Saturday, April 11, 2009

Adventures with Swedish Filmjölk

I love filmjölk. I struggle to describe it to people who have never experienced it. Basically it is thick sour milk. Kind of the same consistency as yogurt. I try to compare it to buttermilk in the US, except that buttermilk is disgusting and filmjölk is not.

Either way, it is best eaten with some fruity yogurt thrown in as well as Kalas Puffar (Kalaspuffar? I'm going with two words because the box shows it on two lines), which are basically like Smacks. I usually alternate my breakfasts eating cereal with milk or cereal with filmjölk.

There are so very many different kinds of filmjölk though. Some with added flavor, some that are ecological, and some that are from different regions of Sweden.

I almost always know what I’m buying when I go shopping. I’ve been here long enough that grocery stores aren’t a big deal. But sometimes I find things that I have never tried before. Like filmjölk from different regions of Sweden.

In a wave of adventurousness (which must be a word because my spell check accepted it) I decided to break free from my standard liter of fil and go for something different. Something called långfil. Described as filmjölk from Norrland. Way the hell up there in the north.

I got the last liter in the store. Which I thought might mean it was popular. Until I got it home and looked closely at the expiration date. It expires tomorrow. I bought it two days ago. This might suggest that there isn’t exactly a high turnover of långfil. That didn’t really bode well for me.

So yesterday I ate just milk and cereal for breakfast. I had to psyche myself up a little bit. And today was the day. So I shook up the liter package. Always shake fil and yogurt products I have learned unless you want a thin layer of disgusting looking dairy juice mixed in with your cereal.

After shaking, I popped up the top panels so that I could rip the packaging open. Because it seems that just about all liter packages of milk are sold in cardboard packaging.

And I started pouring the långfil into my bowl. Pouring would suggest a certain lack of viscosity. A sense of fluidness really. Instead I was forced to squeeze the cardboard packaging causing white blobs of långfil to plop into my bowl. Notice the blob on the counter in the picture. Awesome.

I soldiered on though. Because as a general rule, I eat anything put in front of me. Except for tomatoes. I added my cereal and yogurt and took a bite. The långfil had managed to absorb the yogurt into it creating a stringy creation of dairy products with chunks of fruit speckled with Kalas Puffar. Awesome.

I took a few more bites. To be honest, it tasted fine. Or, it didn’t really taste I suppose. The fil seemed to have neutralized any fruity flavor that the yogurt might have offered. Basically I was eating white flavorless dairy goop. Awesome.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. The consistency was just too much for me. So I dumped in even more yogurt. Only to watch as the långfil overpowered it, again absorbing it into an even thicker goop. This time I just gave in and ate. Spoonful after spoonful. I just kept shoveling it into me, finishing with no small sense of pride.

I still have about three quarters of a liter of långfil left. I’m not really sure what I’m going to do. I can’t really throw it out. It just goes against everything I stand for to throw out food. Before I realized what I had purchased, my plan was to try eating some alone. Just to test it out. Now I’m nervous. Intimidated by a liter of dairy. We’ll see.

Welcome to Sweden. And adventures in Swedish dairy products.

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  1. Hmm...I've heard stories about this. Which would imply that I've never tried it myself. This is not true. I've eaten långfil many a time. Like I've mentioned before in comments on this blog, my family hails from the North. No, the stories I've heard have more to do with how your långfil assimilated the yoghurt you put in it. I remember well my father telling me about how they made this stuff when he was little. Writing this I realize I do not remember that well what he actually said though. However, I do know that they made their own långfil. They acquired a bit of långfil culture from the pharmacy and mixed that in with milk...or fil (that's the bit I'm unsure of). Then it was the waiting game. They didn't do that very often though. This is where I'm tying the story together with yours. To make more långfil, you simply took some you had left and added milk...or fil (maybe both worked?). So if långfil + milk = Långfil, then maybe the same goes for långfil + yoghurt.

  2. Maybe you should try fjällfil instead. It's like regular fil only tastier, it has the same shape and all.

  3. english it is, then.

    I thought långfil was the funniest thing ever, when i was a little child (it didn't stick to the spoon i was eating with, helloooo?! :D). But also the most disgusting, until my mom told me that you're supposed to shake the långfil before eating. It became less disgusting, you should try it. If it hasn't expired.

  4. and now for the GI lowdown....Carl von Linné called filmjölk "tight milk" due to the wonderfully thick consistency this dairy product took on after streptococcus cremoris, leuconostoc bacteria and lactococcus lactis L1A had a chance to work their magic. Does wonders for the stomach and intestines. But that's not the main reason we love it here in Jarlaberg. Oooooh no. It's because no other dairy food is as satisfying for breakfast in bed. Try it mixed with some Oh Boy powder around 8:30 a.m after serving your darling breakfast in bed. Quite literally finger-licking good.

  5. I loved långfil when I was a kid! It's fun to eat! :)

    If you whisk it with your spoon after you pour it into the bowl it will soon look more like regular fil. And the taste is the same as regular fil. No difference really. Stop complaining! ;)

    Fjällfil is also very good. Try that. It's thick and creamy and gives you a tingly sensation on your tongue.


  6. It's good to smell the milk/sour milk before you shake the carton. You can drink it normally a few days after expire date if you have kept it in the dark and cold. -- BTW, Hairy, have you tasted 'fil' (viili in Finnish). It's very much the same as filmjölk but it's more condensed and sold in almost yoghurt-like containers? I think you might like it! Pour a little sugar on top of it and enjoy!

  7. @Smek This: I'm not sure what you're saying so...I think you're the problem :)

    In Swedish, "fil" IS "filmjölk". It's simply a shortened down version of the same word. Looking at Filmjölk on the Swedish wikipedia and then clicking the link for the same in "suomi", I get to a page for "Viili". I don't read Finnish though, so I don't know exactly what they say. And when I say that I don't know exctly what they say, I mean that I don't get any of it. Except for the name Viili and name of the bacteria culture involved in making fil, since they're the same in Swedish. Or latin.

    Oh, and on Swedish wikipedia they actually tell how to make more of that wonderfull långfil. And for those of you that mentioned the "spoon trick"...yea, I always loved that when I was little. That was pretty much my main motive for choosing it over regular fil.ölk

  8. fjällfil is the shit!

  9. Smek this & Jacob M: Could it be filbunke you are talking about? Should be something similar to fil but sold in youghurt containers. Often eaten with jam I hear...

  10. If you whip it with your spoon, it becomes less chewy. But then what's the point?

  11. You should definitely whip or whisk it before eating, try a fork, much better than a spoon (for eating a do recommend a spoon thou). And don't ad cereal or fruit yoghurt. My recommendation is to top it with farinsocker.

  12. @jacob – so you’re saying I may have just made the problem worse by adding yogurt? Damn my lack of knowledge in the world of creating filmjölk.

    @anonymous – I was actually debating between långfil and fjällfil and ended up with the långfil. Next time Ill try the fjällfil.

    @julia – English works. Swedish works tpp, but I tend to answer in English regardless.

    I’ll try shaking it a bit more. I usually give all filmjölk a quick shake but I’ve got one more day before the expiration day so I’ll give it a shot.

    @ewa – it was the consistency that got me. But there’s another vote for fjällfil. Looks like I’ll have to give it a try.

    @smek – I haven’t seen any finnish style fil but have heard about it actually. Probably from a finn I would imagine. I’ll have to look for it. Can I add cereal to it?

    @Jacob – I think there is some sort of difference actually, I might have to investigate.

    @john – yet another vote.

    @ewa – there we go… maybe the answer we needed.

    @anonymous – well… it might make it a bit easier for me to get down. My fil is chewy enough when I add fruity yogurt and cereal.

    @catarina – I’ll give it another chance. I think I’m going to have to whip it though, despite some people thinking that might ruin all of the fun.

  13. I used to eat Långfil all the time when I was a kid and I'm from the south. Långfil with lingon is the shit.

  14. You are talking about Filbunke.
    It takes a few days to cure and you get a thin skin on top - delicious!!
    You can eat filmjölk or the like several days after the expiration day

  15. Hmm...I would imagine that Finnish Fil is a bit different from Swedish Fil, the same way that fil from different parts of Sweden can be different. Regarding Filbunke though...I was going to concede. Ewa and Anonymous seem certain and I was unsure. HOWEVER, I have now consulted a couple of experts on the mom and her sister (at easter dinner). They grew up on a farm, milking cows and all that stuff. EXPERTS! So what I got was:

    Filbunke = En bunke med fil. Bunke = Swedish for Bowl. In this bowl you added fresh (still warm) unpasteurized milk. You only need about a cups worth of fil for five liters of milk. Then you let it rest over night of so. My dad added in that pasteurized milk work as well (that's what they used, living in the city). Apparently, this was the only way to get fil "back in the day", since there were no store bought kind when my parents where little. From what my mom told me, this process would work regardless of what culture you use. In their case it was långfil. But you can make regular fil with the same process. Or yogurt.

    Also, since I know that you all love interesting facts. And since I really like telling them:

    During thunderstorms, the filtäta frequently "died". When that happend, my mom (or her mom I would think) would go to the neighboring farms ask how theirs had faired. The ones with filtäta that had survived then shared with the ones that needed it. Olden version of Culture Exchange, you might say.

    Either way, I've had a good day and I've feeling "Lugn som en filbunke" at the moment :)

  16. @anonymous – I have some lingon. And a bit of långfil left. We’ll see if Im feeling adventurous tomorrow morning.

    @anonymous – yeah it seems that most of the dairy products here always keep a few days after the expiration date.

    @Jacob – good work on the research and consulting experts. That’s the kind of journalism I strive for here.

    But seriously, those were some good facts. I know more about fil now than I ever imagined I would.

  17. I'm more of a yogurt-kind-of-guy, myself. I used to eat store bought, pre-made fruit yoghurt with store bought müsli before, I used to think I was being pretty damn healthy staying away from those sugar filled kalaspuffar (it is onew ord, btw), but after checking how much sugar they both contained (!) I've started "making" my own much healthier version. I buy naturell (clearly not the right word) yogurt and mix it with frozen berries (my favourite is blueberries and raspberries mixed together) until the colour (hehe, feeling British today) of the yogurt is almost the same as the berries. I top it off with oatmeal. Yup, the 100% whole wheat kind. I know, right? Boring and possibly health freakish but it's damn healthy and tastes awesome! So, who's a sucker now, huh?

  18. oh wow... you're not messing around.

    I'm just proud that I don't seem to be suffering from scurvy or some other strange disease that might suggest I am unable to feed myself.

  19. Dude I love the filmjölk. Especially the berry kind. It is really healthy for you too. The bacterias. Good Sweden thing!

  20. I had problems with this in Sweden. 'Fil' is filmjölk in Sweden but not in Finland. 'Fil' is 'viili' and 'filmjölk' is 'piimä'. On the other hand, Finland-Swedish use term 'surmjölk' instead of 'filmjölk'.

    The 'fil' I'm talking about is thick like pudding. That's why the cereal isn't too fitting. Try gräddfil (creamy one), if you're not afraid of calories!

    I didn't find it in Sweden because I didn't know what name it's called there. It can be 'filbunke' but I'm too far away to verify it at the moment. I'll get back to you, maybe. Smek 'the problem' :)

  21. Oh boy, that långfil sure sounds awful...are you sure it hadn't gone off? I totally agree with you about filmjölk though; it's always what I miss the most when living abroad. When I lived in North America I tried substituting it for buttermilk, just like you, but it just ain't the same, eh? If you get the buttermilk really fresh, and have it the very first day after packaging it's alright, but after that it starts tasting like cheese - yuck!

  22. @m8surf - agreed. although I havent tried the flavored stuff yet. I usually just mix in fruity yoghurt.

    @smek - damn those translations. although, next time Im in Finland Ill be prepared for the differneces in fil-like products. I will say though that I was staring a bit longer at the filo section the other day while atthe grocery store. I didnt see anything that looked like it was of the finnish variety.

    @terander - unfortunately, it was fine. I wish I could have blamed it on that.

    that buttermilk thing is tricky. because youre right, for about a day, it almost tastes like it. then it goes to hell.

    I did find some yogurt once that reminded me of fil. It was called Nancy's. It was some sort of organic yoghurt I think. Ive only seen it in Oregon though.

  23. No, I am for real, yall!

    Seriously, though. What can i say, Eating healthy and tasty is important to me. Besides, i don't like the über-sweet taste of most cereals, or yogurts for thst matter.

  24. I bought some fjällfil... Im going to give it a shot.

  25. I'm sure you've heard all about Sär Skrivning, which is popular in marketing but annoying to people who know how to write Swedish properly. So, even though the package says Kalas Puffar, it really ought to be kalaspuffar. The (perceived) meaning and melody gets all scewed up otherwise.

  26. I know way more than I want about it. but your explanation makes sense. although the packaging makes the reproduced spelling of the word very confusing.

  27. You usually don't have to shake the fil package. That's only a neccessity for yoghurt. Although I only buy regular filmjölk (since it's the cheapest), so I can only wouch for that specific type.

  28. even when I get the regular fil there always to seem that top layer of juiciness. Im not a fan.

  29. I think the reason that everything is in cardboard containers here is because they are what we call "tetrapak" and that's a Swedish invention =)

  30. oooh... a good call.

    the swedes do surprisingly good work with inventioncs considering its a relatively small country.

  31. anyone know where you can buy Långfil in the states or online? Just came back from Sweden and a friend of mine couldn't get enough of the stringy goodness.

  32. one can only hope that it can't be bought anywhere in the states. its for the good of the country really.

  33. Living away from Sweden, filmjölk is the food item I miss the most. Fjällfil in particular.

    The #2 item I miss would be Falukorv. Mainly because it was so HANDY, when you don't know what to have for supper.

  34. that reminds me that I should really buy some falukorv. because I very seldom know what I am going to have for dinner.

  35. You should really try the Filbunke! It's lovely and when you've bought your first one you could make them your self. Just save a teaspoon of filbunke and put it in bowl full of milk and let it be over night, ad some extra cream if you like the top layer. Eat it with some sugar. Also have to tell you that you can make really nice cottage chees out of fil, just pour some in a coffe filter and put it in the fridge over a night or two. It will get even nicer if you spice it up with some herbs. Great blog by the way

  36. I might just have to give this a shot. Although Im a bit nervous about making my own fil.

  37. I LOVE filbunke(viili)! It's usually in small light blue-white packages(probably from the finnish brand 'Valio'). They are usually in every grocery store. I've never heard of the jam-thing though. But i always put some sugar on my filbunke.

    In my långfil I always put small pieces of knäckebröd. i think it's really good.

  38. I just cant do the långfil. It just doesnt do it for me. I tried and failed.

  39. I know this is a very old post, but sadly you were eating your Långfil wrong.

    It should be eaten straight up with only some crushed (small pieces, not powedered) dark knäckebröd (preferably mora- or leksandsknäcke.)

  40. I'm in the U.S., where several companies sell fil mjolk, piima, villi and matsoni to be cultured at home on the counter.

    My 5-year-old loves fil and has it twice a day: breakfast and a snack later. My older two like piima and viili. I make for myself cream fil because I can't have all the sugar in normal milk.

    It's simple, and hard to mess up. I make a "pure" starter from pasteurized organic milk, and then each day I put a few tablespoons of that into a quart jar of raw milk, cover the jar with a towel and use a rubber band to hold it on. I put it by my computer as a draft-free, warm spot. Because I'm using raw milk, it's done around 6-8 hours later.

    It's hard to mess up making it. If your room is too cold it could take more than 2 days. If your room is too hot, the fil will turn into a ball of cheese floating in whey. You can use the whey to make soaked oatmeal or fermented vegetables; you can use the "fil ball" in little pieces to make fruit smoothies. You might be able to use it in cheesecake or lasagne but I haven't tried that.

    Hope that helps!

  41. @Papper - that's what I've heard, unfortunately, I dont think it matters what I have in it. I just cant do it. It was not good.

    @anonymous - good tips!

  42. I tried filmjölk for the first time when I made my first foray into Sweden last year - only I wish I had read this first. Cause I didn't want filmjölk. I wanted regular milk. For my tea. But I didn't speak Swedish, which was bad. So I went to the store and stared at the cooler full of cardboard boxes with cows on them (this would indicate milk, no?) and finally in desperation grabbed something that looked right-ish. But then I got home and went to make tea, and this thick, sour, berry flavored stuff came out of the box. I might have cried a little. Keep in mind I had just gotten off a long flight, a long bus drive, had a 20 minute walk up hill with my bags, and I really, REALLY wanted a cup of tea. It was all ok though cause I went back to the store and told the nice man how confusing the milk was and what the heck was this stuff I just bought and would he PLEASE explain Swedish milk to me? And he even gave me a couple kronor off for the inconvenience :) It's all good now, because turns out that filmjölk is amazing (just not in my tea)and I totally missed it when I came home. Plus, now that I am going back to Sweden for a full year, I feel much less scared knowing I can navigate the dairy case with confidence.

  43. Filmjölk is pretty amazing. Although, I can only imagine what that would taste like in tea...

  44. I love filmjölk! I culture whole, raw cream and it makes the most amazing creme fraiche, or "sour cream". Lovely, rich, thick! My Swedish-born grandmother, who moved to Minnesota as a child, told wonderful stories about her Swedish-born mother making cultured milk. Rubbing the milk pail with leaves of the butterwort plant or also pitcher plants which are found in bogs. Linnaeus called them "Nepenthes lowii". My grandmother spoke Swedish to me, occasionally, and I always assumed she was saying, "My darling, beloved, dear grand-daughter, I love you so much!" I found out later she was generally telling me - in a very sweet, dear voice - "Shut up your mouth and eat".