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Swedish food gets Naked Chef's approval

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Swedish food gets Naked Chef's approval
Naked Chef highlights Stockholm food culture in TV series
15:47 CEST+02:00
Swedes, like other northern Europeans, have often in the past viewed food as mere fuel. But in recent years, the country has experienced a culinary awakening, converting British TV chef Jamie Oliver in the process - and giving rise to what the government hopes will be a lucrative new industry.

For Oliver, one of the deepest impressions from the Stockholm segment of his latest television series Jamie Does, which was broadcast on the UK's Channel 4 on Wednesday, was the sight of restaurateurs and chefs fishing in the middle of the city for wild salmon to serve for dinner that evening.

Swedish delicacies that found favour with his palate in a Guardian report earlier this week included surströmming, or fermented herring, and gravlax, or cured salmon, which he likened to a sort of fishy prosciutto. He also praised crayfish parties, rye crispbread and even Swedish meatballs. He appreciated the healthy twists with Swedish food, citing skagen, or prawns on toast, which Swedes serve with sour cream instead of mayonnaise, as well as adding lemon juice, making it lighter and healthier.

"There's an elegance about their food," Oliver said in a Guardian report on Monday. "[Stockholm]'s a city that definitely goes under the radar. It's probably the most perfect city and the most perfect country, but don't try to keep up with the Swedish in drinking because they are hardcore."

Swedish television chef and culinary professor Carl Jan Granqvist is a keen proponent of the country's culinary culture. He says the country's attitudes to food have changed enormously over the years:

"We used to eat more for energy than the experience," he told The Local. "For a very long period, we stored for the winter, eating very old food, stored food. It gives it a special taste. Just after World War II, we started to eat more fresh food. Before that, only poor people ate fresh food."

Even for Christmas, birthdays, weddings and other big events, people ate to get energy to dance and have fun, not for the food's aesthetic qualities, said Granqvist.

In the past couple of decades, though, attitudes have undergone a transformation, with the development of regional food cultures strengthening local identity. More than 100 new small cheese factories that have opened in the last 15 to 20 years across the country, according to Granqvist.

Many producers are learning to take advantage of the country's wealth of natural produce. Sweden's fruits and berries are unique thanks to the long, light springs and summer evenings, which allow them to grow slowly and become more flavourful.

The advent of new premium food producers has been seized on by the Swedish government, which is keen to promote new rural enterprise. A new initiative, entitled "Sweden - the new culinary nation", was launched in late 2008, is to stimulate growth and create more jobs in the food industry, which is already the country's fourth-largest employer.

"Sweden may not be the first country that comes to mind when people think of cuisine and food tourism. I want to change that," said Eskil Erlandsson, minister for agriculture, in a government report last year. "I want to see Sweden continue along this path and become known as a gastronomic mecca."

Increasing tourism to the country is expanding interest in the country's gastronomical culture. According to the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, turnover in Sweden's tourist industry was more than 244 billion kronor ($33.52 billion) in 2008, with meals accounting for about one-third of tourist spending.

The government has earmarked an additional 160 million kronor ($21.98 million) to create jobs for rural development. If the objectives of the program are met, it may lead to the creation of up to 10,000 new jobs. The approval of one of the world's best-known celebrity chefs is unlikely to do their cause any harm.

The Local's Swedish foodie tips

Bredsjö Blå

This blue cheese is produced with sheep's milk and a Roquefort mold. The cheese is produced on a farm in Örebrö county near Kopparberg, home to the popular Kopparberg cider. At first, the fat and protein content is 4 percent and rises to 8 to 10 percent over the summer.

Vinhuset Halls Huk

Former currency trading Johan Rudling became a vintner 12 years ago when he bought a farm on Gotland. In 2003, he started the award-winning Vinhuset Halls Huk with Marianne Folke on the island's north coast. The winery's grapes thrive in the microclimates of the property, which lies close to the sea. The sea serves as a heat source, preventing frosty nights for the vines in the winter

Lingonberries

This staple Swedish fruit has made its way around the world thanks in large part to IKEA, which frequently serves dishes at its restaurants with jam made from its tart berries. There are many small-scale jam producers around the country, some of which have gathered together to promote their products at the website Äkta Sylt - 'Real Jam' - www.aktasylt.se. In addition to jam, visitors to Sweden will come across antioxidant-rich lingonberry juice, or lingonsaft.

Östermalms Saluhall and Feskekôrka

Oliver recommends tourists stop at the Östermalms saluhall during a visit to Stockholm, describing it as a food market with "millions" of types of herring. In Gothenburg, visitors can stop by the Feskekôrka, or Fish Church, so named for the building's resemblance to a Gothic church. The unfamiliar circumflex in the spelling reflects the pronunciation of the name with a Gothenburg accent.

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