Wild food in the fjords
In Denmark, food is the latest experience to be given the Viking treatment. Catherine Cleary eats her way through the menu
Earlier the castle’s ranger, Jorgen Stoltz, took us on a forage of the forest and seashore. We saw sea kale, scurvy grass, wild garlic and woodruff (which makes a mean Schnapps). There was even, surprisingly, the beginnings of samphire which Stoltz met with a shout of surprise. “Oh this has come. It’s not usually here until July. It’s such a strange year.”
Wedding groups who use the castle (with its own chilly chapel) can forage for ingredients for the feast if they like. I slept in one of 20 rooms in a refurbished outbuilding which looks almost like a train station, with light flooding the gorgeous rooms from both sides. The next morning a run to the beach looped back past day-glo yellow fields of rapeseed.
As well as the hotel restaurant Dragsholm has a bistro where anyone can eat, with an €11 main course an effort to keep this luxurious place open to anyone who happens to be passing.
The castle is close to Denmark’s celebrity farmer Soren Wiuff. The 57-year-old Dane has been farming on the Lammefjord for 35 years and is famed for his white asparagus. Twenty years ago he was selling his food to supermarkets, he says. “There was no connection between me and them.”
In the 1980s he started selling to restaurants. His farm is the cradle of Denmark’s restaurant revolution. The feedback from the chefs was immediately positive. “It makes me proud. If farmers’ self esteem is very high it’s not a problem feeding the world,” Wiuff says simply. And he’s a pragmatic dreamer. The farm is not organic. A litre of Roundup will keep his field weed-free, he explains, a job that would take 800 litres of tractor diesel to achieve mechanically. In the asparagus fields he piles up the sandy soil into four-foot ridges. As soon as the head of the asparagus appears, like a thumb tip, it’s harvested by hand, its long thick stem still white below the surface.
In the farm’s experimental kitchen we tuck into a feast of asparagus including a delicious barley and asparagus risotto. He’s even made an asparagus beer, from the 10-year-old roots, in a collaboration with the Herslev brewery, which was set up by Tore Jorgensen nine years ago. Denmark had two big brewers back then. There have been 120 new breweries set up since.
A former pig farmer, Jorgensen grows most of the barley used in his beer on his farm. Making beer was very common on farms in the past, he explains. “The farmer who made the best beer got the best workers because food and beer were part of the wages.” Seems that those discerning foodie Danes go back a long way.
Catherine Cleary travelled to Denmark as a guest of the Danish Food Project
Dragsholm Slot, Dragsholm Alle, 4534 Horve, dragsholm-slot.dk
Roskilde Viking Ship Museum, Vindeboder 12, 4000 Roskilde, Vikingeskibsmuseet.dk
Herslev Brewery, Kattingevej 8, 4000 Roskilde, herslevbryghus.dk