Sheep heads: a Norwegian love story

If Idaho’s largest potato can’t win a father over, what is one to do?

Photos: The blanz / Wikimedia Commons Digging in to the sheep’s head is clearly an act of love.

Photos: The blanz / Wikimedia Commons
Digging in to the sheep’s head is clearly an act of love.

Terje Birkedal
Anchorage, Alaska

While I was doing some background research prior to Ambassador Kåre Aas’s visit to Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage, Alaska, in the spring of 2015, I came upon a fun story in the Washington Post. The article was about Ms. Urd Berge Milbury, Cultural and Information Officer for the Norwegian Embassy, who was to accompany the Ambassador on the trip to Alaska. The article, “A Norwegian Father’s Christmas Test,” was written by Jon Kelly of the Washington Post and published on December 3, 2012.

The article centered on Milbury’s key role in the erection of an artistic artificial 32-foot Christmas tree at Union Station each year. This is an annual gift from Norway to the people of Washington, D.C. But the article in the Washington Post also told a truly Norwegian love story that I repeat in my own words here. I have personally asked Urd if the story is true, and she has confirmed its veracity. So now the tale.

Years ago Urd met a man online who then lived in Idaho. After they got to know each other better through online chats, the man realized that Norwegians love potatoes. So he decided to send Urd the biggest, grandest Idaho potato he could find. This gesture won her heart.

But that was not enough. The man now had to win over Urd’s father, who had grown up in Voss where they have a local delicacy called smalahove. This consists of half of a sheep’s head cut down the middle. After it is split it goes in the smokehouse for days and days. Apparently, Urd’s father tested all her serious boyfriends with this dish. To win approval one would need to eat it with obvious delight and relish and without too much akevitt.

So Urd took her as-yet-unapproved “Potato Boyfriend” to Norway for Christmas for his test. He was so smitten with Urd, a beautiful blonde, that he ate it, as they say in the Norwegian fairy tales, “snip, snap, snute” (“snute” means “snout” in Norwegian). The father was amazed at how enthusiastically he wolfed down the food and cleaned his plate. He was won over on the spot and approved of Urd’s American fiancé. That is how she got the “Milbury” tacked on to her Norwegian name.

Todd Milbury and his Norwegian wife now have two small children, and these too have taken to their Norwegian heritage by eating smalahove with gusto when they visit Norway.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 18, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Terje Birkedal

Terje G. Birkedal was born in Stavanger, Norway, in 1946. He immigrated to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Colorado. After earning a Ph.D. in Anthropology he served as an archeologist with the National Park Service for 36 years. He has conducted fieldwork in Alaska, the American South and Southwest, Canada, the Great Plains, Guam, and Norway. He served five years as President of Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage, Alaska, and he has always been passionate about Norwegian prehistory, history, and culture.