CategoriesCookingDaily Living and Pastimes

Making Early Medieval Soft Cheese (Skyr)

You can prepare Viking-age skyr as either a soft cheese or yogurt. The name skyr originates from the Old Norse word skera “to cut.” A fitting term that describes the coagulating protein, separating and cracking apart as the soured milk heats up.

Making skyr is relatively simple, even over an open fire. Although, temperature regulation can be tricky, you’ll have a passable soft cheese in a few hours. Depending on how long you drain the cheese determines whether you’ll have a runny yoghurty cheese, or a crumbly cottage cheese, and how acidic tasting it will be.

Ingredients for Skyr

Measurements are in metric/British Imperial units.

  • 2L / 3 ½ pints of un-homogenised whole milk
  • 300ml / 10 ½ fl oz crème fraîche

You can use either raw or pasteurised whole milk, but if using the latter make sure you buy un-homogenised. The fat is thicker and creamier and perfect for cheesemaking. Crème fraîche is basically soured cream that we can use to inject all the sourness and acidity we need.

Making Skyr

Step 1:

Sour your milk. If you use raw milk, you can leave the milk out at room temperature for 24 hours to sour on its own. For pasteurised milk, add a drop of lemon juice or vinegar or other edible acidic solution (we’ve used liquid from a pickle jar before!), it’ll be ready in minutes.

soured milk is poured from a jug into a pot with crème fraîche

Step 2:

Mix the soured milk and crème fraîche together in a pot or saucepan. In our experiments using an open fire, we used a clay pot. On the stove, use a low heat.

Step 3:

Heat the mixture gently without stirring. On a fire, place the pot to the side and turn the pot regularly. You may want to cover it to stop ash getting into it.

A pot of dairy product is placed next to a fire

Step 4:

The fats curds ahve risen to the top of the pot

When the mixture is at the right temperature, it will look yellowish and the curds will crack. If it starts frothing, it’s too hot – it’ll probably still work, but results will vary. Now it is time to drain the whey.

Take the pot from the heat and scoop the mixture into a cheesecloth. A loosely woven linen is most practical. Stick the cloth over a bowl while you do this: you can keep the whey to add to stocks or broth, or as a protein rich drink.

Pour the skyr mixyure into a cheesecloth.

Drain for 6-12 hours depending on the consistency you’d like.

Skyr soft cheese ready to eat

More On Skyr and Whey

Sheep’s milk appears to be the preferred cheese making diary product in Anglo-Saxon Britain. What’s more, sheep’s milk is richer in milk solids than cow’s milk, meaning more cheese can be made for the same quantity of milk. It probably no coincidence that the Month of May in the Anglo-Saxon Tiberius calendar shows a shepherd tending his sheep.

Image form the cotton tiberius manuscript - shephers tending their flock in a line drawing style.
May: tending sheep, Cotton Tberius B. v, fo. 5r

Cheesemaking is important in Viking households too. The sagas suggest that it was a substantial part of women’s work, with some houses having their own dairy room (skyrbúr) for cheese, or even a separate out building for a serious operation.

Historically, the use of whey was important in food preservation, and adding much needed protein to food in lean months. Enormous coopered barrels have been discovered in Viking settlements such as Hedeby and in burials such as Oseberg. These may have been whey vats. A 13th century Norse saga describes a whey vat that is so vast that a grown man can hide in it.

In Anglo-Saxon Britain, food rents included cheese, and workers were allotted a portion of whey. The cheesemaker received an entitlement of “100 cheeses” provided she made the lord butter from the whey. Female slaves were paid a penny or whey in the summer.

Further Reading

A delicious accompaniment to early-medieval soft cheese or skyr are flat breads. We also made a tutorial on how to make them, check it out.

  • Banham, D. Faith, F. (2014). Anglo-Saxon Farms and Farming.
  • Friðriksdóttir, J K. (2020). Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World
  • Hagen, A. (1992). A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food: Processing and Consumption
  • Jochens, J. (2015). Women in Old Norse Society.
  • O’Sullivan, M. Downey, L. (2018). Cheese-making. In: Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Winter 2018), pp. 38-41. Available at
  • Palmer, N. (2019). A Cheese-monger’s History of the British Isles.
  • Pearson, K L. (1997). Nutrition and the Early-Medieval Diet. In: History Faculty Publications. Old Dominion University. 1. Available at
  • Serra, D. Tunberg, H. (2013). An Early Meal: A Viking Age Cookbook & Culinary Odyssey.