Gourmet in Kastelholm

20120617-180553.jpgI’m still mentally in Åland. The last evening was a terrific experience. We visited one of Finland’s most renown cooks Michael Björklund. He runs the Jan Karlsgårdens Wärdshus in Kastelholm, Åland.

Michael aka Micke is a famous TV cook. Some know him only from the TV show Strömsö. He is in fact a restaurateur, the cook of the year 2000 in Sweden and a member of a former Swedish national league of cooks. Why Swedish?? Well, he has got double citizenship.

Micke’s restaurant Jan Karlsgårdens Wärdshus has an excellent location near the Kastelholm castle dating to the Middle Ages and in the midst of the countryside.

 20120617-180716.jpgAfter visiting the castle Micke gave us a lecture on Åland’s cuisine and it was followed by a tasting of their liqueurs and ålvados (Åland’s version of calvados) given by Mike Wentjärvi the maitre’d and sommelier. Then it was time for dinner.

I’ll first try to summarise some of the lecture. Åland has a history of being a part of Sweden and Russia just like Finland as it is a part of Finland. There are traces and traditions of the both countries also in the food culture and some of the traditional dishes are therefore prepared with diffrent ingredients.

20120617-180541.jpgÅlandspannkaka, the local pancake and desert, is something that all the tourist cafés serve but it is very popular also with the natives. There are two leagues, two ways of preparing it. One with rice and one with semolina. The other ingrediens are cardamom, milk, eggs, sugar and milk and it is served with a cream of prunes and whipped cream (plommonsås och snömos).

There are also two types of ‘black’ bread – a lighter and a darker version. Mickes mother-in-law bakes all the bread for Wärdshuset and you can buy the bread there too.

Natural and traditional ingredients of the Åland cuisine include fish and lamb. Perch is a local delicacy and the Baltic herring is today caught near the mainland in the archipelago of Turku. Smoked baltic herring is one of Mickes favourites – the golden brown, savoury small fish preferably with lots of roe inside. There are lots of sheep and lamb is another local delicacy. The farmers hunt in the forests and deer and hare are typical bases for game dishes. Ramslök, wild garlic, is used in some of the dishes. It resembles leek on the outside and tastes like garlic. It grows wild on the islands.

Micke favours local produce and ecological production. The aim is to produce everything locally and serve seasonal food. This will also reduce the number of intermediaries and thus benefit the local farmers. He keeps busy and is involved in much. Has his ‘spoon in many soups’ as a Finnish proverb says. He acquired a local winery a couple of years ago and is now a liqueur and ålvados producer. He also tells that his first whiskey is in brewing. The first parts of Smakbyn, a village of tastes, will open in the end of the year. He also has a pub in Sjökvarteret in Mariehamn- Pub Niska is the name and they serve local beer and pizza. And there’s more, more projects in progress…

The liquer tasting was good. Althought I’m not a great lover or drinker of liqueurs or spirits, I have to say it was intriguing. They make a variety of fruit liqueurs which is only natural as Åland is a producer of fruit, especially apples. Åland stands for 2/3 of the Finnish apple production (which is of course small scale when compared with France for example). Their cherry liqueur, Röd granit (red granite), was fragrant and tasty, the apple wine rounded nicely with creamy cheese, the Ålvados was smooth and intense and the herb liquer strong and refreshing, a good divestive. They have clever names for the spirits – Åplaud for the apple liquer, Kobba Libre for the rum after a light house and the rest you can figure out yourself. The rum is sought after and has a secret recipe.

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20120617-180646.jpgThe dinner then… I do not remember when I’d last had such a wonderful meal in such beautiful surroundings. My dinner was a soup of Jerusalem artichoke, perch with seafood sauce and season’s vegetables (baby carrots and asparagus) and apple pie with vanilla sauce and ice crea. Yummy!!!

You cannot miss Mickes food should you ever be in Åland. Have a look at www.mickesmat.ax the page is unfortuntely available only in Swedish but I am sure you can google your way to more information with Michael Björklund.
I know you cannot taste or smell the Internet pages … but looking at the pictures should take you close to it. By the way, you can also book cooking courses with Micke.

Check also Tjudö vingård at http://www.visitaland.com/tjudovingard/en

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Micke’s cookbook with an autograph (sigh), Min nordsika mat (My Northern Food), today awailable in Finnish and Swedish.
The book won the title of the Best Scandinavian Cookbook 2011 (Bästa Nordiska Måltidslitteratur 2011!). The co-author is Kenneth Nars and the excuisite fotos are taken by Anton Sucksdorff.

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