanitary, if you ask me.

And here’s another, from Iceland24:

Skyr Gobbler, the eighth one,
Was a terrible bull.
The lid off the skyr tub
With his fist he smashed.

Then he gobbled up
As much as he could,
Till he was close to bursting
And moaned and grunted.

Skyr (or farköst) is a type of cheese, though it more resembles a very thick yogurt. The Greek yogurt that has become so popular lately resembles it, but not exactly. Skyr tastes tangy, thick and rich, yet it actually is low fat.

Like yogurt, you need to use a “starter” culture from a previous batch of skyr. Milk with all of the cream skimmed out is mixed with buttermilk, rennet and a bit of older skyr culture and brought to a boil. It is allowed to cool down slowly so the rennet can “work its magic.” A curd and whey has been created. The mixture is strained through something like cheese cloth until all the whey has dripped out. (The whey is saved as a preservative for meats). The remaining “curds” are skyr.

Skyrgámur is not the brightest Yule Lad in the litter, and after a full year of doing other things (he is into collecting snow in the winter and dew drops in the summer and his collection keeps getting stolen by someone mysterious), he often forgets exactly how to do his job. Eat it, play with it, throw it at someone, decorate it? His Terrible Terror friend is just as forgetful but still 100% of a prankster. Deadly combination.

They call him stupid, but apart from his lack of temperance Skyrgámur is not that stupid. For those who are wondering, skyr is a low-fat and very high in proteins dairy product, similar to strained yogurt, but much healthier. Thanks to its components, skyr’s nutritional benefits are quite remarkable.

So if you don’t want to share any of your cultural experiences with Skyrgámur, hide your yogurt, skyr, buttermilk, filmjölk, kefir and sour cream from sight between Dec 19 and Jan 1.

The 13 Yule Lads, Mom, Dad and Cat:

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