Tack For The Memory. Sweden On A Plate

Forget fika, there’s more to Swedish gastronomy than coffee and buns. Nick takes the plane north to dig down into the food-rich region of Jämtland Härjedalen

Frozen lake near Östersund Sweden

The Sound Of Silence

It takes two airplanes to get to Östersund, the capital and only city in Jämtland Härjedalen. The final descent out of a clear blue sky reveals a countryside that seems more lakes than land, with the lakes still frozen in April and blanketed in thick snow.

The melt is beginning though and soon the locals will put away their skis, the area is famous for its skiing, and begin to cycle and hike through their forests and fields. The Swedish here love to be outdoors whatever the weather.

And they love to eat well, the region is dotted with over 200 artisan food and drink producers, as well as restaurants and chefs that take inspiration and ingredients from the land and water around them.  Self-sufficiency is real here, not a fashion.

Frozen lake near Östersund Sweden

The Frozen North

Östersund on the edge of Lake Storsjön is a lively, friendly place and geographically it’s celebrated as the very centre of Sweden. The bars and restaurants don’t compete for business, they share it and as I move around the town I find the same faces –  bartenders, chefs, shop owners and local food entrepreneurs lall waving cheerfully as they slip and slide on the snow.

All that Jazz

A cocktail in Jazzkoket in Östersund Sweden

Drink it or wear it?

In the centre of this centre of Sweden is Jazzköket, which means ‘Jazz Cuisine’ in English. Tucked away in a hidden courtyard, its open kitchen radiates heat and bonhomie and, typically for Sweden, there are all ages enjoying its eclectic interior design and delicious food.

From the bakery in the cellar comes out superb sourdough and chefs cook with beef from mountain cows, as well as ‘Fangsten’, which means whatever seafood has been caught and brought to them that day.

A bartender making a cocktail in Jazzkoket in Östersund Sweden

A Swedish Hipster?

Across the courtyard is a cellar bar, where the team create esoteric cocktails based on local ingredients and invite guests to choose their own music from a stash of vinyl in the corner.

Having a browse, I find the oeuvre of Saxon features strongly, Swedish men may all look like Hoxton hipsters but they do like ‘the metal’ all the same.

The hip bartender makes up a selection of cocktails for me to try, including a marvellous one made with moss and a food dish whose name is tongue twister, but with its salty fish roe totally blows me away with its depths of flavours and sheer Swedishness.

a dish of salmon, potato, carrot and dill at Lilla Saluhallen

It doesn’t get much more Swedish

Although for a classic Swedish lunch you’d be hard pressed to find better than the salmon, potato, carrot and dill I happily eat at Lilla Saluhallen later, a delicatessen and casual restaurant combined and run by the partner of the man who runs the Jazzkoket bar.

The menu board at Lilla Saluhallen in Sweden

It was all Greek to me

In her well-stocked shop of local produce, I taste some superb cheeses that came from Oviken Ost,a nearby dairy that makes its artisan cheeses from cows and sheep with the milk either from their own herd or sourced locally.

So, good was the cheese that I have to meet the makers, so I drive up to the dairy in blazing sunshine and blue skies that belie the 5C temperature outside.

A cheesemaker in the dairy at Oviken Ost Sweden

Say Cheese

‘We couldn’t get the sheep’s milk we wanted at first,’ I’m told as I am shown around, ‘so we began crossing Nordic ewes with purebred East Friesian dairy rams’. They have over 90 acres and 200 hectares of managed forest around them and the whole dairy here is eco-friendly with heat coming from a wood chip boiler that uses wood from their forest. The cheese they make is so good it’s served at Magnus Faviken’s restaurant not far away, as well as at Noma.

Cheese platter in Sweden

Delicious on crispbread

The milk is left unpasteurised to get every bit of the flavour out and the cheeses, which range from hard to soft, are a real treat. This is how cheese ought to taste all the time.

Pork matters

‘They look like Rastafarian pigs,’ laughs the chef at Slaktarn i Östersund AB, ‘they have long furry coats’.  I’m looking down at perhaps the finest pork chop I have ever seen on a plate.

As thick as an old phone book, it’s perfectly cooked and simply served with crisp apple shards and local artisan beers Jämtlands Steamer and Jämtlands India Pale Ale. Here with the latter they know better than to overhop and create refreshing brews that are balanced and very drinkable.

A pork chop in Sweden

Chop chop

The guys at Slaktarn i Östersund AB are young men driven by a desire for proper meat.  The animals come from local farmers who all focus on providing natural lives for their animals, all grown to proper maturity and fed naturally from what the animals themselves choose to eat as they wander about freely.

The soil is monitored for organic quality and slaughter is carried out to the most humane methods, with the meat then aged slowly and carefully. The result is meat selected by all the best shops and restaurants in the area. And yes, that includes that place Faviken again.

Ice age

Nick Harman fishing on a frozen lake in Sweden

The smallest fishing rod ever

Of course, if you really want to get fresh food, you need to catch it yourself. Which is why the next day I find myself lying face down in the snow peering into a metre-deep hole we’ve just drilled through the lake ice.

Ice drilling in Sweden

Just a few more feet to go

A thirty minutes ride as passenger, and for a glorious fifteen minutes as a driver, on a powerful snowmobile with local hotel owner and mountain rescue expert Richard, has brought me out to the middle of a giant lake where the guides brew our coffee on fires made from scavenged wood and proffer slices of cured reindeer to keep us fed until the fish bite.

Nick Harman fishing on a frozen lake in Sweden

Not dead, just fishing

The rod is tiny, I look like a garden gnome. I can see the fish when I peer down, but they don’t want to be caught. We pack up and motor to a restaurant a few kilometres away deep in the Sami, the indigenous peoples, land.

The restaurant Hävvi in Glen is part of the Tossåsens Sami village in the Oviken mountains 50 km from Östersund and chef Elaine is married into a Sami family. The Sami people have lived from, and with, nature since time began and sustainability is their natural way of life.

A large bearskin pinned to the ceiling suggests that their attitude to nature is also pragmatic.

We eat Sami appetisers, a platter of smoked and cured reindeer components – heart, tongue, liver, that sort of thing – and then smoked mountain char, sea buckthorn, fried angelica, mayonnaise with apple vinegar, roasted bone marrow, fried fish skin and cloudberries, a plate redolent of this part of Sweden.

Chef Elaine at Hävvi in Glen Sweden

Plating up the Elk’s nose

Then it’s tempered suovas with slow baked swede, spring vegetables, blueberries and creamed black chanterelle mushrooms and crispy elknose. Suovas is dry-salted meat smoked by the Sami over an open fire.

Crispy elknose is like pork scratchings, but a great deal tastier and we end with a palate cleansing sorbet made from cloudberries and sea buckthorn. It’s a meal that anywhere else would be served surrounded by pomposity, pretentiousness and with chef posing at the pass. Here Elaine just cooks the food she likes to eat, and it is excellent.

Drinking songs

Bottles of snaps at the Buustamon hotel Sweden

Snaps

The sound of singing is loud in the basement of the Buustamon hotel and we’ve only had a few drinks. Helan Går, roughly Chug It Down, is one song being belted out and I wish I could join in.

Snapsvisor (drinking songs) are popular with all ages and classes in Sweden and where better to get the tonsils twitching then in a distillery?

The exterior of of the Buustamon hotel Sweden

Where the Spirits live

Snaps is a shot of aquavit, an ingrained part of Swedish culture and in this charming hotel and farm, halfway up Areskutan and accessible only by a bumpy but fun ride in a snowcat, they make their own –  all the way from the mash to the bottle labels. Beautiful freshwater, lingonberries, elderflower and all kinds of local herbs and spices are used between spring and autumn, any other time the water is frozen solid, to make their range of snaps – Arevodka, Buustasup, and Hojt.

Cured meat platter on a lake in Sweden

Snow snacks

It took them a long time to get the distilling permit under Sweden’s somewhat draconian alcohol laws, and rather bizarrely you still can’t actually buy a bottle at the hotel. No matter, I wobble up the stairs to the restaurant to a superb dinner of local produce in the wood heavy dining room.

Jämtland Härjedalen has certainly left me singing inside my head, with its wonderful people, food, drink and of course fabulous scenery. This amazing region is a place I could very happily call home and I can’t wait to come back again.

Chef in Sweden

The foraging chef

Big takt (thanks) to:

The Jämtland Härjedalen Tourist Board

Visit Sweden

www.Jht.se

www.Adventuresweden.com

Buustamon Hotel

Copperhill Mountain Lodge

www.are.se

Wikners i Persåsen Hotel

Advertisements

Get ready for the Guernsey Food Festival

Proud and passionate, the Guernsey people have more than a beautiful island to showcase. The ten-day festival in September is one any keen foodie should be heading out to. Nick gets a preview.

Rock Samphire. Free food

Rock Samphire. Free food

It’s salty and citrusy, juicy and crunchy, it’s plentiful and it’s free. I’m eating a handful of rock samphire that I’ve plucked from the ground not twenty feet from the road and it’s delicious.

The sea is the larder

The sea is the larder

Unlike the samphire you find in the fishmongers, this Guernsey rock samphire is much fresher and almost needs no cooking at all.

I stick some in my pocket to nibble on as I watch the local kestrels hovering effortlessly on the wind, keenly scanning the ground for their own free food to appear.

As the car weaves inland through the narrow lanes on this small island, toward a goat farm I’m off to visit, another form of foraged food reveals itself, the Hedge Veg. Continue reading

Balearic Eats

Time to go raving in Ibiza, raving over the food that is.

The view from Hotel Torre del Mar

The view from Hotel Torre del Mar

A large poster catches my eye on the way in from the airport, it’s of Fat Boy Slim heavily photoshopped to be both very fat and very slim at the same time. He’s looking his age either way, which is in fact my age. That he can get a massive room full of people to wave their hands in the air is quite remarkable, as is the massive fee he reportedly gets for doing it.

Ibiza is of course well known as clubbers’ island; posters for the various venues are more numerous than posters advertising cars, washing powders or indeed anything else. My plane had boasted plenty of stags and hens already deep in the party spirit, while the despairing cabin staff tried to keep order. Ordering a drunk man dressed as a giant chicken to sit down is never easy.

View over the almond orchards

The inner beauty of Ibiza

There is more to Ibiza than drink and dancing though. It’s a beautiful place once you get away from the epicentres of E consumption, with lots of hidden, quiet beaches and small inland villages. Continue reading

Abruzzo. The Italian region ready to be revealed

Nun’s naughty bits, a wine that’s not a cheese, wine boxes that aren’t square and vino that flows from a drinking fountain, Nick finds Abruzzo is an Italian region that’s full of surprises.

Nuns Breast, a patisserie from Abruzzo

A lovely bun

“They’re called ‘Nun’s’ Breasts’, “Sise delle Monache” in Italian, says Valentina di Camillo unveiling a tray of freshly made pastries in the garden overlooking her family’s glorious vineyards. The origins of the pastry’s name are vague, they were first called ‘Three Mountains’ owing to their triple peaks but the new name came about when a nun… well, let’s leave it there.

Liver sausage

Liver sausage, goes great with red wine.

They are delicious, soft as can be and stuffed to bursting with sinful crème patissiere. One of these and a black coffee and your morning is off to a good start. Personally I am eating them just after an al fresco breakfast consisting of superb cured meats, pungent cheeses and a fair few glasses of Valentina’s lovely wines, so I am using the coffee and sugar to offset the alcohol I’ve knocked back. Continue reading

Mountains of magic

Nick finds out of ski season Switzerland is all about lush landscapes, fine vistas and plenty of cheese and chocolate.

dsc_6014

Interlaken is a centre for tandem parasailing

The parasailers circle over town like colourful vultures, perhaps lured by the smell of cheese? It’s hard to avoid the aromas of Emmentaler in a country where it’s eaten as often as we eat cheddar.

dsc_5762

The holes are made by the trapped gases during maturation

Emmentaler with its classic ‘cartoon’ holes is often regarded as a cheese suitable only for children, but Emmental eaten in Switzerland is another taste experience altogether.The milk of course is crucial, in Switzerland it comes from cows that graze on grass made lush by the snow melt. Continue reading