I spent some time this weekend rereading some articles on Scandinavian dairy products in the 16th-early 20th centuries. While obviously outside of the Viking period, there is a lot to be gleaned that could easily be applied to recreating Viking dairy products.
The first is about what the author jokingly refers to as a Swedish beer milkshake.* It was quite common practice in Southern Sweden into the late 19th – early 20th century to mix milk with small beer to form either a refreshing (?) beverage or something in which to sop bread or grains, sometimes served cold and at other times hot like soup or porridge. In the contemporary account the author got, it was almost always non-skim, fresh (un-soured) milk that was used, but people talked about sour milk being used “in the old days”. At first read, this sounds pretty unappealing until you consider what the small beer of the time was probably like. Small beer in the Viking period was probably pretty cloudy, yeasty, lightly hopped if at all, and either slightly sour of a bit sweeter than we are used to in most modern beers. When mixed with fresh milk, it might be more like malted milk than what we would get from mixing milk and Coors, say. What is possibly more informative is that one of the reasons cited for mixing thus was to cut expensive fresh milk with comparatively cheap small beer. Drinker also claimed on a hot day the mixture was more refreshing than either of the two by itself.
Intrepid experimenter that I am, I couldn’t just let this pass by without trying it, so I tried both fresh and sour (piima) milk mixed about 1/2 & 1/2 with some braggot that I made a few weeks back that was completely unhopped. It was not at all unpleasant, and I think I liked the sour version even better. This particular beer is less small that probably would have been called for, and a bit more sweet, so I’ll have to try it again with the sahti when it’s done to see how it comes out.
The second article was on the use of whey in Iceland**, and it’s one that I’ve read several times now. Because skyr formed a significant part of the Icelandic diet, they had a lot of whey lying around, and rather than let it go to waste put it to use in a number of different ways. They softened bones in it, made a refreshing drink from it (once properly soured), and used it as a preserving medium for meat and vegetables in lieu of salt. I really want to do some experimenting with this, but so far I haven’t been able to get the leftover whey from skyr to get very sour before it molds. I think if I can get it to sour it would be a good way to pickle some veggies or maybe eggs. Another intersting tidbit I re-read was that the Icelanders used skry to cut their porridge, since grain was so expensive. I haven’t tried that, so I’ll have to give it a go the next time I make up a batch, or maybe with some of the commercial skyr we can get here now.
*Bringéus, Nils-Arvid. “A Swedish beer milk shake.”Milk and Milk Products from Medieval to Modern Times. ed. Patricia Lysaght, pp. 140-150. Precedings of the Ninth International Conference on Ethno-logical Food Research. Edinburgh: Conongate Academic, 1994.
**Gísladóttir, Hallgerður. “The use of whey in Icelandic households.” Milk and Milk Products from Me-dieval to Modern Times. ed. Patricia Lysaght, pp. 123-129. Precedings of the Ninth International Con-ference on Ethnological Food Research. Edinburgh: Conongate Academic, 1994.