Skerpikjøt - Gastro Obscura
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Meats & Animal Products

Skerpikjøt

Without salt or refrigeration, early residents of the Faroe Islands preserved their mutton with the cold wind.

On the remote Faroe Islands, a self-governing archipelago in the Kingdom of Denmark that lies between Iceland and Norway, salt was once a luxury item. So to preserve food before modern refrigeration, the Faroese utilized a resource they have in abundance: the cold, gusty winds coming off the North Atlantic Ocean. Skerpikjøt, dried fermented lamb, is a prime example of this traditional curing technique. It’s made by hanging raw meat in an outdoor shed called a hjallur, where it’s left to rest in the salty air for five to nine months, typically starting in October.

The curing process creates a layer of blue-green mold on the carcass, giving the meat a potent odor and fermented tang. It’s been likened to a much funkier cousin of prosciutto and Serrano ham. (The New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead described “a pungency somewhere between Parmesan cheese and death.”) Air temperature is key to quality skerpikjøt. If it’s too warm, the meat will rot past the point of artisanal decay; if it’s too cold, the flavor will be dull. Once aged to perfection, skerpikjøt is typically served in thin slices on rye bread, with butter and a little salt.

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