What did you have for breakfast today? Cereal? Toast? Fry up? Nothing?
Whatever you had I know it can’t have been as interesting as my breakfast was. Why’s that? Well I was Eating Eurovision and you, unless you are one of the other very mad food bloggers taking part in this caper (each with our own country to sample), you weren’t. Today for you was probably just a normal day with a normal breakfast. My breakfast may well have been normal for any self respecting Norwegian on any normal Norwegian day but it was an adventure through another culture for me.
So how exactly did I get to be eating Norwegian delicacies in East London on a damp Saturday morning (hey Norwegian style weather to make it more authentic excellent!)?
Um well, via the wonders of the superinternetmotorwaytechiethingy I recently joined a London food bloggers forum and, lo, one of then had come up with the challenge of 25 food bloggers eating the food of the 25 Eurovision finalists within the M25. Sounded like fun so I signed up and duly spent Thursday evening in a meeting room at the BBC watching the second semi final with 20 people I’d never met before…..ah the wonders of the internet bringing people together – a new approach to community. Once the complex voting for the last ten coveted slots was over we each selected (with some fear for which country we would get) a pingpong ball from a bag.
I got RUSSIA.
And so why have I just been eating Norwegian breakfast? Well poor old Norway hadn’t been picked because we were a few bloggers short – so I gallantly said I’d take it on – I mean they are right up there as one of the favourites to win tonight how could we not sample their cuisine plus it was going to be a great chance to introduce BROWN CHEESE to the rest of the world.
Now I happen to have some Norwegian connections in my family so I’ve eaten Norwegian before and been to the lovely city of Bergen several times. So I sort of knew what I was letting myself in for but I had no idea how easy or not it would be to get my mitts on some Norwegian breakfasty things within the M25 in time to blog about it all today.
First stop was Twitter where the airwaves were buzzing with #eatingeurovision tweets from everyone taking part trying frantically to track down leads for their country. I didn’t get any Norwegian specialists this way but I did get some general Scandinavian pointers. I moved onto the internet proper and that miracle tool that is Google. ‘Norwegian food cooking london’ and other similar phrases threw up a link to the Official Norway site in the UK – here there’s lots of info about all things Norwegian including the upcoming festivities for National Day this Sunday 17 May (which has its own favoured dish I’m going to blog about separately) and some background on Norwegian foods. Rather worryingly it refers to lutefisk simply as a fish dish particular to Norway when in reality it’s a pretty frightening sounding concoction involving cod that has been dried then soaked in lye or caustic soda until it becomes soft and jelly like. Moving swiftly on I find a link to a shop near Oxford circus that sells food goodies from Scandinavia so I decide to pin my hopes on this.
I get to Scandinavian Kitchen just before the lunchtime rush and I’m so excited I forget to take any pictures of anything, dear oh dear. I spot the cheese section fairly quickly and can see they have some of what I’m after so I have a little chat with the guy behind the counter, telling him what I’m up to and asking what else my Norwegian breakfast should involve, he directs me to the flatbread (flatbrød) but also tells me that crispbreads are not very Norwegian and steers me away from a Ryvita type moment. He has to get back to serving so he hands me over to a lovely lady who takes me on a whistle-stop tour of what I need: the cheeses are good, flatbread is good, there should be fresh bread too (they don’t have any specifically Norwegian stuff at the shop so she suggests sourdough but not rye, Norway is not big on rye bread she says and they like their bread less sweet than the Swedes!), liver paste, lamb salami, a Norwegian take on Nutella, fish egg paste (I skip on this option), boiled egg, jam (but she doesn’t have any cloudberry so I skip on getting jam as well). I’m pretty loaded up by now and then along comes a customer she knows well who happens to be Norwegian and so we double check the breakfast options with her and we are bang on track, I just need to drink a big cup of coffee with it and I’ll be having a full on Norwegian breakfast moment. I take my haul to the till, pay up (ouch the prices are high but they are also high in Norway, food is not cheap there) and dash off weighed down with stuff. The friends I’m meeting for lunch are all a bit bemused when I roll up with a huge bag full of Norwegian stuff and clearly think I’ve gone completely mad since they last saw me, ah well, they don’t know what they are missing.
On to this morning and its time for a Norwegian breakfast feast. My husband looks a bit dubious as I start getting all the stuff out and is clearly disappointed that it’s not the bacon and mushroom sandwich option that Saturday usually brings. But he joins in skipping only on the brown cheese.
So what did we have and what was it like? Here’s the spread:
We’ve got (L to R, back row first):
lamb salami (this one is actually Swedish but the shop didn’t have any specifically from Norway and I wanted to give it a go)
Flatbread (take a look inside the box….erm where does the packing stop and the bread begin….)
My nice glossy Norwegian cookbook that my brother gave me
some Ridder cheesesome brown cheese (Gudbrandsdalsost)
Liver paste (isn’t the kid cute)
the chocolatey nutty spread
some Norvegia cheesemore brown cheese (Ekte Geitost)
And here it is on the plate with my lovely Norwegian pewter cheese slice (essential for cutting slivers of these boingy cheeses):
Was it good?
Pretty much so. The salami wasn’t as lamby flavoured as I’d expected and it was rather too salty but pretty nice. The flatbread was very dry (you could play the eat 2 creams crackers challenge with it) but that’s part of the point, its dry so it stores well, its not especially interesting or full of flavour and when I told my husband I’d spotted a recipe for soup made with it he looked at me rather oddly; its not inedible just a vehicle for other stuff. The chocolate-y spread was so so sweet I couldn’t have more than a mouthful – I guess you either like that kind of thing or you don’t. The liver paste was really tasty, a smooth liver pate basically, good stuff. The two paler cheeses (Ridder and Norvegia) were fairly mild, a bit like Edam; the Norvegia was a lot like Jarlsberg which you can get easily in supermarkets here; the Ridder was stronger with a slightly earthy flavour and probably better as a lunch or dinner cheese.
And the BROWN CHEESE??
They are both made from goats milk and are very traditional Norwegian cheeses. There are quite a few variations available in Norway in terms of strength and creaminess, sometimes cows and goats milk are used together which generally makes a for a milder cheese. All are made from a mix of milk, cream and whey cooked together until they caramelise which is where the brown colour and surreal sweet flavour comes from. I really love the flavour, its weird but tasty (think savoury fudge!), others think it’s vile (e.g. my husband for one). The Ekte Geitost was stronger and had a drier texture than the Gudbrandsdalsost, which is milder and smoother.
Go on give them a go you know you want to and you can get them at some branches of Waitrose according to the Norwegian Cheeses UK site. Hurrah a constant supply for me ?
And as for tonight well lets hope young Alexander Ryback has been brought up on a good diet of smooth tasty brown cheese – its sure to give him the edge over rivals. Go Norway Go.