The weather looks as changeable as atoddler’s tantrums. Thank god we’re not in a helicopter, Ithink to myself as the plane banks on its final approach and a cluster of snow-covered island-mountains erupting from the sea loomthrough the storm clouds.
This Nordic Hawaii is the Faroe Islands. Forget Copenhagen, or even Reykjavik, I’d heard this cluster of 18rocky islands in the middle of the north Atlantic, inhabited by 50,000 descendants of Norse renegades, is the new frontier in the new Nordic food movement. A place where a tiny band of determined pioneers, led by one visionary chef, is developing aradical, contemporary cuisine from the most meager culinary heritage.
An hour or so after landing, it seems I spoke too soon about the helicopter: it is the only way to reach the island of Stra Dmun, home to a couple of hundred sheep and the Petersen family’s farm, my first destination in a three-day tour of the islands’ nascent food scene. First challenge is to reach the helicopter which is idling on what is, essentially, an ice rink. With my arms occupied by luggage and a woolly hat, I am at the mercy of both natural and man-made gales. For every step forward I slide two back. In the end, afellow passenger comes to my rescue and drags me backwards on my heels like a shop dummy.
I assume he is a birdwatcher, like so many visitors to the Faroes, but the duffle-coated samaritan turns out to be John Gynther from the experimental cheese division (really) of a Danish dairy products company, on his way to check on the progress of some cheeses.
The humidity here is perfect for maturing cheeses, but nobody has tried it before, he tells me. If it’s successful, I hope some of the best restaurants in the world will give it to their guests. It’ll be the true taste of the north Atlantic, expressed in a cheese.
Arriving safely at the Petersen’s farm, I hear a little about their lives. Their forefathers have farmed sheep here for over 200years. That little black tar cottage over there is the children’s schoolhouse; a teacher arrives every Monday and stays in the attic. And those chocolate dots inching across the sheer hillside are their sheep, whose coats have evolved a yeti-like shagginess over the centuries.
Jgva Jn Petersen shows us into the hjallur, a wooden shed with vented walls where the sheep carcasses are hung by their feet to dry in the wind, flayed like some macabre art installation. This is the Faroe’s famous rst mutton, he explains, semi-dried and fermented in the sea air. Dangling alongside is Gynther’s cheese, which we taste in Jgva’s low-ceilinged kitchen as his kids bring to the table their treasured toys and, at one point, a pet rabbit. The cheese is good, resembling a bitter manchego. The rst is chewy like thick-cut pata negra ham, with a strong flavor only just the right side of sheepy for me.
That evening, in the islands’ capital, Trshavn, we eat in what appears to be a Hobbit dwelling but is actually a cosy, turf-roofed cottage housing a restaurant, arstova (dinner from about 55). We dip our heads to enter and are confronted with another dried sheep carcass flayed on a fancy, turned-wood stand. They’re not squeamish, the Faroese as evidenced by the annual summer pilot whale slaughter, the grindadrp, which apparently has something of a family festival air (though obviously not for the whales, which are slaughtered despite being so riddled with mercurythat since 2008 the island’s medical officers have recommended they are no longer considered fit for human consumption).
We are presented with a dr schnapps. This is my new favorite Faroese tradition: when arriving at a party or, sometimes, a restaurant, guests are presented with a glass of schnapps, refilled communion wine-style for new arrivals. We sit alongside a man called Mortan, who is one of life’s enthusiasts. He insists we try some rst mutton paired with amontillado sherry, and there is an unexpected repartee between the wine’s oaky notes and the rich mutton. The geographical connection is not all that tenuous either, Mortan points out, given that for centuries the Faroese exported salt cod to Spain.
The talk turns to the islands’ long-mooted independence from Denmark and the oil that many believe lurks offshore and could lift the Faroes’ economy which as far as I can make out is kept afloat by the SarahLund sweaters, made here by Gudrun and Gudrun, a company founded and run by two Faroese women, and sold in a shop on the waterfront. As the schnapps bottles are drained, the tables are cleared for traditional dancing … national dress optional.
Read more here:
The Faroe Islands are the frontier for new Nordic food