Swedish Filmjölk is made from a special culture that makes a unique drinkable yogurt. This traditional cultured dairy is similar to kefir in some ways, but it’s smooth and pleasant.
I’m not a big fan of Kefir, but I absolutely love Filmjölk. It’s the perfect probiotic drink (in my opinion).
Cultured dairy has been around for as long as animals have been milked. Fresh milk won’t last long, and will curdle within a day without refrigeration.
It’s no surprise then that just about every culture that works dairy animals has its own traditional fermented dairy, and Sweden is no exception.
There are actually quite a few nordic dairy ferments, from Icelandic Skyr (which is actually more of a cheese) to Finnish Viili (similar to yogurt, but with a fuzzy cultured top like brie cheese).
The thing I love about nordic ferments is that they’re mesophilic which means they culture at cooler temperatures. They’ll go to work just fine at room temperature in an average household.
(What we usually think of as “yogurt” is Thermophilic, and requires incubation to culture properly.)
Here in Vermont, especially in the wintertime, it’s tricky to maintain any space at 110 degrees to properly culture a standard yogurt culture. Next to the woodstove, it’ll alternate between way to hot and chilly cold as throughout the 24 hour culture period.
My kids actually really love drinkable yogurt anyway, and often ask for a yogurt drink as a treat from the grocery store. Why buy expensive little bottles of sugar-laden yogurt drinks, when there’s a traditional drinkable yogurt that’s perfectly easy to make at home?
What is Filmjölk?
Filmjölk is a traditional dairy ferment that creates a thickened but drinkable “yogurt” type drink. It’s been around since the Viking age, and it’s common in Nordic markets today, sold either unflavored or flavored with berries, vanilla, or honey.
According to Wikipedia,
“Filmjölk (Swedish: [ˈfîːlmjœlk]), also known as fil, is a traditional fermented milk product from Sweden, and a common dairy product within the Nordic countries. It is made by fermenting cow’s milk with a variety of bacteria from the species Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides. The bacteria metabolize lactose, the sugar naturally found in milk, into lactic acid which means people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate it better than other dairy products. The acid gives filmjölk a sour taste and causes proteins in the milk, mainly casein, to coagulate, thus thickening the final product. The bacteria also produce a limited amount of diacetyl, a compound with a buttery flavor, which gives filmjölk its characteristic taste.”
There you have it. It’s a slightly thickened probiotic milk, where the lactose content has been substantially reduced, and a slightly acidic, buttery flavor is developed.
It’s eaten in Norway, where it’s called surmjølk or kulturmjølk, as well as Latvia where it’s called rūgušpiens or rūgtpiens.
Where to Buy Filmjölk Culture
To make Filmjölk, you’ll need a special culture. It’s a mix of bacteria that work together to make the finished product, similar to the way that Kombucha or Kefir is a community of bacteria.
You can buy a feeze dried Filmjölk starter culture online, or you can just re-culture with existing Filmjölk.
Where on earth are you going to find Filmjölk outside of the Nordics? Well, believe it or not, it’s likely already for sale in the supermarket.
Siggis, which makes a popular brand of Icelandic Yogurt, also makes a drinkable yogurt. If you look closely at the label, it says “Swedish Style Filmjölk.”
While yogurt is usually just one or two cultures, their Filmjölk includes the following active cultures:
- L. lactis subsp. lactis
- L. lactis subsp. cremoris
- L. lactis subsp. lactis biovar diacetylactis
- Leuconostoc spp.
- S. thermophilus
- L. delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
Once you have the culture, either as a freeze-dried packet, or a store-bought bottle of Filmjölk with active cultures, the process for making drinkable yogurt is pretty simple.
How to Make Filmjölk (Drinkable Yogurt)
Start with about a quart of either raw or pasteurized milk. Most people choose pasteurized because it allows you to control the culture more carefully. The native flora, namely other mesophilic culture bacteria, have already been killed in the pasteurization process.
I’m using raw milk that I picked up fresh from the dairy down the road. Super fresh, and it’s how Filmjölk would have been made traditionally (for hundreds of years before pasteurization).
(It’s also not homogenized, which means the cream separates during the cultuing process. Shake or stir it back in, or leave it there for a cream top version.)
Whole milk or skim work fine, it depends on your preference.
In the US, it’s eaten as a protein-rich health food, so it’s often made with skim milk. Traditionally, it’s made with full fat or skim milk, and everywhere in between based on personal preference.
Mix roughly 1/4 to 1/2 cup of prepared Filmjölk into a quart of milk, stirring to completely incorporate the culture. (Alternately, simply add the freeze dried culture to the milk instead.)
Allow the culture to sit covered at room temperature for 1-2 days until it’s thickened to your liking.
(If you’re in a hot climate, choose a cooler part of the house, as this would have been made in the cool cellar in the summer months. You’re looking for temperatures around 65 to 75 degrees F, roughly.)
How to Use Filmjölk
Once cultured, you can drink the Filmjölk immediately if you like, or store it in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
Add flavorings if you’d like, such as crushed fruit or honey, to taste.
I’ve also read that it’s popular to pour it in a bowl and eat it with museli, basically making a cereal/milk type breakfast (with thicker tangier milk).
I think it’s really spectaular as is, with nothing added, but I also love the taste of plain natural yogurt. My kids like it with just a hint of sweet, so I add a teaspoon or two of our homemade maple syrup to their cups.
Filmjölk can also be used in baking, in place of recipes that call for buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt.
Cultured Dairy Recipes
This winter is going to be a winter of homemade cheese and traditional cultured dairy, and I already have nearly 20 pounds of cheese aging in the basement. Clothbound cheddar, pepper jack, parmesan, and more. Recipes all coming soon.
Beyond that, I’ll be making cultured dairy from around the world…so stay tuned.
In the meantime though, check out these tasty cheesemaking recipes already posted:
Fermenting more than just dairy?