We were making our way towards Trondheim through the highlands of Dovre, a national park in the middle section of the country, as a sheep with her lambs ran freely over the road. This August day, the air was moist and the summer warmth had cooled down as autumn approached swiftly. The sheep had begun walking along a gravel road toward the mountains to take in their last taste of summer freedom.
Norwegian lamb is one of the world’s best and most-underrated ingredients. As the lambs roam wild over the mountains in the summer, their meat is spiced by the raw nature and climate of the Norwegian highlands. The surrounding wilderness transfers a touch of birch, mountain water and clean air into the meat, creating a silky smooth, tender texture.
Competitors in the Bocuse d’Or, (the most prestigious gastronomic competition in the world, which has been referred to as the culinary Olympics) have presented Norwegian lamb on their menus on numerous occasions. Norway has asserted itself as the most-awarded country alongside France. Norwegian chef Geir Skeie won by serving Norwegian lamb as the main dish, setting the unique ingredient on the world’s stage.
Norway’s national dish is fårikål, which directly translates to “lamb in cabbage.” The lamb is layered with cabbage and black peppercorns and braised for several hours on the stove. The dish fills the air with a mist of thick, wild aroma; rich lamb meat brings the mountains and hayfields right into the room.
Norway, with its barely 5 million inhabitants and challenging landscapes of mountains, steep valleys, and fjords, pales in comparison to its neighbors Sweden and Denmark in terms of agricultural efficiency. These geographical advantages allow our southern neighbors to have a much more efficient sheep and lamb production. Hence, meat quality plays a huge role in selling Norwegian lamb (expensive!) compared to power-farmed and cheaper products from Denmark and Sweden.
Nutritious feeding ground is essential to produce the best quality meat with the smoothest taste.
From April/June until September/October, the sheep are sent off to the feeding grounds in the rugged mountains of Norway where they live in nature and feed off moss, wild grass, and other vegetation. This rather nutrient-poor summer season is what gives the lamb the tender, herby, clean taste.
Lamb chops danced through my mind as we drove further north, the sheep and lambs disappearing into the distance, slowly munching on their crisp, quality-producing highland grass.
Male sheep: Vær
Female sheep that has had lambs: Søye
Female sheep that hasn’t had lambs: Gimmer