In Norway, an old tradition has recently been revived: a meal of a sheep’s head with all the trimmings. Sound weird? It sure does, even more so when you learn that the eyes and ears are considered an especial delicacy.
A serving of Smalahove consists of a half-head, boiled potatoes and rutabagas mashed with salt, pepper, cream, and butter. The most scrumptious parts of Smalahove are the ear and the eye. The reason is that the meat at these locations is quite fatty—and the eyes and ears taste best when they are still warm. Yesterday the German magazine Stern ran a story about Smalahove by Denise Wachter. Smalahove is a dish with strong associations with Christmas. Interestingly, an EU directive forbids the serving of smalahove from adult sheep due to fears of scrapie, a degenerative disease of sheep and goats, even though scrapie apparently is not transmissible to humans. So smalahove is made exclusively from lambs.
Here’s what the OECD Studies on Tourism Food and the Tourism Experience: The OECD-Korea Workshop has to say about it:
[Gyimothy and Mykletun] describe how smalahove (salted, smoked and cooked sheep’s head) has become a part of the destination brand of Voss, a small town in west Norway. The preparation of smalahove involves burning away the wool from the head, leaving the skin intact and brown in colour. The head is then split into two halves by means of an axe, and the inner organs except the eye and the tongue are removed. It is carefully cleaned, salted, and dried for some days before it is smouldered on a cold smoke of fresh juniper, dry oak or alder. Having been both salted and smoked, the head could be preserved in an airy place for some months. The preparation of the dish is simple. The half head is first watered and steamed for three hours, then served with potatoes boiled in the skin and with stewed Swedish turnips.
A couple hours’ drive inland from the city of Bergen on Norway’s west coast, the town of Voss has taken up the cause of smalahove and converted it into a source of significant tourist revenue. In the past, fermented milk or beer was served with the sheep’s head. Today it’s aquavit—cumin schnapps. The sheep was once slaughtered right there on the farm; today it’s the butcher’s job.
With thanks to Thomas Schlich!