Wondering what a bilberry tastes like or interested in trying other Finnish culinary specialties? Then you’re in luck. Finnish Food Week, which will take place from 2 to 6 October in the Technopolis restaurant in Gasperich, aims to raise awareness of Finnish food products and culinary specialties.
“Last year was the first time, and it was a success,” says Kati Pohjanmaa, the coordinator of the food providers, during our preview tasting. “People came and they loved the products!” So, the Finland Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg, Pohjanmaa, Technopolis Luxembourg (a Finnish company) and Compass Group have partnered together to bring a variety of Finnish delicacies to the grand duchy for the second annual Finnish Food Week.
Opening doors to the Luxembourg market
The event actually has two aspects: the first is to highlight natural, healthy Finnish food and to introduce people in Luxembourg to specialties from Finland, explains Pohjanmaa. But the other element is to “open doors” to the Luxembourg market. This year, the food providers from Finland will also be meeting with the Luxembourg food wholesaler La Provençale.
As Luxembourg is a small market, the event will give the Finnish companies--who may not have had much international experience or exposure before--a sort of “soft landing” and the opportunity to “get a feel for how their tastes are perceived in an international environment,” says Irene Mäkelä-Brunnekreef, president and co-founder of the Finland Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg, which helps connect the business communities in the two countries.
“Taste of Finnish forests”
On the menu for lunch are a creamy salmon soup, a tasting platter with a variety of specialties, a salad bowl with reindeer crisps from Lapland, and liquorice panna cotta and bilberry pie for dessert.
Pohjanmaa begins the tasting session with the platter of Finnish snacks: bilberry juice, gluten-free crackers sweetened with birch sap, chunks of cheddar cheese with spruce buds, chips of dried reindeer meat, a dollop of lingonberry sauce and sweet, chewy liquorice. “This platter is a taste of Finnish forests,” she says.
We start with the chips of reindeer meat, whose gamy, salty taste is perfectly accompanied by the crackers, sharp cheddar cheese and tart lingonberry sauce. The meat comes from wild--not farmed--animals, making it a sustainable way of eating meat. “This is a new and innovative way to present reindeer,” adds Mäkelä-Brunnekreef, as it’s traditionally served in stews or as a filet.
Berries, forests and everyman’s right to nature
A glass of deep, red bilberry juice is another element of the tasting platter. Bilberries are slightly different from blueberries, explain Pohjanmaa and Mäkelä-Brunnekreef, in that they’re smaller, filled with seeds (instead of the fleshy fruit that one might associate with the larger blueberry), and have a more powerful, intense flavour and a high concentration of vitamins.
Berries--such as bilberries, lingonberries or strawberries--are an essential part of Finnish cuisine and culture. “There’s a massive amount of forest,” says Mäkelä-Brunnekreef. The country is roughly the size of Germany by surface area, but Finland only has 5.5m people. “If you go to a Finnish forest--anywhere--the ground is just covered with berry bushes. It’s covered with bilberries and lingonberries and different types of berries. Most of them are eatable, and it’s also free to collect.”
Everyman’s right, or all man’s right, means that anybody can basically go to any forest and pick wild berries or mushrooms for themselves, the two Finns explain.
“What makes the berries so special is because we have this very long daylight, especially in northern Finland,” continues Pohjanmaa. The 24-hour sunshine in the summer contributes to the “very unique, very sweet and very powerful taste of the berries.”
On the flip side, the 24/7 sunlight during the summer means that Finland goes through several months of near-darkness in the winter. “It’s impossible to get sunshine in Lapland in the winter,” says Mäkelä-Brunnekreef. But this also allows the berries to “really have a good rest in the wintertime.”
And because the ground freezes over, diseases die during the winter, adds Pohjanmaa. “So we don’t have to use too much of different chemicals, pesticides. So that’s why they are also so pure.” Kids--and adults--often go into the forest, pick handfuls of bilberries and eat them directly, or in pies, with milk or with porridge, to cite just a few examples.
“It’s very typically Finnish to go explore in the forest, to pick your own mushrooms, berries,” says Mäkelä-Brunnekreef.
The slightly tart lingonberry sauce--which Pohjanmaa suggested we eat together with the reindeer chips and cheese--is a common thread throughout the meal. It’s drizzled on top of a salad consisting of lettuce from Luxembourg, rice made from oats, reindeer chips and cheddar cheese from Finland (this time, however, without the spruce).
Given the large amounts of water required for rice cultivation, “it’s not the most sustainable thing to eat these days,” says Pohjanmaa. Oats, on the other hand, are more sustainable, she argues. They’re a good source of protein and can also be used in vegan substitutes for meat. “In Finland, we have innovated a lot with oat products,” she says, including the oat rice that features prominently in the salad bowls presented during Finnish Food Week.
Finnish oatmeal--often eaten with berry purée or with butter, sugar and cinnamon--will also be served in the Technopolis MIN café for breakfast throughout the week.
Pohjanmaa concludes with a few words on the grand duchy’s Bernard-Massard crémant--Finland is, after all, the third-largest export market for the sparkling wine, which will be served alongside the Finnish specialties at the Technopolis during the event. “It’s a perfect match to have Luxembourgish drink and Finnish food!” she says.
Drop by the Technopolis restaurant in Gasperich from 2 to 6 October for breakfast (until 9:30am) or lunch (12:00-14:00) and enjoy Finnish delicacies such as creamy salmon soup, salad with reindeer crisps from Lapland, cheddar cheese with spruce buds, bilberry juice and more. Open to the general public, no reservations needed.