Swedish food aims to knock France off its perch

The Swedish government announced a new vision on Tuesday aiming to knock France off its pedestal and establish Sweden as haute cuisine leader of the world.

Swedish food aims to knock France off its perch
A.M.Kuchling, Simon Summers

“We are going to put Sweden on the world map as a country of good food,” said agriculture minister Eskil Erlandsson.

Erlandsson has concluded that Sweden’s reputation for “food safety, wholesomeness, freshness, simplicity, ethics and culture, animal welfare and respect for the environment,” leaves the country in a good position to challenge the French on their home turf of gastronomy.

Erlandsson is not afraid of incurring the wrath of French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

“That is something I am happy to do! We usually have differences of opinion with the French in these issues,” he said when laying out the new vision at a press conference on Tuesday.

Erlandsson has based his vision on the findings of an opinion survey that has confirmed that Swedes do indeed like good food. 76 percent of respondents said that “it would be nice to experience good food while on holiday.”

Half of Swedes plan their holidays around a concerted effort to experience culinary delights. Recent changes to the tax system has left Swedes with more take home pay and therefore able to enjoy that little extra when treating themselves to an evening out at a restaurant.

Now the government aims to go one step further and promote the country’s cuisine.

The specifics of the agriculture minister’s new grand vision were conspicuous in their absence at the press conference on Tuesday. Erlandsson instead underlined the raft of initiatives that the government already supports. These include the “New Nordic Food” and “Baltic Sea Culinary Route.”

The government plans in the autumn to gather “interesting people and organisations” to discuss and brain storm for ideas as to how the new vision can be realized.

The agriculture minister himself prefers homely food and game washed down with a cool glass of milk. Some of the homely Swedish dishes that the minister has available to him could include meatballs and potatoes, pickled herring and pancakes.

The Swedish tourism industry is going from strength to strength and an emphasis on the country’s gastronomic delights would surely help to boost this positive trend. Rural areas would stand to benefit from an influx of new jobs in the 236 billion kronor ($39.97 billion) industry.

Some of the current highlights of the Swedish culinary calender could include the three-day Skellefteå food festival starting on August 21st, the “Wilderness Chef of the Year” competition on September 6th in Grythyttan, the Kristinehamn honey festival on September 20th or the Swedish championships in food craftsmanship in Ås, Jämtland on October 15th.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.