Be proud to rock your milk moustache! There is much pride for Iceland’s milk. In fact, studies have shown there are actual unique health properties to it. “In scientific studies, Icelandic milk has been found to have different protein composition than milk from other cow breeds which may play some part in lower incidence of diabetes in Iceland than in neighbouring countries,” says Guðný Steinsdóttir, spokesperson for Mjólkursamsalan, the largest milk distributor in Iceland. According to Statistics Iceland, the country consumes a staggering 183.1 litres per capita of milk products yearly, one of the highest milk consumption rates around world just barely behind Finland, trailing by only 0.8. It’s not hard to see why with so many different assorted brands sitting on the grocery shelf. As a new traveller from abroad visiting Iceland for the first time, it can be a safari just trying to pick the right one. The Grapevine rose to the challenge, buying out a small chunk of 10/11’s milk supply and meticulously reviewing each one.
Skyr is perhaps one of Iceland’s most treasured cuisines, known around the world for its thickness and creamy texture very similar to the German Quark, but better. This dairy concoction has gained so much international acclaim that it is now available in Britain and Scandinavia, and at premium grocery stores in the United States including Whole Foods. Icelandic folks here eat it with fruit and cream (berries are your best bet!), adding sugar (mmm!) or just eaten plain (not recommended!). “Skyr is a remarkable dairy product unique to Iceland,” says Steinsdóttir. “It is made from skim milk and is virtually fat free. It’s also a product that is not only high in protein but also contains a considerable amount of whey proteins, which are considered to have many health promoting qualities both with regard to muscle build-up as well as weight management.” There are many varieties of skyr with added flavours like banana, strawberry or pear; for the uninitiated, these are your best bets, not plain. It’s also perhaps one of the cheapest things to buy in the country, so nothing should be stopping you from this mouth-wateringly delicious milk-based snack.
For those looking for your more normal, everyday milks, there are several brands out there that at first maybe seem daunting from the unusual names but are perfectly okay for you to put on your cereal:
Found in a blue jug with the hilariously effete catch phrase, “Muu” (which is apparently what Icelandic cows say). This is pasteurised milk and probably the closest thing to typical American-style milk, yet still somewhat delectably creamier.
With a yellow container, this is more of a low-fat milk; it tastes kind of like 1% milk, but with a subtle distinction.
For the health conscious looking for fat-free or skim, look for the mjólk with the pink box, this is your closest bet.
After much deliberation between trying all three, Nýmjólk passes the “Coco Puffs challenge” – it tastes the best and is the most popular choice here.
Literally ‘choco-milk’ – this chocolatey milk is a hit with the kids. It comes in a little milk box or plastic jug, and is emblazoned with an excessively cheerful-looking muscular purple and yellow cat that tells its buyers “you will get strength from Kókómjólk.” You can’t argue with that cat; it has muscles after all! Plus, those who buy it are eligible to win prizes like mountain bikes! Radical! Also comes in sugar-free varieties as well, but this completely throws off the taste. Regular Kókómjólk is more generic chocolate milk than a rich creamy Ovaltine, but it’s passable.
MORE UNUSUAL FARE
In English, ‘sour milk’; this acerbic yogurt-esque liquid takes a little getting used to, to say the least. It starts off innocently enough but then hits you with a pungent roundhouse kick to your stomach, guaranteed to knock your socks off if you mistake this for regular milk. This esoteric drink comes in several different flavours including strawberry and mixed berry. I have to admit it isn’t my favourite and threw my gut into knots. This is reserved only for the most adventurous of milk connoisseurs.
Short for acidophilus/bacillus, this sour yogurty liquid thing is filled with probiotics which are friendly bacteria that help with digestion. Icelanders customarily drink this as a breakfast drink in the mornings. This comes in several flavours including pear, which is highly recommended. Plain ab mjólk is less astringent than súrmjólk but still has some bite to it.
Also referred to as long-life milk, it is a long-life UHT (ultra high temperature) milk which has been heated to at least 135°C for at least one second. This übercreamy “milk” is typically added to coffee and not drank individually (those who do will be frowned upon, take it from me!)
Don’t mistake this for milk! Comes in little cartons next to the others so it’s easy to get mixed up. It’s actually straight-up cream, perfect for cooking and DIY whipped cream.