I’ve recently returned from a trip to Norway graciously hosted by Visit Norway USA and Tine SA. Norway is known as the land of the midnight sun and it offers an unforgettable travel experience. There was amazing food of course and I will have a Rømmegrøt recipe at the end of the post.
As I mentioned this was a press trip. I went with real writers. They took real notes and everything. About halfway through the trip, their real good habits started rubbing off on me. So I actually wrote some stuff down– which means I am going to present some actual information here in the coming days. Sure there will also be recipes, and restaurant notes and the casual observances that pass as journalism here at Sippity Sup… I haven’t turned into a zebra!
Let’s start with geography.
Most notable is the raw natural beauty, much of it utterly dramatic and defined by the glacier-born fjords. It’s a land of stark contrasts. Mountains that rise, nearly vertical, at your feet, turn the corner and look across a crystalline fjord with seemingly endless views. Ice blue glaciers, rich green valleys and a quality of light that lays a special glow on all it touches.
Norway is situated on the western side of the Scandinavian Peninsula, which it shares with its eastern neighbor, Sweden. The country also shares borders with Finland and Russia in its northern regions. It’s a long and narrow country, extending more than 1,100 miles from north to south. At its widest, it is 270 miles across pinching to a mere 4 miles at its most narrow point.
Interestingly one-third of the country lies north of the Arctic Circle, hence the name Land of the Midnight Sun. The dominant feature of the topography is the backbone of mountains extending down the Scandinavian Peninsula dramatically intersected by spectacular fjords, which are like craggy narrow bays, squiggling inland on the west and south.
How’s that for paying attention!
But I came to Norway for the food. Which I would argue is also defined by stark contrasts.
Traditional Norwegian food developed as a balance between the abundance of summer and the austerity of winter. Dried and pickled foods are common, as these preparations help extend some of the abundance of summer into winter. Fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and eggs are all traditionally preserved to carry a family through the long winter. Even milk was fermented, allowing it to keep much longer.
The main criticism you’ll hear about Norwegian food of this type is that it lacks strong flavors. I am talking about traditional Norwegian food here. Globalization has, of course, come to Norway and there are all kinds of ethnic foods available and naturally, some of these influences have even crept into more traditional fare as well.
Which is why I was very interested to learn of a rather new trend hitting the Norwegian palate. More than any place I have ever been (save Berkeley, CA) there is a keen interest among chefs, some with Michelin stars, to get back-to-basics. The cutting edge restaurants I visited featured menus championing the use of local organic food. One place, in particular, boasted that only five things in the entire restaurant were sourced outside Norway or further than a few hundred km from the table where I sat. Even the table where I sat was made from ”Norwegian Wood” (sorry couldn’t resist). I plan to cover this trend in depth later in the series.
Rømmegrøt and other Norwegian Foods
Today is about a quick intro into typically Norwegian food. Top of this list is brown cheese (known as brunost or geitost). It’s an unusually produced goat’s milk cheese that is thinly sliced with a cheese plane (invented by Norwegian Thor Bjørklund in 1927) and eaten on crisp flatbread. It’s also used in a sauce for Norwegian meatballs known as Kjøttkaker Med Brunsaus. Our hosts at Tine SA import a brand of geitost under the Snow Queen label, making authentic Norwegian brown cheese available to the North American Market. There will be more on this subject later in the series as well.
Breakfasts (frokost) in Norway usually consists of coffee, breads (including flatbread or crisp bread), pickled or smoked fish, cold meats, perhaps boiled eggs, and milk products such as cheese, butter, yogurt, and varieties of sour milk. Breakfast may be more substantial than the traditional noon meal (lunsj) which may consist of an open-faced sandwich of bread, cheese, paté, or cold meat, perhaps accompanied by a piece of fruit and coffee. Fish and meat (pork, beef, lamb, chicken, reindeer, and whale) and boiled potatoes, usually served with gravy or melted butter, traditionally have defined the late afternoon meal (middag).
Of course, the best way to appreciate the cuisine of Norway is to spend time with Norwegians. Luckily for us, one in our group was born in Norway. Though she lives in New York now. I very much enjoyed seeing her face light up when typical Norwegian comfort foods graced our smörgåsbords, well technically in Norwegian they’re called koldtbords (cold boards). In particular, she recalled Rømmegrøt, a rich Norwegian porridge made with sour cream. It is often served as a side dish to summer meals, alongside a Spekemat or fenalår (cured, dried leg of lamb or mutton, sort of like prosciutto) and flatbread. The sugar and cinnamon may make you think of breakfast, but in Norway, this dish is considered savory and is an accompaniment to supper. I have included a recipe I adapted for American kitchens.
Rømmegrøt serves 8
2 c heavy cream
4 T cultured buttermilk
1 c all-purpose flour
5 c whole milk
1 t kosher salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
Cinnamon, to taste
To make the sour cream: In a small saucepan set over low heat warm the cream to 95 F, almost body temperature, then whisk in buttermilk. Let stand at room temperature at least 8 hours, until thickened. Refrigerate once thickened until ready to use.
To make the Rømmegrøt porridge: Simmer 1 2/3 cup of the homemade sour cream in a large saucepan set over medium-low heat, covered, about 15 minutes. Sift in 1/3 of the flour; whisk to combine. Simmer uncovered, until the butterfat begins to leach out. Skim off the fat (reserve it). Sift in the remaining flour, whisk to incorporate and bring to a very low boil.
In a separate saucepan bring the milk to a simmer. Then working in batches of about 1‑cup each add the milk, whisking to incorporate until the porridge to desired consistency (you may not need all of the milk). Your goal is a smooth fairly thick consistency that barely holds its shape when scooped into a spoon.
Simmer about 10 minutes, and season with salt. Serve the Rømmegrøt with the reserved fat (or additional sour cream), sugar and cinnamon on top.