Northern Iceland: A Locavore Tour

northern iceland locavore tourThe locavore turn seems to be everywhere in evidence. An intensified interest in local food products, the rediscovery of forgotten local food traditions and creative attempts to merge various culinary heritages with modern preparation techniques all fuel this turn.

One side effect of this movement is the increased prominence, in many places, of local food products – on menus, in markets and in the profusion of food tours.

In August, I took a fantastic locavore tour in the form of a northern Iceland culinary tour, put together by Akureyri‘s Saga Travel. Iceland, despite its northerly position, is no agricultural wasteland. The country is self-sufficient in fish, meat and dairy and also produces vegetables.

The entire tour is worthwhile, though its first three stops are especially compelling. First up on the tour’s August incarnation: Hrísey, a quiet island to the north of Akureyri whose surrounding waters are used to farm beautiful fat, organic blue mussels. We boarded a fishing vessel and checked out submerged ropes used to farm the mussels before motoring on to the island itself. Here, we sat down to a simple and delicious lunch of mussels served with a garlic sauce and bread. These orange-hued mussels are richly flavorful, a real revelation after years of soggy, near-tasteless mussels.

northern iceland locavore tourNext up on the tour was a stop at Kaldi, Iceland’s first microbrewery, in the small town of Árskógssandur. Beer was actually banned in Iceland from 1915 until 1989. Perhaps it’s not a surprise then that the microbrewery explosion present in many locations has been slow to develop here.

Kaldi’s founders hired a Czech brewmaster to get the brewery off the ground. Today, demand for the company’s brews is so high that the company doesn’t yet see the need to export. (An Icelandic resident abroad told me that the seasonal Christmas brew sells out so quickly that he has to ask his parents to buy it so that he will be able to enjoy it when he returns for Christmas.) Kaldi beer is not pasteurized, nor does it contain preservatives. It is also delicious.

There is one jokey part of the tour, a stop at the Ekta factory to sample hákarl, the rotten shark for which Iceland is notorious. Our sample was provided by the company’s hilarious manager, Elvar Reykjalin, who also graciously facilitated passage of the stinking flesh down our convulsed throats with a shot of bright red liqueur. Hákarl, with its aggressive ammonia aftertaste, might be the worst thing I have ever tasted. A nice light meal followed, centered around Ekta’s very good salted cod.

Subsequent stops included Kaffi Kú for beef carpaccio and Holtsel for ice cream. The local food tour is offered year-round, with the itinerary varying from season to season. Pricing is not cheap, at 24,500 Icelandic kronur ($200), though in the context of Iceland’s high cost index, it seems relatively reasonable.

[Images: Alex Robertson Textor]