It Takes a Viili

Viili (spelled with two i’s) is cultured milk– a Finnish version of yogurt. Some drink it, but it is more commonly eaten like yogurt, with jams, muesli or bread mixed in. It’s milder tasting and stringier than yogurt, but still contains loads of helpful lactic acid bacteria. In fact, it is one of the few cultures that contains a mold (Geotrichum candidum) as a featured fermenting microbe. (Most other dairy cultures consist of yeast or bacterial strains). This mold creates a ropy, velvety texture which is unique to viili.

I felt privileged when my good friend Niina (spelled with two i’s) recently brought me a viili culture from her mother (who is Finnish).finnflag

Adding living cultures to pasteurized dairy “adds enzymes and restores nutrients” that are zapped by the pasteurization and homogenization processes. Since raw dairy is neither easily had, within everyone’s budget, nor even legal everywhere (yet), culturing is a great way to add nutrients back to an otherwise overly-processed food.

Did you know that cultured dairy is more digestible than normal pasteurized milk products (including fresh cheeses), and can even be eaten by most lactose-intolerant people? Why? Because during fermentation, the bacteria consume most of the lactose, converting it to lactic acid. And they break down another protein, casein, into more useful amino acids that our bodies can use.


Viili (Scandinavian yogurt)

Prep Time 5 minutes
Fermentation Time 1 day
Course Breakfast
Cuisine Dairy, Scandinavian
Makes 1 pint (500 ml)


  • 15 oz. (450ml) pasteurized or raw milk
  • 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) viili from previous batch


  • In a clean pint-sized mason jar, add milk and stir in viili starter.
  • Cover with metal lid (but not ring) so it sits loosely on top.
  • Leave out at room temperature, undisturbed for 24 hours.
  • Cover with ring and refrigerate 24-48 hours (it will continue to develop flavor) before enjoying!
  • Remember to reserve at least a tablespoon (15 ml) from the jar so you can make your next batch.


Confusion over Viili, surmjölk, Filmjölk, and Piimä

There appears to be some confusion over the various cultured dairy products from Scandinavia, as some wily and passionate folks have pointed out. I shall try to clarify based on their suggestions and a little research:

finnflagViili- a Finnish name for cultured milk (yogurt)

swedenflagFilmjölk (sometimes called Fil)- the Swedish name for several varieties of cultured milk Source 1  Source 2

finnflagPiimäFinnish for buttermilk; NOT the same thing as viili. A Piimä Milk recipe is used as a “mother” recipe for many other cultured dairy recipes in the indispensable Nourishing Traditions cookbook (page 83).

swedenflagSurmjölk- the Swedish word for buttermilk


Move over, yogurt! You’ve got a new shelf-mate in the fridge… viili! One more thing. Ii thiink Ii’m goiing to start spelliing everythiing with two i‘s. 🙂

16 thoughts on “It Takes a Viili

  1. Harry Smith Reply

    I just started making viili last week. I make kefir and thermophilic yogurt every day and find these fermented milks fascinating. The viili has come out well in terms of texture and looks. But the taste is…. Fishy. There is a cheese taste mainly but once swallowed it is fishy. The yogurt looks and smells fine, no sign of moulds or other bad stuff but the taste is just absolutely fishy. Is that just how viili tastes? Or is there something wrong?

    • Austin Post authorReply

      Hmm, sounds fishy to me. 🙂 I have not generally tasted anything like a fishy taste with my viili culture. I recommend getting a new culture and trying again.

  2. Lorena Reply

    Loved reading your information on viili. I purchased a viili starter years ago on etsy. Used it for several years and then had several moves and was unable to maintain it. I froze several “starters” and was able to keep those in the freezer since about 2012. I just pulled them out a couple weeks ago and set it going. It took about 3 days to “set” the first go around and it was sour by the time it set. I went ahead and used a starter from this anyways and set it out on the counter. The next day I had perfect viili, not sour, and have been back to enjoying my viili daily! I really did not expect that frozen starter to work, but boy am I happy it did!

  3. Hannu Haili Reply

    When visiting Xinjiang in China I found out that Uyghurs also eat viili. It is not yoghurt but really viili, just like my mother used to make it for us kids here in Finland decades ago.
    The Uyghurs that I met said that their viili originates from Russia. Viili is known in all Scandinavian countries and Finland. As we know the Vikings founded the state of Novgorod, a medieval slavic state. Perhaps the Russians learned about viili from the Vikings.

    • Austin Post authorReply

      Very interesting. That would not be surprising to learn that different peoples in the same region shared the viili cultures. Thank you for sharing that!

  4. Ken Reply

    Hi Austin,
    I’m a Finn living in Toronto, Canada. Love your website! Very informative indeed.
    When growing up in Helsinki, Finland, I had a bowl of viili every morning for 12 years. Then, after moving to Canada, I’ve had viili for about 50 years now. The only difference between eating viili in Finland and Canada is the taste. Both extremely tasty, but there was something extra special about the Finnish one. It was fermented and served in individual containers made from “Birch”. They were made in the same manner as wine or whiskey barrels, with willow rings to hold the birch slats together.
    The viili was infused with with the delicate flavor of the birch. Really an unforgettable taste. I’ve been told that viili was traditionally consumed from this type of bowl.
    I’ve been playing with the idea of making a few bowls from birch.
    One would think that bacteria would contaminate the bowls over time, but there were never any changes in the quality of the viili.
    Hope you’ll have a chance to try viili from a birch bowl one day.

    A few weeks ago I lost my daily starter due to having been bed-ridden for a while. I don’t have any contacts still living in Finland, where I got my last kit years ago. Do you sell starter kits, or do you know of a trustworthy source where I can buy one?

    • Austin Post authorReply

      Hi Ken,
      Great story! Thanks for sharing your tip about the birch bowl. I’m totally going to check out getting one to store my viili culture. I have heard similar stories of artisan cheesemakers using wood to age the cheese, and it is absolutely essential to harboring those good bacteria, so it makes sense that a wooden culture bowl is great for storing viili!

      I made friends with NW Ferments out of Portland, Oregon. They have a viili starter:

      I also trust the guys at Cultures for Health. Looks like they do have a viili culture along with some of the other Scandinavian varieties.

      Good luck and thanks again for sharing!

    • Beneficial Cultures Reply

      The code is no longer valid but you can get free shipping with this one:


  5. kotn Reply

    Guys, piimä is not Swedish. That would be surmjölk. Viili in Swedish is fil. Please change this info. It’s just simply wrong.

    Why are piimä and viili always mentioned in the same articles online by so many people claiming to have the info from Finnish people? It’s just bad info and it’s always the same bad info! Listen: Piimä is basically buttermilk. Just as there are different grades of buttermilk depending on method and type of milk, so is there with piimä.

    Now viili is an entirely different thing. Don’t even mention them in the same paragraph! Viili will grow quite spontaneously without any special culture if you use the right method, or if you happen to have an infestation of the stuff in your kitchen due to some raw goat’s milk that has it in there wild – as I do at the moment. It’s infiltrated my kefir cultures so I’ve switched back to cow’s milk for the time being. I just don’t know how to get it out of the kefir yet.

    By way of information, I’ve lived in Finland for the past quarter century plus a few years now. I ferment everything under the sun. Please do not perpetuate this bad info about these two things being Finnish and Swedish respectively. They are two different things, period.

    • Austin Post authorReply

      Thanks for setting us “straiight”, Kate! We updated the information in the post and hope it’s more accurate now.


  6. Ann Plough Reply

    Great to see a story about viili on here! I’m living in Finland nowadays, and have just placed two bowls of milk with a viili starter out on the counter this afternoon. Finns eat the stuff with a spoon – they don’t drink it – though I admit keeping the stringy strands on the spoon is a bit of a challenge. And you are right: viili and piimä (same word is used in Finnish) are not the same thing to the Finns and Swedes. Piimä is buttermilk and is consumed from a drinking glass. Viili is something else altogether! And yes, two i’s. And two k’s or u’s or double other letters always throw me off in spelling and in pronunciation. Finns, at least, expect to hear both of them if they are in the word: every letter gets its moment of glory!

    • Austin Post authorReply

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with the stringy stuff, Ann, and for the clarification on the differences between piima and viili! 🙂

    • livingclean Reply

      Hello. I know this comment is years old but in case you are still there … can you (or anyone reading) help me with a question?

      I am using raw milk with cultures (Piima, Viili, and Filmjolk)

      On the Cultures for Health website, they have special instructions for raw milk, where one has to make a special pasteurized starter culture each time. (Whereas, if I used pasteurized milk, they say I can just add the culture without heating the milk first).

      “1. If using raw milk, slowly heat 1-2 cups raw milk to 160ºF.
      2. If using 1-2 cups store-bought pasteurized milk, skip to step 4.
      3. Cool the milk to 70-77ºF.
      4. Transfer milk to a glass or plastic container.
      5. Add 1 packet yogurt starter. Mix thoroughly.
      6. Cover with a towel or coffee filter, secured with a rubber band, or put a lid on the container.
      7. Place in a warm spot, 70º-77ºF, to culture.
      8. Check after 24 hours to see if it has set. If it has not set, leave up to 48 hours, checking every few hours.
      9. Once it has set, or at the end of 48 hours, cover with a tight lid and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

      This yogurt is the pasteurized mother culture. Always use this pasteurized mother culture as the starter culture for making raw milk yogurt. You will also need this yogurt to culture a new batch of pasteurized mother culture at least once every 7 days (see below).”

      In Nourishing Traditions the instructions are simply to mix the raw milk with the starter culture. There are no special instructions to heat the milk first if it is raw.

      I’d personally prefer not to go through the extra work of pasteurizing a separate starter culture if it is unnecessary (and having to keep track of which is which in the fridge). If there is an actual valid reason for this, I can do it. But I’m wondering. Note I am also making water kefir and sour dough in the same kitchen so I suppose cross-fermentation is a possibility, though I haven’t noticed any issues yet … (I’m relatively new to this)

      Do you have any feedback on this?

      • Austin Post authorReply

        Hi! I can understand if you’re using a CFH starter culture why they recommend pasteurizing the starter. It’s delicate to get a dehydrated starter culture revitalized.

        However, I believe like you, if you have access to raw milk (assuming it is handled properly), there is already a healthy set of bacteria present there.

        Personally I would just add the culture to the raw milk (skipping the pasteurizing step).

        Let us know how it turns out!

        • livingclean Reply

          Thanks so much for your response! I’m going to start doing that. It’s a major PITA to constantly pasteurize some of the milk, keep checking the thermometer to catch it when it reaches the right temperature, keep a separate jar of mother culture for each type of culture, and so on. And seems ironic that I’d go to all this trouble to get raw milk and then pasteurize it. I’ve started to think I’d rather start over once in a while with new culture if I had to, than go through this process every week. My source is very good, it’s a local farm and the quality is incredible.

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