VIDEO: Swedish cow calling growing in popularity

A type of Scandinavian cattle-calling dating back to the Middle Ages has seen a revival in Sweden and has even been featured in a Disney film.

VIDEO: Swedish cow calling growing in popularity
During the middle ages in Sweden , a vocal technique known as kulning developed among women who had to take animals from farms to graze them in forests. Screenshot: Tom Little/AFP

Jennie Tiderman-Osterberg lets loose a high-pitched call into the Swedish forest, her voice rising and falling in a haunting, eerie melody.

The echo reverberates through the woods and moments later, three cream and black cows emerge from the trees. The bells around their necks jingle as they make their way towards her to return to their shed.

This is kulning — a form of Scandinavian cattle-calling dating back to the Middle Ages.

Watch The Local’s video on Swedish cow calling here:

Once these calls rang out from summer farms across central Sweden as farmers brought their animals back from the woods after a day of grazing.

Many of the farms vanished as Sweden industrialised in the mid-19th century, but kulning has grown in popularity in recent decades.

Prestigious music schools now offer courses and the hypnotic and entrancing art was even featured in the 2019 Disney movie “Frozen II”.

Sweden recently decided to nominate the summer farms known as fabods, where kulning developed, to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list to better preserve their unique culture.

‘The real life’

Tiderman-Osterberg’s lifelong passion for music started with a childhood obsession with opera, before going through a punk drummer stage. She is currently doing a PhD in musicology.

Hearing kulning changed her life, she said, as she fell in love with both the art form and its cultural origins.

“The first time I used kulning, it felt almost as if my feet were growing roots,” she said.

“I decided that it was my life’s mission to spread knowledge” about kulning and other fabod traditions, said the tattooed musician dressed in a pinafore, cotton dress and head-covering harking back to the 19th century.

Traditionally fabod women would take cows and goats to graze in the woods to ensure they did not eat the crops grown on arable land.

When AFP caught up with Tiderman-Osterberg in July, she was visiting the Arvselen fabod in the central region of Dalarna,  practised calling the farm’s cows back from the forests.

Owner Tapp Lars Arnesson returned to his family farm after a career as an actor, attracted by a simple life in the countryside.

“For me there’s nothing better,” he said, standing outside one of the farm buildings, a trilby pulled down over his eyes. “This is the real life.”

He has maintained the group of little red traditional buildings without electricity and still lives off the land, growing vegetables and milking his three cows.

His fabod is one of only around 200 left in Sweden, down from tens of thousands in the mid-19th century. And only a handful keep kulning alive.

Tiderman-Osterberg is planning to tour Sweden this summer with fabod farmers to give lectures and kulning demonstrations to raise awareness.

Its rising popularity means the high-pitched, wordless call is now also practised as an art, with concerts given around the country.

‘It’s very releasing’

At Stockholm’s Royal College of Music, a small group of students are spread out into the corners of a dimly lit auditorium, responding to their tutor’s call with melodious ones of their own.

They learn to project their voices as farmers in the forest would have done to reach animals kilometres away.

“People want to learn kulning because there is something intriguing about using your voice in this powerful way,” said Susanne Rosenberg, a folk singer and professor who started the course.

Rosenberg’s students come from a variety of backgrounds. “They could be an opera singer… (or) someone who just wants to call the kids home for dinner,” she said.

Enthusiasts also offer courses outdoors, with or without cows.

On a farm near Gnesta south of Stockholm, tutor Karin Lindstrom troops across verdant hillsides followed by a dozen students.

Standing in a field as mosquitoes and gnats buzz around, her dozen students start with short sounds, building up until they are ready to attempt their own cattle calls.

Few will ever use their new skills to round up cattle, but Lindstrom said the centuries-old tradition had other benefits.

“The personality is very closely (linked) to the voice and many people have not been able to express themselves,” she said. “It’s very releasing.”

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The must-have dishes for a Swedish Easter celebration

If you've spent Christmas or Midsummer in Sweden before, you'll probably recognise lots of the dishes at a Swedish Easter celebration. Here's our guide, as well as some vegetarian alternatives.

The must-have dishes for a Swedish Easter celebration

A traditional Swedish Easter menu is very similar to a Christmas julbord, although slightly lighter, with a focus on eggs and fish rather than the winter season’s cabbage and kale dishes. Here’s our rundown of what you should expect, as well as how you can make it yourself.


The most important part of the Easter table for many Swedes is the pickled herring (sill). In many families, one particular member of the family will be tasked with preparing the herring for the Easter meal weeks in advance.

If you’re based in Sweden, you can buy herring in the supermarket, although most will say that homemade pickled herring is superior. Vegetarian or vegan pickled herring substitutes such as svill (made from mushrooms) and tofusill (made from tofu) are also commercially available.

If you are planning on making your own pickled herring for Easter, you have a few options. Either you can buy ready-salted herring fillets in the supermarket which can be pickled straight away, or you will have to buy fresh herring fillets which you salt yourself – the latter option can take up to two weeks so requires a bit of advance planning.

You can also make your own vegetarian options: try pickling aubergine, courgette or tofu. Most recipes will take at least two days, with the herring or alternative of choice needing to marinate overnight before serving, so get planning now if you want to have it on the table for Saturday.

Here are a selection of pickled herring recipes from John Duxbury’s Swedish Food website.


Most Easter tables will feature at least two sorts of salmon, one is often a baked side of salmon. You’ll often see smoked salmon and gravad lax (literally “buried”, preserved in salt, sugar and often dill) alongside hovmästarsås, a mustard and dill sauce which is also served at Christmas.

If you don’t eat fish, you can make a vegetarian or vegan version of gravad lax from carrots. This is usually referred to as gravad morot. Here’s a recipe (in Swedish) from the book Vegansk husmanskost by Gustav Johansson. Again, it needs to be marinated overnight, so make sure to plan this in advance.

Scrambled egg with cod roe, truffle and dill served in eggshells. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT


No Easter meal would be complete without eggs. The most usual form of eggs you’ll see is cold, hardboiled eggs sliced in half. Some people will also top these half-eggs with mayonnaise, prawns and cod roe, known as kaviar in Swedish. This is sold in small glass jars in the fridge section of the supermarket, and can be orange or black – not the same as Kalles kaviar!

To make these vegetarian, you can leave out the prawns and use a vegetarian version of kaviar made from seaweed. Look for tångkaviar, which may be in the fish section of the supermarket, or the vegetarian section, if your supermarket has one of these.

If you live outside Sweden, you may be able to source tångkaviar in the food market at your local Ikea.

For a vegan option, try sliced tofu topped with vegan mayonnaise (spiked with black salt, if you can get hold of it, which will give it an eggy flavour). Top with tångkaviar and a sprig of dill and you’re good to go.

Matjes-style herring served with crispbread, boiled new potatoes with dill, cheese and diced onions. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Boiled potatoes with dill

This is pretty self-explanatory. Boiled new potatoes with their skins on, served cold with dill.

Jansson’s temptation

Although more of a Christmas dish, some families also serve Jansson’s temptation, a creamy potato casserole baked in the oven, at Easter.

Jansson’s is made using Swedish ansjovis, known as sprats in English. Although it may be tempting, you should avoid substituting ansjovis with anchovies – the former are much milder and spiced, whereas the latter will be far too salty.

One option, which also has the benefit of being vegetarian, could be to use similar spices to create the same flavour you would gain from the ansjovis. Try simmering the cream used in your Jansson’s for a couple of minutes with a pinch of ground allspice, a pinch of ground cloves, a pinch of ground ginger, a pinch of white pepper and a few bay leaves instead.

Check out this Jansson’s temptation recipe from our archives.

Goat’s cheese filled lamb fillets with beans and tenderstem broccoli. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT


Roast lamb is also becoming more and more popular at Easter, usually as a roast joint of lamb or a rack of lamb.

This can be difficult to make a convincing vegetarian version of, but vegetarian meatballs or sausages could be a good substitute at your Easter buffet.

Easter egg

If there’s one thing you definitely shouldn’t forget at Easter, it’s the Easter eggs. Swedish Easter eggs are less chocolatey than in other countries. The eggs themselves are not edible – they are made of cardboard with Easter-themed designs – and are filled with sweets. 

These are easy to make vegetarian or vegan, just double-check that any sweets you include don’t contain animal-derived gelatin, and leave out the milk chocolate for any vegans.