When you drive along the 64th parallel north, hence, along the southern edge of Grenland, it is easy to imagine the vast whiteness that covers the area during the winter, the moorland with temperatures which often reach 40 degrees Celsius below zero and where, outside the paved roads, you can move only on skis or sleighs, in other words, in dog or reindeers drawn carts. But it is now summer in Jämtland and we are enjoying one of the climate extremes of the Swedish province situated so far in the north that you feel as if you are a part of a completely different world. We are in the wasteland province in the centre of the Scandinavian Peninsula, some 200 km south of the polar circle. The inhabitants came to this area around 7000 bc, during a much warmer climate than today. The population significantly increased during the Viking period and then followed turbulent centuries (as the inhabitants would say, We have changed our citizenship 20 times over the past 400 years.) and the modern age started by the foundation of Östersund, the first and only city in Jämtland.
It was in Östersund that we began our journey through the province. It took us an hour to fly to the north from Stockholm in order to discover culinary delights of the province – local manufacturers of organic food but also one of the currently most interesting restaurants in the world. Östersund belongs to the network of creative cities of unesco and carries the 2011 Creative City of Gastronomy title, which encouraged the Swedish Government to design the project Sweden – the New Culinary Nation, and name Östersund the first gastronomic centre of the country due to abundance of quality food. It is very logical since one third of the total of 113 000 inhabitants of Jämtland live away from the big towns and so it is the biggest rural province of Scandinavia.
You have come to the place you have always wanted to visit, even though you weren’t aware of it. Here, the rural is closely linked with the urban; there has never been any real industry here and the area is still perfect for living. We are thus experiencing a kind of renaissance. This is a completely unpolluted region and that is why the best food products in the country are produced here, and are among the tastiest in the world. Around 70% of farmers produce organic food according to the strictest ecological standards and there are 200 food manufacturers. Creative people can thus make their dreams come true here – great chefs, cheese makers, masters of meat delicacies. On the other hand, the Sami still live here, the indigenous nomads who raise reindeers and they are knowledgeable in many things, such as how to use the whole animal, how to live in different seasons… The tradition is still very alive and reflects life in the family. They all eat elk, reindeer and beaver meat, various fish from streams and lakes, mushrooms and wild berries they collect in the forest. It all comes from nature which is in our immediate surroundings, says agile Fia Gulliksson, the gastronomic ambassador of the province and entrepreneur who owns three companies, all dedicated to the holistic idea that food can have a role in all aspects of the society.
Six years ago Fia opened Båthuskrogen, a restaurant open only once a week. It introduced the idea of occasionally transforming Östersund homes into restaurants. The project called Hemma hos (At home) includes 20 families which serve lunch or dinner to the visitors of Östersund in cooperation with the local tourist board. They prepare local dishes which the visitors can enjoy in the company of hosts and thus have an authentic experience.
Today Fia runs a very lively restaurant Jazzköket in the centre of Östersund, which serves simple but very inventive dishes made from local organic ingredients, excellent beer from micro-breweries of the province, and organizes concerts and other public events, such as Foodstock, a manifestation promoting local food manufacturers.
Since the whole project connects creative people from different areas, Fia took us for a walk through the centre of Östersund, which abounds in small craft shops, manufactories and deli shops offering heaps of organic food products. As in the rest of Scandinavia, the diet of the inhabitants of Jämtland includes mostly dairy products. The area is famous for its diversity, especially cheese from unpasteurized milk, which we saw first-hand in the dairy plant Tivars on the island of Norderön, not far from Östersund, which can be reached by a ferry.
In Drejeriet, the gallery of the association of ceramic workers founded in 1987, we admired artefacts and general use items created by its members. The founder and manager Annika Persson was happy to show her ceramic does and rabbits. We also visited Storsjöhyttan, a small glass factory established in 1995 (the first Économusée, in other words, the first commercial museum in Sweden), situated immediately next to the town harbour.
But let us go back to the road which takes us to the west through the Jämtland plain from Östersund to Åre, a famous Swedish ski centre, well known to the lovers of the sport in the whole world. Somewhere half-way, following the advice of the chefs from the region, we turned to a small hamlet of Mörsil for a special reason. Namely, Natur Café in Kretsloppshuset (literally the house of the circle of life), a café-restaurant with the store is located there amidst the splendour of flowers. In effect, it is an environmentally-friendly establishment which includes around 40 volunteers (they call themselves gardengirls) who grow organic vegetables and free-range chickens and promote the idea of the sustainable way of life.
If you expected an alpine landscape in Åre, you would be surprised because nothing gives away that you are approaching the biggest Scandinavian and one of the most attractive ski destinations in the world until you literally enter into the place. It becomes apparent when you see Åreskutan, the mountain covered by ski trails whose top is reached by the biggest gondola lift in Scandinavia. We, naturally took the cable car to enjoy the view of the lake Kallsjön, situated next to Åre, as well as the view of the long ski trails. It is no wonder that the bar at the top of Åreskutan is decorated with old skis, start numbers, signed photographs, posters and other ski memorabilia. Tourism in Åre was founded by the Swedish King Oscar ii in 1882 when the railway to Trondheim in Norway was completed. It made the journey significantly easier to all those who wanted to come here to breathe fresh mountain air and climb to the top of Åreskutan. These first tourists were called luftgästers, i.e. air guests. They did not have the opportunity to enjoy hotel accommodation and the first restaurant was opened only in 1888 at a railway stop. But the number of guests was increasing and the first hotel in Åre, logically called Hotell Åreskutan, was opened by an entrepreneur in 1895, It was followed by the grandiose Grand Hotell and many others.
We stayed at the Copperhill Mountain Lodge, the hotel situated on the top of the adjacent mountain Förberget, which got its name from local copper mines from the 18th and 19th century. The only Scandinavian mountain hotel with the prefix designed was planned by an American architect of the Swedish origin, Peter Bohlin, who successfully integrated copper and other natural materials of the region, such as pinewood and slate, in the interior. Despite its large dimensions, we felt very pleasant in that modern interpretation of the classic mountain lodge in warm colours. In the luxurious hotel spa, which won the 2009 Interior Design of the Year Award in the Spa, Health and Leisure Category, it was very easy to forget the real reason of our arrival so we went to Åre Hembygdsgård, a local estate which cherishes the local tradition with the support of the local community (there are around 1400 of such estates in Sweden). There we had the opportunity to see how tunnbröd, a soft thin-crust bread, is baked in an old bread oven. During the summer it is baked two times a week in Åre Hembygdsgård and it can be eaten in the garden right after it is made, which we did. It is stuffed with a mixture of smoked salmon and thick sour cream and goes perfectly with a refreshing local fresh rhubarb drink.
Restaurant offer in Åre is very diverse and especially vibrant during the winter season. A must-see restaurant is Buustamoons Fjällgård, opened in 1954, on the occasion of the Alpine World Ski Championship. Since it is situated in the middle of the mountain, it can best be reached on skis during the winter while the visitors arriving by car are transported by the locals in motor sleighs along the road next to the parking lot.
In 2003 we built from the same old wood the current mountain lodge around the original 17th-century cabin. It consists of the restaurant and 12 comfortable rooms. The food served here is made from local ingredients and 95% of the guests out of the 200 people we host every night, orders venison we get from local Sami breeders. Those dishes go well with Buustasup, an aquavit seasoned with cumin and fennel, which we produce in our mini distillery, explains Lotta Florin, the manager of Buustamoons.
In Åre one of the gastro attractions is the Åre Chokladfabrik, a chocolate factory launched in 1991 by three friends – Marina, Marie and Eva-Lena. The business has grown in the meantime to twenty employees and nine million chocolate bars (30 kinds) manufactured per year, each hand-made. Their chocolate truffles mixture includes milk milked that morning and freshly picked forest berries, and the visitors, apart from shopping, can also see how these sweet delicacies are made.
Tännforsen, the biggest Swedish waterfall, is situated not far from Åre. It is 60 metres wide and we went down the path of its 38-metre-long impressive fall followed by a splendidly strong water wall although, as we concluded from the photographs, the waterfall is equally impressive during the winter, when it is covered by transparent ice. We were, however, far more impressed by the encounter with a gigantic fallow deer at the Millest Moose Farm, the breeding farm situated not far from the hotel with the same name.
At the farm we have the biggest member of the deer family in the world, the king of the Scandinavian forest – the elk. It is an animal which weighs 900 kilos, its shoulders are around 2.2 metres high, it can leap over a 3-metre-high obstacle, run twice as fast as a horse, dive down to the depth of six metres and swim faster than an Olympic champion. Male elks have heavy antlers which they lose at the beginning of winter so that they can survive extremely cold months during which they lose around 40% of their weight. Their antlers start growing again in spring, up to even about 2.5 centimetres per day, so that they are full grown by the mating period, said the stable attendant. We went for a dinner in Järpen, the main reason of our arrival to the north of Sweden or, more precisely, Jämtland. Close to this little place and next to the lake Liten, on the Fäviken estate of about 8100 ha, there is one of the most isolated restaurants in the world, a very specific place owned by the 30-year-old Magnus Nilsson, one of the most interesting young chefs of today, originally from Jämtland. Although he is often mentioned in the context of the new Nordic cuisine, Nilsson’s Fäviken (named after the estate) can only partially be compared with the Copenhagen restaurant Noma and the chef René Redzepi. Magnus also offers cuisine which uses only local Nordic ingredients (only sugar and salt are imported) but he has created a completely original world in Fäviken, an accomplishment that could not have passed unnoticed, so the restaurant, after only a couple of years, appeared on the prestigious list The World’s 50 Best Restaurants (there is no Michelin Guide for Sweden).
The whole philosophy is based on the fact that the northern environment of Fäviken abounds in wild ingredients – from trout, eels, reindeer meat, hare meat, and wildfowl to a large variety of forest mushrooms, wild plants, vegetables and berries. If we add to the picture gigantic and unusually tasty pilgrim’s scallops (Pecten Jacobaeus) and crabs from icy and crystal waters near Norwegian Trondheim, we can see how the variety of ingredients is ideal for an imaginative chef. But, due to harsh climate, the season for all these ingredients, including those cultivated in the garden in Fäviken, is relatively short, so Magnus, having spent three years in the star Parisian restaurant L’Astrance with chef Pascal Barbot, had to develop a system based on traditional method of preserving food – aging, drying, pickling, marination, fermentation – due to which food can completely change taste and texture, which goes hand-in-hand, in an inventive manner, with modern culinary methods (for instance, pieces of a mature milking cow can be kept for up to seven months and vegetables is sometimes preserved in the sand for up to eight months).
We part with fresh ingredients as early as the beginning of October and we see the new ones as late as April. Which is why my cuisine is a specific combination of collecting wild ingredients and using fresh ingredients from the vegetable garden and those preserved with traditional methods, as Nilsson explains.
Since it is a restaurant situated in the middle of nowhere, guests arrive only because of Magnus’s cuisine. This means that this is not a typical restaurant but a place with only 12 seats and six rooms for the accommodation of guests. We had the whole experience or the ritual, which starts with the arrival at the Fäviken estate (a complex of typical Swedish wood buildings) around 5 p.m., being accommodated in small, but cosy rooms (a shared bathroom; a very special breakfast is also included which consists of freshly baked bread and very tasty homemade cured meat products, fish and dairy products) and rest by 7 p.m. when you are preparing for dinner with drinks and small bites (such as fresh cheese in warm whey, wild trout roe served in the crust of dried pork blood…) served on the ground floor of the attached old barn. The dinner is served on the first floor in a dramatically lit room with pieces of dried bacon, fish and wild poultry hanging from the ceiling.
In Fävikenu all guests eat the same daily menu at the same time. Dinner usually starts with one of Nilsson’s signature dishes –scallops grilled in their own juice, served in shells on smoked juniper branches, whose scent instantly fills the room. Magnus then instructs his guests to eat shell meat with fingers and then suck the juice from the shell. The following 14 courses showed how much originality, creativity and harmony Magnus Nilsson used to blend his cuisine with terroire. Tops of the menu were Norway small lobster (langoustine) in brown sour cream, steam mackerel with young garlic, cod fish coated in honey, gruel of jamtland seeds with fermented carrot, wild plants and meat soup filtered through moss, kid roasted on an open fire with blowball, barley and hop and yolk kept in a sugar syrup served on crumbs of pine crust and meadowsweet ice cream (plant that grows on damp plains).
Not many people would decide to come and work here. You know, life here is not for everyone. It requires a special person, someone who enjoys the solitude. But the limitations of this location are ideal to take the best from you, says Magnus, casually discovering the secret of his creativity and what makes the life in Jämtland so special.