What generations of Norwegians born after the 1920s remember most clearly from their childhoods is the tradition of smoked herring. Those who spent their youth in villages along the coast can still picture the fat silver fish their mothers would roast on burning coals and leave hanging over the fireplace. They would serve the herring with mashed potatoes.
Herring have been an essential part of the Norwegian diet for hundreds of years. Remains of the fish have been found all over Norway in archeological sites dating as far back as 600 BC. As early as the 13th century, the country was already enforcing laws regulating herring fisheries, stipulating the tools used and establishing punishment for offenders. By the 19th century, salting houses - where the fish were salted in wooden barrels - numbered nearly 1,000 along coastal Norway.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Norwegian market for cured and smoked herring was mainly destined for export to the Caribbean alongside the so-called "slave herring" sold by the British. It was during this period that Norwegians refined their salting and smoking techniques, adopting the British tradition of using diverse processing methods for silver, golden and hard-cured herring.
In the golden age of herring fishing, which lasted from 1946 to 1968, the region of Møre along the fjords of northwest Norway boasted 35 companies that produced the three kinds of herring. Eight of these small plants were based in the small fishing village of Leinøy.
The situation has changed dramatically since that period. The last significant stock of herring reached Norwegian waters in the 1950s, supplying fishers with catch to last about twenty years. However, after a series of unfavorable fishing seasons, all the processing companies were compelled - one after the other - to shut down, which led to the vanishing of herring from the Norwegian diet. These small companies were also victims of industrialization and of food factories which sprung up everywhere. Competition with mass food production has gradually estranged Norwegians from consuming artisan herring.
Today silver, golden and hard-cured herring are still produced by the family-run company Njardar, in Leinøy, using the diverse processing methods for the three different types. Founded at the beginning of the last century, Njardar is the last company in Norway that still uses artisan salting and smoking techniques.
During the months of January and February, Njardar collects freshly-caught North Sea storsild, or herring, from the boats that dock at the small harbor in Leinøy. After they are delivered to the village, the herring are placed in pinewood barrels for 24 hours and covered with salt and then brine. The salting process can last up to 60 days. The herring are then rinsed with salt water and placed on skewers. At this stage they are ready to be smoked for a minimum of 10 hours to up to 12 days. Types of herring are identified according to the duration of the smoking process: Silver herring are smoked no more than 12 hours, golden are smoked up to three days and hard cured are smoked from ten to 12 days. The finished product is packed in wooden boxes and sold directly by the company.
Cured and smoked herring are traditionally served as a salad with apples and beets, with mashed potatoes or made into omelettes.
The producers participate in local fairs, taking place in various parts of the country to promote the herring. The Presidium is working to educate consumers about this product, revive traditional production techniques at risk of extinction and support small-scale sustainable fishing.
Møre og Romsdal County, Sunnmøre Region
Thirty fishers and one company processing the herring:
N-6094 Leinøy, Møre
tel. +47 700 86 686
tel. +47 70084100
Presidium supported by
Møre og Romsdal Fosnavaag