The warming hearty smell of earthy truffles descended upon my olfactory senses guiding me with its entrancing aroma into the busy hall of Älska Mat, the Malmö food festival, taking place in Slagthuset, behind the central station.
From its advertising, I had been promised a smorgasbord of culinary delights and so I happily absolved myself from Sunday laziness on the couch and threw myself with glee out into the drenching rain of this autumn day and made my way to the back corner of Malmö’s station.
"The first thing that caught my attention was the smell of truffles"
Paying the rather high price of 150 kroners in entrance fee, I expected to at least receive some kind of goody bag with information and something foody but no. The only thing I received was a paper receipt to remind me that I had just paid 150 kroners to go and see other people advertising their wares and I had to pay another 90 kroners so I could at least sample some of the alcoholic beverages that were to be on offer. So with 240 kroners out of pocket and clutching a small glass filled with 5 paper tokens I entered the hall way.
The first thing that caught my attention was the smell of truffles, now there is only a few things in the world that have a similar effect but as any chef can tell you the smell of a truffle has a unique hypnotising and almost erotic effect upon your brain, making you forget everything around you and sending your mind off to a damp green forest somewhere in Northern Europe populated with mythical creatures, ancient trees and wonderous wild foods of the gods picked by nubile nymphs of the forest.
I remember when the truffle man used to pay a visit to our kitchen in London, always a highlight of the month, when he unwrapped his culinary gems from his red cloth napkin, every chef used to forget what they were doing and like mindless zombies leave their area and crowd round as we weighed off the dusty black nuggets emitting the aromas of another world. We would take his finest ones and bury them in jars of arborio rice until we needed them, Taking a occasional sniff from the jar when we needed cheering up.
Chased by pushchairs
The smell alone is like prozac for chefs and the taste is equally astounding. just the smallest dusting can have the most dramatic effect upon the simplest of foods, leaving the taste of warm earthiness upon your pallette for hours and the memory able to be recalled for years. So there i was almost drooling at the stall which was selling said gems of the earth, Armanos, a delicatesan and wine supplier; his truffles were from Croatia, which for me was a new thing, as previously apart from some substandard Chinese ones I had only got them from France or Italy, but this smart guy had found a plentiful market for them from Croatia and was showing off his discovery in various forms. From whole truffles to truffle tapenades, I ate a rather pleasing fresh gnocchi with tomato, peppers, olive and a little bit of truffle in it and skipped happily along to the next stalls.
Now I am not sure what goes through the mind of people who have small children, but I am sure its not alot as whenever I end up at some exhibition there are always those happy looking parents who decide that bringing a pushchair the size of a 4 wheel drive off road vehicle is a good idea, and that somehow they should have right of way through the throng of people regardless of how many ankles they take out on their way getting to a free piece of cheese on a toothpick. So with my ankles gradually turning into tenderised meat I found a stall where I could hang out for a bit away from the throng of people searching for free bits of bread with sauce and little crumbs of cheese.
Next step: Malmö Brewery
” Since I was 12, I dreamt of having my own brewery” now those words themselves are surely the things that legends are built from.
When most of us were dreaming of becoming a pilot or a truck driver Anders Hansson was already shaping his dream and 28 years later it was finally realised in the shape of Malmö Brygghus, Malmös first new brewery for 20 years and definitely about to make its stamp in the world of beer. Anders is a man who looks like he understands his beers, having a slight resemblance to ”the landlord” Al Murray (british comedian) and here at the festival was showcasing two of his beers, his cacao porter and a white beer.
The Cacao porter being a excellent mix of smoothness, slight bitterness and nubian darkness and the white beer being a pure flavour smack in the mouth of refreshing citrus undertones with beer goodliness. At the moment his beers are being brewed in his brewery and being sold at Systemet but on 20th November his full dream of also having a pub within the beer house (which has not existed in Malmö since 1864) will open its doors to the lovers of fine ales who like to quaff their pint in its origins of production, like drinking wine at a vinyard it always adds to the experience.
Now that will certainly be something to add to the map of Malmös beverage experiences and I for one am going to pay a visit. www.thebeerproject.se
Other stalls amongst the abundance of bread and cheese stalls that caught my attention were Le citron vert, which is a catering company and had a excellent canape of beetroot cured gravaldlax with parsley jelly made by a enthusiastic young chef.
The scandanavian silver eel, a small scale smokehouse which had amazingly sweet and smoky eel for tasters, a perfect balance of flavours which had me going back for some more. The Kiviks hotel which was showcasing some of its packages for couples at its spa weekends which isn’t exactly my idea of a weekend but their scottish head chef also had made some excellent bread and tapenade which kept me interested in their venture. The oyster and champagne bar Johan P, at the very back of the hall had me stopping for some delicious oysters to accompany my cacao porter and the live demonstration area seemed to be extremely popular with its cooking show going on under the watchfull gaze of pushchair wielding food lovers.
Free chickens indoors?
One of the more worrying conversations I had was with one of the stalls which was showcasing chicken. I tried some of said fowl and yes it tasted good and with all of its advertising of ”a natural part of lifes goodness” and its pictures of happy looking chickens and green fields it had me believing that this company thought like I did, that chickens should live like chickens.
However, after asking the gentleman if his chickens were free range his answer kind of confused me: ” yes they are free range but they dont go outside, they are freerange indoors”, now thats a bit of a strange concept to me, its like saying ”I am a vegetarian as I like to eat potatoes with my steak”, so I delved further into this mans ideas. He told me that in Sweden the free range that I know of as in the birds having use of the outdoors is not popular with farmers and they keep their chickens ”free range ”inside barns, in that they are not in cages but kept inside.
He carried on attempting to convince me that it was good by saying ”we feed them 30% corn” now that just left me wondering what the other 70% was, undoubtedly a mixture of proteins from ground up chickens mixed in with a heavy dose of anti-bacterials to stop them getting ill from their ”stress free” living style. He went on to give me an explanation why farmers don’t like the chickens to go outdoors: ”the breed we use don’t like going outside, if they go outside it stresses them and makes the meat tough and also there is a risk of salmonella from them being in fields”. For me that whole idea is a little bit askew, especially in the environment we were both in, we were in a food exhibition supposed to be showcasing the best of foods and the only person on show for chickens was a company who thought that fields stressed out chickens. Bizarre.
On coming home though I did a bit of research on the internet and although the main percentage of chickens are not exactly free range there are a few companys that produce it this way, one of which is Bosarpkyckling which with its KRAV-stamp is selling its chicken in alot of supermarkets and three restaurants within Malmö. It’s good to see some places are taking interest in where its food comes from but it still needs some more awareness on the whole subject, at least to show the breeders that chickens really do not get stressed with being outside and the meat tastes better when the chicken has a better life.
Back to the wet streets of Malmö again
Anyhow feeling a little bit disheartened by my talk with ”chicken man” I obtained a glass of a fantastic rioja from a wine supplier, ate some more little bits of meat on toothpicks and made my exit from all things culinary back to the wet streets of Malmö, leaving my glass at the exit in return for 25 kroner. A little bit overpriced for what was on offer but was good to have a showcase platform for some of the smaller companys.
However, I hope that next year the organisers provide a little more for the entrance fee and with fingers crossed ban all pushchair users from coming in, direct them to Mcdonalds instead. They have a nice area for pushchairs and no matter how hard you try, your kids are going to prefer a happy meal over a bit of aged parmasan on a stick with a little truffle tapenade. Save the culinary gems for the people who really appreciate it as much as they like bruise free ankles.
Mark Anthony Low 24.10-2010