Endless forests and clear lakes, desolated and varied landscapes make up the nature of the three Scandinavian kingdoms of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. With such an enormous land area and a relatively small number of inhabitants, large parts of Scandinavia are unoccupied by people. They are also home to numerous of game and offer unique and exciting hunts. Every country has its unique and special charm and species of deer.
In Denmark, deer are primarily roe deer, the size of a small sheep, which have inhabited Scandinavia for at least 8,000 years. They exist in vast numbers and as many as 100,000 are shot every year, most of them consumed by hunters’ families and restaurants. Their meat is dark and has a pleasant, intensely game taste. They can be treated as other game, or lamb.
This deer, about the size of a llama, is not indigenous to the Nordic countries, but was imported for hunting game in the Middle Ages and has spread all over southern Scandinavia. The meat has a very mild taste, much like veal. It can be successfully farmed and most of the fallow deer meat today is farmed. It does not have as much flavor as wild deer, but it is still a pleasant change from the other domestic meats.
The red deer is larger, similar to a small cow in size, and has been in Scandinavia since the last Ice Age. A red deer stag is an impressive sight, and the calves are lovely, if you are lucky enough to see such shy animals. The red deer has been threatened in the past, but the numbers are again on the rise so they can now be hunted legally. The meat is like gamy beef, very lean and tasty.
In northern Scandinavia the reindeer reigns, roaming over the low-growing Arctic tundra, finding food where there seems to be none. Reindeers are charming, relatively small animals, with spreading hooves designed to work like snow shoes, and a rather strange but very fast stride.
All reindeer have their particular owner, who keeps an eye on them and protects them from wolverines and other predators, but basically they are wild animals. They are not hunted, but butchered in special abattoirs.
Reindeer are more than a livelihood. They are part of a culture much older than the farm culture of the rest of Scandinavia. The Sami now have the exclusive right to reindeer herding in most of the vast area occupied by this ancient people. The Sami live in an expanse stretching across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia – an area as big as Sweden, known as Sapmi.
Their traditional culture is flourishing, now finally being supported by the governments after centuries of conflict and ill treatment comparable to apartheid on South Africa. Reindeer have been herded by Sami since the Middle Age; before that they were hunted along with other game.
Reindeer travel great distances, moving from the lower forests in the winter to the mountains in summer, and back again. The Sami once lived a nomadic existence as the followed the herds, but nowadays reindeer herding is done by helicopter, snowmobile and four-wheel drive; and the Sami are no longer nomads, though some choose to camp with the herd in the mountains in summer.
Reindeer meat us like no other, being extremely tender and with a sweet taste rather like a mildly gamy veal. Many of the various forms of preserved reindeer meat, and many traditional dishes, have their origins in the food eaten by the Sami shepherds on the long seasonal migrations. Every imaginable part of the reindeer is used: you get salted and smoked reindeer tongues, smoked hearts, and sausages in great variety, both smoked and fresh.
The best-known of the dried reindeer meat, suovas (meaning ‘lightly smoked’), has been dry-salted, smoked and then normally dried. The smoking is traditionally done in a special smoking hut, in the form of a small Sami tent (called a kåte) placed on the ground with a smoking bonfire in the middle; the meat is simply hung up to smoke over the fire. The delicacy comes in different forms, some very dry and salty, others more mildly cured. The best cuts of leg are used.
When not excessively dried, suovas can be eaten like fresh meat, and is often cut thinly and eaten like other cold cuts, or cubed and skewered as a kebab. The drier forms of suovas are eaten with a soft flatbread and a topping of pickled mushrooms and lingonberries – it’s simply delicious.
This is thinly sliced, dried or frozen reindeer meat; as it’s shaved so thinly, it’s a way of using the less tender parts of the animal. Usually, it’s pan-fired with onions and mushrooms and served with mashed potatoes and lingonberries.
It is also used for the homely pytt in panna, a much-loved dish often made with leftovers if roast meat, but raised to something beautiful and celebrated when made with fresh renskav, the meat, onions and potatoes are fried separately and the mixed, and often finished with a little cream. It’s served with pickled mushrooms and the ubiquitous lingonberry.
All images: Wikipedia
Scandinavian Deer, written by Tor Kjolberg