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On the food trail in Finland

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Posted by Yvonne Gordon at 07:27 on Monday 16 January 2012

Food trends in Finland are bringing the eco-friendly concept to a new level, thanks to the passion of organic farmers, farmers markets and chefs. Yvonne Gordon goes on the food trail in southern Finland.

Everything on sale at Eat & Joy is from small local producers. Photo by Yvonne GordonEverything on sale at Eat & Joy is from small local producers. Photo by Yvonne GordonThere’s a buzz of excitement in the world of organic, eco-friendly food in Finland. Organic farmers are saving heritage breeds of cows and sheep from extinction, entrepreneurs are opening ‘raw milk’ bars and food markets are going back to basics, allowing customers to grind their own flour or have meat cut to order.

The rise of ecological food and the desire to buy from local producers is bringing new energy to food shops and restaurant menus, all thanks to supplies from small local producers such as Bovik Farm, who have passion for the produce they create.Finnsheep at Bovik Farm, Finland, photo by Yvonne GordonFinnsheep at Bovik Farm, Finland, photo by Yvonne Gordon

When Helsinki fashion photographer Sebastian Nurmi decided to move to a rural retreat and try his hand at organic farming many years ago, saving original Finnish breeds of cow and sheep was important to him, not only to protect the traditional heritage breeds but also for the unique and high quality taste of the meat.

He and his wife Ülle now run Bovik Farm, breeding Eastern Finncattle (known as Kyyttö cattle) and Finnsheep – original Finnish landrace sheep – breeds which date back hundreds of years but were facing extinction just a few years ago. Bovik farm has since won awards for the quality of its lamb and beef.

On the ecological farm, which is near the southern Finnish town of Tammisaari, the cattle graze in the forest and the sheep live on an island during the summer, with grazing providing some added benefits. “We’re taking care of the traditional landscapes and we’re working for biodiversity for all the insects, birds and larger animals following the food chain,” says Sebastian.

Kyyttö forest cows at Bovik Farm, Finland. Photo by Yvonne GordonKyyttö forest cows at Bovik Farm, Finland. Photo by Yvonne GordonThis is the type of passion that goes in to the organic Finnish food produce sold at shops and markets like Eat and Joy(farmer’s market), which sells a huge range of artisan cheeses, berry jams, rye bread, Kyyttö forest cow meat, wild reindeer and hand-crafted beer, all sourced directly from small producers across Finland. With shops on Mannerheimintie in Helsinki and at Helsinki airport, it has just opened an eco-market food hall at Kluuvi Shopping Centre, selling delicacies from more than 500 small producers around Finland.

At Kluuvi, there’s a milk bar, a flour mill where people can mill their own flour, a meat cutting shop where meat is cut and cured and a cheese counter. The fish counter has facilities for cutting fish and there’s also a smokery.Raw milk on sale at Armas Maitokauppa shop in Tampere, Finland. Photo Yvonne GordonRaw milk on sale at Armas Maitokauppa shop in Tampere, Finland. Photo Yvonne Gordon

Milk and cheese comes from farms like Saloniemi Farm in Laitila – with cheese made from Finnish heritage breeds of cows and goats who are almost treated like pets. Farmer Riitta Saloniemi says, “if the animals are happy, the people are happy and the taste is better.” Saloniemi Farm also produces raw milk – non-pasteurised and non-homogenised – which is becoming popular in Finland. Production is strictly regulated and the farm sells 1,000 litres a week. Over in Tampere, at Armas Maitokauppa, a new ‘milk-shop’, raw milk products like cheese, yoghurt, cream, ice-cream, raw milk and whey are flying off the shelves.

Locally-produced wine is also popular and eco-friendly. Grapes don’t grow in Finland but in wineries such as at Rönnvik Vineyard near Laitikkala, delicious wine is made from locally grown berries – greencurrants, blackcurrants, gooseberry, strawberry, cloudberry and even rhubarb.

Organic flour on sale at Eat & Joy farmer's market shop Helsinki, photo Yvonne GordonOrganic flour on sale at Eat & Joy farmer's market shop Helsinki, photo Yvonne GordonAs well as new food shops and markets, top chefs are supporting the small producers and dabbling in gardening themselves. The Savoy Hotel’s Henri Kotkavuort (Finland’s Chef Of The Year 2011), is passionate about organic farmers. He’s using the rooftop restaurant’s outdoor terrace to grow about 30 different kinds of herbs during the summer season, using them for everything from stocks and gelatines to flavoured butter. The first year they grew too many herbs and learnt valuable lessons. “It’s hectic,” laughs Henri. “We’re chefs not gardeners. Now we know how to grow and cut herbs.”

Over at city hotspot, Restaurant Nokka, chef Ari Ruoho is proud to use produce from local organic farmers (lamb comes from Sebastian Nurmi’s Bovik Farm), with everything from organic bakeries to Finnish olive oil and spices. “The producer’s passion, personal responsibility and ethical production methods give the food its appearance and taste,” says Ari. At Helsinki’s design hotel Klaus K, all of the food on the Best of Finland breakfast menu is from regional small producers all around Finland – with a map on the menu of where the producers are.

Aki Arjola and his partners in Eat and Joy go to great lengths to find top quality Finnish producers and bring the tasty produce to a wide range of customers and tourists, and they choose local produce rather than big commercial sellers. “We must find the Finnish product, it must be ethically right, the values must be there," says Aki. "It’s easy to have something that will sell well but we must leave it out if it doesn’t suit the line."

Travel details:

Visit: Bovik Farm (by appointment), Rönnvik Vineyard

Shop: Eat&Joy Maatilatori, Armas Maitokauppa milk bar

Eat: Savoy Restaurant, Nokka Restaurant

Stay: Klaus K Hotel

For information on how to visit Finland without flying, see our guide to taking the Train and ferry from London to Helsinki

For more information on visiting Finland, see www.visitfinland.com

Yvonne meets a friendly cow in Saloniemi, FinlandYvonne meets a friendly cow in Saloniemi, Finland

This article was written by Yvonne Gordon

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