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Swede set to 'disarm' 25-year-old herring tin
The can of surströmming in the picture is not the one mentioned in the article. File photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

Swede set to 'disarm' 25-year-old herring tin

Published: 10 Feb 2014 15:11 GMT+01:00
Updated: 10 Feb 2014 15:11 GMT+01:00

"If there's any fish left in the can, I'm going to eat it," Ruben Madsen of Sweden's Surströmming Academy told The Local.

Madsen is set to travel to a cabin in the Norwegian mountains next week to help "disarm" a recently discovered can of fermented herring dating from 1990.

Cabin owner Inge Haugen found the forgotten can after peeking under the eaves to find a swelling can of surströmming that had been expanding over the past two and half decades. He reckoned the bulging tin had raised the cabin's roof by about two centimetres.

The find left him concerned that the can might explode at any moment, prompting him to warn his neighbours. Norway's Armed Forces were also notified about the impending "stink bomb".

Surströmming, or fermented herring, is a traditional Swedish delicacy, but its odour is notoriously foul. In the beginning of autumn, it’s not uncommon for Swedes to gather to enjoy the smelly fish at what is called a surströmmingsskiva (fermented herring party).

Such parties are less common in Norway, which boasts its own fermented fish dish, known as rakfisk, which most often consists of trout that has been salted and fermented for several months.

Haugen's wife Bjørg told The Local that the can was forgotten during one particular festive evening back in March 1990 when the couple hosted a party at their cabin, located in Trysil, with surströmming imported from Sweden.

"We had three cans. We ate two and my husband took the third and put it up under the roof, because we had eaten enough. Then he forgot about it," she said. "There's going to be a gruesome smell."

Despite initial fears expressed by Haugen and others, surströmming expert Madsen said the aging can of herring poses no danger to the public.

"There really isn't any risk for an explosion. Of course, some fermented herring might come spurting out when we open it. And yes, it will smell," he said.

News of a "disarmament" event planned for February 18th has attracted wide media attention across Sweden and Norway, with hundreds of people having notified Haugen they plan to attend.

"There are going to be more people there than there were at Barack Obama's inauguration," Madsen said with a laugh before theorizing about what lies behind the "unbelievable" media attention generated by Haugen's quarter-century old can of fish.

"It might be because there is an actual story behind this can of forgotten herring. It might also be that people are craving a simple, positive story."

Madsen explained that he gets "two or three calls a year" from people who have found old cans of fermented herring and don't know what to do with them.

However, the discovery of the can in Norway has the fermented herring aficionado's mouth watering at the prospect of tasting surströmming that's been aged to perfection over the past 25 years.

"I have my own collection of vintage surströmming with several cans that are more than 15 years old," he said.

"The taste certainly gets richer with age. The longer you wait to open a can, the more complex the flora of tastes you get."

Madsen invoked a musical analogy to compare the richness of aged surströmming to that eaten right off the shelf.

"Think of the difference between Wagner and Chopin," he explained.

"With Wagner, you get hit repeatedly with the same tones. But with Chopin, you can hear every instrument, every tone. It's a much more complex sound, which is much like the richer taste you get with an aged can of fermented herring."

Madsen's biggest fear about his upcoming Norway herring adventure is finding there's no fish left in the 25-year-old can.

"The biggest risk is that the fish never stopped fermenting and all that's left is a can of smelly sauce," he said.

But even if there's no fish left in Haugen's herring tin, Madsen plans to bring along a few newer cans of surströmming so the hundreds of onlookers on hand can get a taste for themselves.

"After we open the can it's going to party, party," he said.

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David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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