“Happy cows give the best milk,” says Anne Birthe, farmer’s wife and cheesemaker at Grøndalen farm, about 40 minutes out of Oslo, Norway by train. The farm has been in the family of her husband Hans Arild since the 1600s but has been farmed since Viking times. Now, this 35-acre organic farm is home to only 13 cows and is worked by Hans, Anne and their son Lars Kristian.
“How can that be viable?” you may well ask.
See for yourself.
Up Norway is a small company of true insiders who suggest, plan, and book trips for guests who seek quality and one of a kind experiences all over Norway. Their main goal is to give exclusive access to special experiences, through a custom-made itinerary based upon personal preferences.
Transport is from hotel to train, to the farm where you can take part in the afternoon milking and learn that because of their careful animal husbandry, this legal quota of cows can give them a living. The breed, Norwegian red, comes from a mixture of old Norwegian breeds and each cow has a name. They are sold after six or seven years as milkers, and restaurants often feature their names on their menus. This also happens with male calves which are slaughtered at six months, but may be sold, to a restaurant committing to one before they are even born.
Cows calve about once per year, throughout the year, to maintain milk production, but about 10 years ago Anne suggested that they keep the calves with the cows for two months after birth, by which time they have also been taught how to eat hay by their mothers. This is something new for a dairy farm where usually the separation is immediate. They could immediately see a positive response from the cows who are bright-eyed and happy. They still milk the mother cow but only taking what milk the calf doesn’t need. There is always enough for the calf and incredibly, the mother is able to hang on to the milk in part of her udder, preserving it for her calf.
The cows can wander inside the barn or outside at will, the straw inside being changed daily and then used on the fields. The cows line up voluntarily to be milked. Isrosa’s milk goes entirely to the 3 Michelin-starred restaurant Maemo. The rest is blended and goes to the Co-op which the farmers co-own. It takes two hours, twice a day to wash the cows udders and milk them. It is a gentle process with each cow giving about ten litres at each milking. The milk is tested and if it is not up to their extremely high standard, it is fed to the calves.
Next, you don protective clothing in the factory to see where their cheese, called Nyr has been made for the last 8 – 10 years. It is a fresh curd cheese made in 300-litre batches. The milk is pasteurised, then soured with milk acid bacteria without any rennet. It is then put into huge bags for the whey to drain away overnight. The remainder is stirred slowly and put into different sized containers for restaurants and some supermarkets.
The two-hour farm tour finishes with a visit to the charming 1902 farmhouse to taste the milk and the Nyr, presented in various ways. It has a lovely texture like thick yoghurt and an appealing sourness and can be used in savoury or sweet recipes.
After your return to Oslo, the experience concludes with dinner in a restaurant which serves produce of the farm and other local organic ingredients. One such venue is Lysebu, a hotel and restaurant high above Oslo (but only 30 minutes away), near the famous ski jump. Owned by the Foundation for Danish-Norwegian Co-operation, it was a gift from the Norwegian nation to Denmark after World War II. The history is fascinating. During World War II, the Norgeshjelpen (Norway Aid) organisation sent 22 tons of food from Denmark to Norway every day. In 1945, NOK 13 million was leftover from the collection These funds were used to set up the Foundation for Danish-Norwegian Co-operation and Lysebu was presented to the Foundation as a national gift in thanks for the food aid from Denmark. The founding values of generosity, appreciation, care and food are carried on with everything they do there today.
The food, all carefully paired with beautiful wines is light, modern and Scandinavian in feel with its focus on nature and beautiful presentation on different handmade plates for the changing degustation menu, matched with wines.
You too can experience these happy cows if you are in Oslo and have half a day or so to spare. Up Norway’s Farm to Table at Grøndalen Farm with dinner at Lysebu. Enquiries here.