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The Norwegian cuisine

Traditional ingredients, modern methods
From sweet treats like berries, waffles and ciders, to cured meats and some of the world's best cheeses. And don't forget the fresh seafood: king crab, salmon and the famous Atlantic cod. Enjoy the new and traditional flavours of Norway.
The traditional Christmas dish “pinnekjøtt” served on a table
Pinnekjøtt.
Photo: matprat.no

The hunger for traditional Norwegian food has unusual good preconditions in this wildly varied country with one of the world’s longest coastlines. Norway is known for wild nature, lots of space, and deep fjords with cold, clean water. Perhaps unsurprisingly, catching and preparing top-quality fish has always been a big part of Norwegian culture. For ages past, dried cod was the big export – now it is fresh salmon and arctic cod. Read more about Norwegian first-class seafood.

You will find many of these fresh ingredients in the everyday Norwegian kitchen, and with so many goodies at our disposal, it’s not surprising that the new big trend is to prepare our meals from scratch. In addition, the Norwegian love for coffee has been reinvented by local coffee brewers and baristas with international awards on their walls.

Norwegian lamb: not baaad at all!

A flock of sheep grazing in the mountains in Fjord Norway
Sheep in Fjord Norway.
Photo: Dan Nygård/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Norwegian lamb is especially tender and juicy, due to the fact that most of the animals graze in outlying pastures, with vast expanses of untouched nature, clean running water, and protein-rich vegetation consisting of different herbs.

In addition, the lamb and sheep make an invaluable contribution to the Norwegian cultural landscape when grazing, as they keep the vegetation in check and thereby maintain natural diversity.

The Fenalår from Norway is now a geographically protected name for the slow-cured lamb’s leg, based on Norway’s long history of hanging mutton legs to dry in mountain air to preserve meat for use during the winter.

In autumn, the lamb stew fårikål (literally lamb-in-cabbage), is a very popular dish, while Pinnekjøtt, racks of lamb, or mutton cured in brine or sea salt, is popular during Christmas in Fjord Norway.

If you’re really lucky (and a bit courageous), you will get to taste a sheep’s head. The dish is called “smalahove” in Norwegian and is considered a delicacy in certain parts of the country.

Great Norwegian food gifts

Take home some typical tastes that will make the holiday feeling last longer.

“Røkelaks” (smoked salmon)
Invest in a whole fish or simply go for delicately packed and convenient slices. Top off your purchase with some specially made mustard sauce.

“Tørrfisk” (dried cod) Small slices of crunchy stockfish is the perfect (and healthy!) snack. You can get it in small bags.

“Brunost” (brown cheese)
With this sweet, brown cheese, you’re taking home a bit of our national soul. Most of the brown cheeses are made of cow’s milk, but you can also get a stronger tasting variety made of goat’s milk. Obligatory gear is the cheese slicer called “ostehøvel”, a beautiful tool found in most Norwegian kitchens.

“Sild” (herring)
Herring comes in increasingly many variations with a myriad of marinades and flavours.

“Flatbrød” (crispbread)
A dried and crispy form of bread, far thinner than even the fanciest laptop, and most often sold in a protective carton. Delicious with soups, stews, or topped with cured meats and sour cream.

“Lefse”
A traditional thin pastry of flour, potatoes, milk and butter, made with traditional tools. Usually served folded and spread with butter and other foods.

Waffle mix and waffle iron
If you want to get to the core of the Norwegian kos, try a waffle.

Valdresflye.
Photo: Tina Stafrén

Game on: four meats you should try

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Cheese: brown, white, yellow

Norway is known for a select few inventions, and the ostehøvel, meaning cheese slicer, is amongst the most prominent ones. It was invented by Thor Bjørklund in the 1920s, in case you wondered.

The most famous cheese in Norway has traditionally been the brunost, or the brown cheese – caramelised whey cheese, quite similar to fudge, made with cow´s milk or goat´s milk. Norwegians normally eat it on high-quality bread, or on Norwegian waffles, often found at cosy cafés in the countryside. The taste of this cheese might not be for everyone, however, and many foreigners try it only once.

But the last few years, the most interesting Norwegian cheesemongers have made a much greater variety of products – everything from Camembert, blue cheese, chevre and brie to traditional products such as gamalost and pultost. Again, the clean and cold Norwegian surroundings provide the perfect platform for producing goat and cow milk of high quality. Today, you can find more than 150 small-scale cheesemakers, spread from the south of Norway to Finnmark in the north. Several of them are run by young and ambitious cheesemakers who are eager to experiment with techniques, spices and ripening.

What Norwegians eat for Christmas

We Norwegians are serious about our Christmas traditions. However, there are a lot of competing local varieties when it comes to the preferred festive foods. Here are some of the most common dishes during the Yuletide:

Ribbe
Roasted pork belly, usually served with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes, Christmas sausages, meatballs and gravy. Eaten by six out of ten households, mainly in Trøndelag and Eastern Norway.

Pinnekjøtt
Salted, dried, and sometimes smoked lamb ribs. These were traditionally steamed over birch branches – hence the name (“Pinnekjøtt” translates loosely to “stick meat”). Norwegians’ second most popular choice on Christmas Eve, particularly among people on the west coast.

Smalahove
Burnt, smoked and boiled sheep’s head served whole with potatoes, mashed swedes, beer, and aquavit. Mostly eaten before Christmas in Fjord Norway, especially Voss.

Lutefisk
Stockfish that has been lying in water and lye (a way to preserve fish in the old days), then cooked in the oven. Typically accompanied by potatoes, bacon, pea stew, and mustard.

Multekrem
A dessert made of cloudberries and whipped cream.

Småkaker
Tradition dictates that seven different kinds of Christmas biscuits and/or cookies should feature on the table at Christmas, and that they all should be home-baked. The pepperkake (gingerbread cookies) is arguably the most popular of them.

Aquavit
Norway’s national drink. A potato-based spirit flavoured with herbs such as caraway seeds, anise, dill, fennel and coriander. The preferred accompaniment to Christmas food.

Gløgg
The Norwegians’ take on mulled wine, but made with a syrupy mixture as opposed to a herbal blend, with dried almonds and raisins added for taste.

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Great Norwegian food gifts

Take home some typical tastes that will make the holiday feeling last longer.

“Røkelaks” (smoked salmon)
Invest in a whole fish or simply go for delicately packed and convenient slices. Top off your purchase with some specially made mustard sauce.

“Tørrfisk” (dried cod) Small slices of crunchy stockfish is the perfect (and healthy!) snack. You can get it in small bags.

“Brunost” (brown cheese)
With this sweet, brown cheese, you’re taking home a bit of our national soul. Most of the brown cheeses are made of cow’s milk, but you can also get a stronger tasting variety made of goat’s milk. Obligatory gear is the cheese slicer called “ostehøvel”, a beautiful tool found in most Norwegian kitchens.

“Sild” (herring)
Herring comes in increasingly many variations with a myriad of marinades and flavours.

“Flatbrød” (crispbread)
A dried and crispy form of bread, far thinner than even the fanciest laptop, and most often sold in a protective carton. Delicious with soups, stews, or topped with cured meats and sour cream.

“Lefse”
A traditional thin pastry of flour, potatoes, milk and butter, made with traditional tools. Usually served folded and spread with butter and other foods.

Waffle mix and waffle iron
If you want to get to the core of the Norwegian kos, try a waffle.

What Norwegians eat for Christmas

We Norwegians are serious about our Christmas traditions. However, there are a lot of competing local varieties when it comes to the preferred festive foods. Here are some of the most common dishes during the Yuletide:

Ribbe
Roasted pork belly, usually served with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes, Christmas sausages, meatballs and gravy. Eaten by six out of ten households, mainly in Trøndelag and Eastern Norway.

Pinnekjøtt
Salted, dried, and sometimes smoked lamb ribs. These were traditionally steamed over birch branches – hence the name (“Pinnekjøtt” translates loosely to “stick meat”). Norwegians’ second most popular choice on Christmas Eve, particularly among people on the west coast.

Smalahove
Burnt, smoked and boiled sheep’s head served whole with potatoes, mashed swedes, beer, and aquavit. Mostly eaten before Christmas in Fjord Norway, especially Voss.

Lutefisk
Stockfish that has been lying in water and lye (a way to preserve fish in the old days), then cooked in the oven. Typically accompanied by potatoes, bacon, pea stew, and mustard.

Multekrem
A dessert made of cloudberries and whipped cream.

Småkaker
Tradition dictates that seven different kinds of Christmas biscuits and/or cookies should feature on the table at Christmas, and that they all should be home-baked. The pepperkake (gingerbread cookies) is arguably the most popular of them.

Aquavit
Norway’s national drink. A potato-based spirit flavoured with herbs such as caraway seeds, anise, dill, fennel and coriander. The preferred accompaniment to Christmas food.

Gløgg
The Norwegians’ take on mulled wine, but made with a syrupy mixture as opposed to a herbal blend, with dried almonds and raisins added for taste.

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