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Have you ever tasted one of Norway's most flavourful secrets, fenalår?
Like Serrano and Parma, 'Fenalår from Norway' is also a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).
All thanks to these happy creatures, grazing around the fjords and in the mountains.
Made from salted and dried leg of lamb or sheep, fenalår has been a Norwegian tradition for centuries. It is a favourite for festive meals, but is also the perfect snack in your hiking backpack or at the lunch table.
It's been exported worldwide since the Viking Age, but it's first in more recent times that the art of making fenalår has reached its full potential. This is greatly thanks to the makers association Fenalår from Norway and its efforts to reduce the amount of salt and accentuate the mild, lovely aroma. Its members strive to make the meat so tender that it almost melts in your mouth.
“Fenalår should be filled with lots of flavour and aroma, not just salt. Taste is at the core of a good fenalår,” says Per Berg, chairman of Fenalår from Norway.
By reducing the level of salt, the enzymes in the meat have the opportunity to move freely. This is what accentuates the flavours and texture.
Today, fenalår is made in two ways, traditional and matured. The main difference lies in the amount of salt, where the matured (modnet, in Norwegian) variety has a little less, and is the one you should go for if you want the very best meat.
“It's much more demanding to make fenalår with less salt. It's all about accuracy, patience, and skill. This is what they have already accomplished with ham in Southern Europe. Over the last 10 years, this has also been implemented with Norwegian fenalår as well, with great results.”
The makers association Fenalår from Norway consists of nine producers who together have made the name Fenalår from Norway a Protected Geographical Indication, making it one of our more than 20 national food treasures.
The status helps protect the unique quality of fenalår, and ensures that work on carrying on and enhancing this proud Norwegian tradition will continue.
One thing is certain, fenalår has a special place in the hearts of Norwegians.
It's believed that the method for making fenalår has been around since the Viking Age. The classic menu on the Viking ships was probably stockfish, cured meat, sour milk, and beer. Fresh meat and fish were only eaten in season, so pickling, drying and smoking meat was the solution to take advantage of the seasons and secure food for the whole year.
“Even though there was a shortage of salt in Norway during the Viking Age, one should not underestimate the Vikings. They likely used their network of contacts to obtain salt,” says Berg.
To make the best fenalår you need the best lamb! And Norway is the perfect home for sheep. Here, they can graze outdoors most of the year, and with great nutrition in the ground, there is little to no need for feed.
"The raw materials always have a say in the finished product, and Norwegian sheep live a good life. They eat what they please, and can find what they want when out grazing," Berg explains.
Norwegian lamb is therefore among the more natural meats we can eat in this country.
After the fenalår has been carved, you can rub it in olive oil and wrap it in waxed paper to preserve it over time. Remember to keep it cold. If you want to store the fenalår at room temperature, you can protect it in a bag made of thin cotton fabric.
There are many ways to enjoy this special cured meat...
... like the classic Norwegian way: fenalår with flatbread and sour cream...
... or why not up your toast game with Fenalår? Or maybe a fenalår carpaccio is more tempting?
Another Norwegian favourite is flatbread roll-ups with fenalår, perfect for tapas!
Check out the recipe and other ways to enjoy fenalår.
Many people wonder why only Norway has thought about making fenalår, but it's actually a more perfect fit than you might think. Norway itself is shaped like a leg of lamb! You could say that Norway is destined to be the home and birthplace of fenalår. Use fenalår like a map! Start carving in "Trøndelag" and eat your way around the country at the dinner table.
Fenalår can be found all over Norway, and every place has its own little twist on how it's made and what it should taste like. So, if you want to find your favourite, you'll need to keep your eyes peeled while travelling!
Even though you can find it almost everywhere, some places have made it their local speciality, particularly in Fjord Norway. But you can also find high quality producers in Eastern Norway, for example in the valleys of Gudbrandsdalen and Hallingdal. Fenalår made from lamb from Lofoten, Lofotlam, and from Lyngen, Lyngenlam, are also unique, as both varieties of lamb have PGI status and are considered national food treasures.
You can find fenalår in most Norwegian supermarkets, but when you are travelling around, look for the local food section in the store! This way you can sample the local flavour and maybe find your own favourite at an unexpected location.
You can also buy fenalår directly at many local farm shops.
Passionate food enthusiasts say it's time for fenalår to reach a broader world-wide market. Work towards increasing the export of fenalår is growing, and it has already had some success as an import in France.
"One of the main struggles of exporting fenalår, is that nobody knows what it is. But people are now learning more about the product, and it shows," says Berg.
Fenalår can now be found in shops in France, and there have been some advances in Italy as well, so it will be exciting to see where fenalår will go from here, maybe you can find it in your own home town?
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