Up until 1989, beer was prohibited in Iceland. Wine and liquor were the only spirits available in the entire country. Only within the era of a millennial’s lifetime, the country has seen the growth of the beer industry from nationalistic lagers to small-batch sour ales and pine-infused porters. This push for local, home-grown ingredients extends through much of Iceland’s emerging culinary scene. Cure[ate] recently spent time exploring the country, and here are three takeaways we had:
1. Craft Beer Renaissance
The government still controls alcohol sales, putting a large tax on any alcoholic beverage in the country. To top it off, Vínbúðin (the only allowed liquor store in all of Reykjavik) is closed on Sundays. While this may seem like a step back, the permission of beer is one major step forward for food & beverage innovation in the country. It has encouraged a culture of primarily staying indoors and cooking with friends and family, to a fairly raucous population going-out on Friday & Saturday nights — behavior we all may know too well. This leads to more people exploring the new food and beverage scenes, and of course imbibing (a lot) when they get a chance to do so. Changing dining behaviors spurs a lot of creativity and ingenuity behind the bar and in the kitchen when a population is willing to put their dollar into new ingredients, flavors, and — most importantly — back into the local economy. This behavior change in Iceland is now seeping into their craft beers, cocktail menus, wine lists, and into their take on the New Nordic manifesto (signed back in 2007).
2. Trees as Ingredients
The New Nordic Manifesto is essentially farm-to-table but with a strong emphasis on foraging, sustainability, and of course the use of ingredients from Nordic countries. Every country has its own way of pulling out flavors in its dishes. Spices and herbs that are popular in the states may include basil, mint, thyme, and rosemary. What’s interesting about Nordic countries is their use of trees as a flavor-enhancer. From liqueurs to butter-infusions, birch is one of the most popular ingredients in Iceland. Pictured is the popular Björk liqueur. We also had the pleasure of dining at the acclaimed Dill Restaurant, where we tasted this magical dish: Arctic Char, Butter and Birch, mushrooms and fresh cheese. Cure[ate] was lucky enough to be invited to a private 20-person pop-up dinner at Dill, 13 courses with biodynamic wine pairings from a notable Copenhagen sommelier in from Rødder & Vin. Pictures from the full meal at the end of post.
3. Sustainability | Monetizing Shrink
Through our night at Dill, we met other top food & beverage professionals in Reykjavik. Chef Paul, leading the kitchen at Matur og Drykker, was one of the top Chefs we met in our time there. Chef Paul comes from WD-50 and Aska in New York, with a passion for New Nordic cuisine (he also spent an extensive amount of time in Sweden). The Matur og Drykker kitchen is particularly interesting and representative of Iceland though because of its use of the land and its use of “waste” as ingredients. Take whey for example. Whey is the run-off when making cheese, and it is normally given back to cattle, thrown away, or made into that whey protein powder -- which is how you probably know of the name. Instead of throwing away this byproduct (shrink), Matur og Drykker creates two desserts from it: a whey “dulce de leche” and a whey granita. They are astounding desserts. The thoughtfulness and intention put into sustainability of land, resources, and ingredients in Iceland is truly admirable. I beg everyone else in the world to rethink their use of shrink and how you can potentially monetize it.
Iceland is a beautiful place, with rich land producing unique ingredients. Dive in further to Iceland’s New Nordic cuisine below.