A TASTE OF NORWAY

Wed 23 Oct 2013 @ 14:23
Author Claire Nelson

Gladmat: the Norwegian word for ‘happy food’. It’s a fitting name for the country’s biggest foodie festival, where consumers and producers come face-to-face to taste and talk. Since its inaugural event in 1999, the festival has grown to an average of 25,000 visitors each year, all keen to sample specialist products, local produce and traditional dishes. And if, like me, you’re not entirely certain what is meant by Norwegian cuisine, this is the perfect place to educate yourself.

Lining the crescent of Stavanger’s diminutive harbour, a short stroll from the brightly-painted buildings of the town’s boutique shopping avenues, food stalls offer everything from tubs of fresh ripe cherries and trays of toasted rye breads, to pickled herrings and cured moose sausage.

It’s here at Gladmat that I meet Knut Garshol. He specialises in salted stockfish, a Norwegian delicacy that has been industrially produced here since the 17th century. According to Knut, this is a snack with a Viking backstory. He tells me the tale of Harald Hardrada, a Viking who took on London. “He went up the Thames, pulled down every bridge; took the left side first and then the right and conquered the English warriors.” Although Hardrada would die defeated in the battle of Stamford Bridge, the Viking’s prized dried stockfish, with which he travelled all over the world, is still enjoyed here in Norway. When he’s not regaling battle stories, Knut sells this salted seafood as well as little parcels of dried catfish, cod and white salmon from the North Sea – he recommends enjoying this fish as a snack with a glass of Akvavit, the potent Norwegian spirit.

Just a short stroll past the yachts in the harbour is the bustling tent of a more familiar Norwegian product: Jarlsberg cheese. Here they’re doing cooking demonstrations and of course, offering samples. The Jarlsberg factory is in Nærbø, on the outskirts of Stavanger, but production will soon be moved to one of three new factories around the country. This expansion is not surprising – this cow’s milk cheese is one of the country’s biggest food exports, not to mention a household name in the US and UK. (Any grilled-cheese connoisseur knows Jarlsberg for its mild nutty taste and glorious ‘meltability’.)

The current range of Jarlsberg products includes the original cheese (aged for 4 months), the stronger Extra Reserve (aged for 12 months) and a smoked Jarlsberg that adds wonderful flavour to sandwiches or pasta. They key to producing Jarlsberg – and its distinctive holes – is the starting culture, created especially for Jarlsberg (unique, considering most cheese producers buy their cultures on the open market). If you want the recipe for the culture you’re out of luck – it’s an industry secret of which only five people know the formula… and they never travel together. It’s a serious business.

However, what we do know is that the milk used to make Jarlsberg is supplied by Norway’s TINE dairy farms. Here cows are put to pasture for most of the year, roaming free in the rolling green hills. These are happy cows and independent to the point where they are trained to milk themselves. Three times a day the animals amble placidly into the milking pen when they naturally feel the urge. It’s a fascinating thing to witness. But this relaxed routine seems to suit both farmers and cows, the easy-going pace particularly apt for a country that ranks in the top three in the world for quality of life.

Of course, eating well is part of the culture. Perhaps one of the best ways to sample the flavours of Norway is to opt for a tasting menu. At Tango, one of Stavanger’s top restaurants, the dishes present a palette of Norwegian flavours: crisp, clean, definitively Scandic ingredients. Think deep-fried rye bread with fish cream and smoked hake, baked mini beets with rye chips, apple gel and Jarlsberg cheese, and lightly fried halibut with foamed valouté. Creative cuisine using simple flavours… in true Scandinavian style, it’s deliciously uncomplicated.

Hopefully we’ll see more of Norway in UK restaurants and in the recipes recreated in our kitchens more often. The Vikings didn’t succeed in infiltrating Britain, but Norwegian cuisine? That would be more than welcome.

gladmat.no
klippfiskavskrei.no

Correction: In this month’s magazine we referred to Jarlsberg as a cheddar, when it is not – it is a cow’s milk cheese. (In fact, Jarlsberg has less fat than your average cheddar!)



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