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Faroe Islands: Skerpikjøt

by Sanne
Skerpikjøt, Faroe Islands

In Denmark, horror stories about the Faroese cuisine flourishes, and when I visited the Faroe Islands for the first time a couple of years ago, I more or less expected that we would be sent to the backyard to dig up a rotten mutton for dinner.

A couple of visits later, most of my prejudices have been shot down, and I have found out that you don’t bury mutton (at least not with the intention of eating it later) and that lungs, brain and heart aren’t common breakfast treats.

As a matter of fact, the Faroese specialties I have tried so far have been very tasty. In addition to the splendid Faroese salmon, another culinary highlight is Skerpikjøt.

Skerpikjøt is dried, fermented lamb and it is characterized by a very distinct taste (and smell), which you either love or hate. I belong to the first group, and if nobody stops me, I can easily eat up most of a leg all by myself. With a little salt, skerpikjøt tastes heavenly, and a good piece of skerpikjøt is comparable to some of the finest prosciutto. It almost melts in your mouth and the taste is complex and nut-like.

I asked Poul’s mother about the process of producing skerpikjøt, and she told me how the meat (the hind legs and the saddle of the lamb in one piece) is hung out to dry in October in designated sheds. A couple of months later, around Christmas time, the less meaty parts (such as most of the saddle) are cut down and eaten as ræst kjøt. At that time, the fermentation process is in the early stages, which gives ræst kjøt a very sharp smell.

In April, the legs are finally brought in, and the meat, now called skerpikjøt, is ready to eat. The taste and the quality of the skerpikjøt depends on many factors including how the weather and temperature has been during the drying process, but also on the fodder. Most Faroese agree that the best skjerpikjøt comes from lambs, which have been grazing in the mountains for a longer period. Some hard-core skjerpi kjøt connoisseur even claim that they can tell on which hillside the lamb has grazed, just from the taste of the meat.

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