Last weekend I went on a study tour (another study trip?! Yes, indeed) to the beautiful islands of Lolland-Falster and Fejø to learn a bit more about the new Nordic culinary culture. (Fejø is the small island right across from Lolland. There isn’t a bridge to it: you have to take a ferry.)
We traveled with the teacher, a kid (late twenties?) who works at the Nordic Food Lab; he’s originally from Canada, he studied philosophy and history at Yale, he moved to New York City and worked with sustainable urban gardens, and then three years ago he moved to Copenhagen to work with the Nordic Food Lab. His contract ends this spring, and so in the fall he hopes to go to grad school for his Masters and PhD at Oxford. I’m quite impressed with his trajectory. He’s a very smart, intellectual, eloquent, curious academic.
On Saturday morning at 7.00 we left Copenhagen. We traveled two hours by bus and arrived at this tiny dairy farm where we sampled cheese made from local sheep and cows milk. We got to taste fresh whey and rumen (the stuff in cows’ stomachs!) and all of it was delicious. Then we got brunch at a community kitchen in the TINY town down the road.
Then we got in the bus, went another two hours, and then ate again! The whole day was eating and sleeping, and it was entirely perfect. The Knuthenlund farm operates on principles of permaculture (farming and raising livestock that mimics natural patterns–cows eat barley grown on the farm, pigs eat whey and other byproducts from the cheese production, manure is reused as fertilizer. We met these endangered black spotted pigs, pet these cute lambs, and saw the Danish red cow from across the field. Then we ate the endangered pigs, haha. They were delicious!
We had dinner at Restaurant Babette–it was very New Nordic. We had locally sourced, seasonal food. We were even served some ramson, which we’d foraged in a green space just outside of the city of Copenhagen a week before. (Ramson is this wild garlic. We made “pesto” with it out of Danish cheese and rapeseed oil from Denmark. It was pretty Nordic!)
- various appetizers (including dehydrated carrot, lil’ tart with ham and onion, cracker with cheese and roe, fried “trotters” (pig hoofs?), and smoked quail egg (my description; other descriptions from Babette’s menu, put through Google Translate)
- Terrine of smoked eel. Pickled green tomatoes, clam sauce and herbs
- North Sea turbot with grilled cabbage and pear, mild vesterhavsost.
- Fried and confit sweetbreads with wild garlic (that’s the ramson!!) and apple.
- Saddle of lamb with white asparagus herbs and black garlic
- Rhubarb ice cream with mild honey chocolate mousse and baked rhubarb
+ unlimited red and white wine (but limited number of carafes of water!)
The next day, we made lunch at a catering company. I was in the group who made the appetizer: smoked salmon tartare and poached salmon with garlic sauce and asparagus. We also had Danish beef and rhubarb with custard.
Then, we went to an organic apple orchard on Fejø–it’s run by this cute older couple. Every part of production (growing, picking, fermenting, packaging) happens right out their back door in their small apple factory.
Perhaps more memorable than the food (though it was seriously so good) were the characters who produced it. First, there was the wizened old man on the dairy farm. He had bright blue eyes and white hair. He spent his winters in Spain, making goat cheese with farmers high in the mountains. He explained how he took the methods from Spain and applied them to the Danish cheese in great detail: the acidity, the temperatures, the feel. He showed us graphs and probes; before he was a cheese man, he was a chemical engineer.
The woman who ran Knuthenland was raised on the farm (it’s her family farm) but she left to study international business in Copenhagen. She worked in Sydney, Australia for a while, then Seattle, and then came back to Copenhagen. She was still curious and bored with her current work, so she got a Masters in Art History. Then she decided she wanted to work on her family farm, so she went to school again and then brought the family farm from a tiny operation with only four workers to a large, relatively sustainable farm with thirty-seven employees.
The chef who taught us at the catering company left his home in England when he was fifteen years old. He camped on a beach in Southern France for two years, selling melons. Then he went to Spain and worked as a tour guide.Then he went back to England to study food and cooking. Then he went to Denmark and has been here twenty five years.
I’m so amazed by these people (and my instructor, Josh). They didn’t know what they wanted to do, but they worked it out, and after busting it for a few (or many) years, found their passions and do something they love every day. I wanna do that!
On another note: I’ve been in these classes this semester (New Nordic culinary culture and Food Systems) that have really taught me to appreciate quality in food, and also sustainability, health, food justice, and economics. In Denmark, because the people demand it, every 7/11 is stocked with the brand called “Palæo” that offers ginger shots, antioxidant berry shots, egg white wraps with chicken and tomato, fresh skyr with paleo granola. In the markets, it’s a challenge to find non-organic produce. I realize we can’t have this immediately in the US (Denmark is tiny and honestly kind of insular –am I using that right?) because in the US we have way too many people with different ideas and motives to please. But still, wouldn’t it be nice/amazing if we took little steps in this direction? While I’ve been here I’ve started to eat less meat/go more plant-based. I think I’m into it, at least for now. Michael Pollan doesn’t recommend we all go vegetarian, but he does say “eat food. mostly plants. not too much.”
Final remarks: In my final Nordic culinary culture class today we were given the prompt “try to explain new Nordic culinary culture to a friend back home.” Here’s what I came up with (but there are zillions of different ways to interpret it, and we talked about everyone’s different ideas in class): New Nordic cuisine is an ideology. It is eating seasonally, sustainably, and consciously. It’s eating locally. It’s using ingredients at their peak and showcasing their tastes, textures, and smells. It’s about heightening the senses. It’s about using all sorts of ingredients. It’s about curiosity. It opens a dialogue about food. What is culinary culture? Who decides what a regional cuisine is? Is it “New Nordic” to make “pesto” out of completely Nordic ingredients? Is the potato, which isn’t even native to Europe but that is a staple of Danish cuisine, Nordic?
Sorry this post was so ramble-y, but I had a lot to say, you know! In other news, I submitted a scavenger hunt video project for this New Nordic Cuisine class, which can be found here.
I’ve really enjoyed this class this semester/I’ve REALLY enjoyed my semester abroad. I’m so excited to share more details and stories and recipes with you all when I get back.
But for now,
PS: on the trip I learned that Noma stands for “Nordisk Mad” which means Nordic food!