“The best bleeping butter in the world!”
Røros Smør arrives in the US, generational recipe lives on
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
Ingrid Skancke’s perfect butter—a recipe passed down over hundreds of years—is making the rounds of the world. One of the last milkmaids who spent summers on seter, Norwegian farms, churning butter, she entrusted the recipe to the new Rørosmeieriet, the Røros Dairy, around 20 years ago.
“We’ve stuck to that recipe ever since,” said Dag Aande Sandbakken, a Røros native and business consultant, who is on the board of the dairy. “She said, ‘The butter should be open with tiny droplets (of water) and some grains of salt.’ She learned it from her mother, who learned it from her mother who learned it from her mother and so on.”
Best croissants in the world need the best butter
In January 2018, dairy CEO Trond Vilhelm Lund and Communications Director Gunhild Sun Bellsli, along with other Norwegian businesses in the Innovation Norway Export Program visited several countries. In Singapore, they walked into the Firebake Bakery and were pleasantly surprised to learn that baker Konstantino Blokbergen was using Røros Smør, going through a ton of it a year. The Røros trio had no idea.
“The baker claimed, ‘I’m making the best croissants in the world. Therefore, I need the best butter in the world,’” said Sandbakken in his Philadelphia apartment. “He serves the butter with his freshly made bread, but also uses it in making ice cream. The Singapore trip was part of the export program, so the process had already started. However, seeing the butter in Singapore made us realize that, yes, this is really possible!”
On Nov. 2, Røros Smør launched in the United States with an event at the Myriel restaurant in St. Paul, Minn. The smør will be available in several food stores and markets in the Twin Cities, Sioux Falls, S.D., Hudson, Wis., Missoula, Mont., Henderson, Nev. Lincoln, Neb., and Duluth, Minn.
Ingrid Skancke, died on Aug. 11 at 77, but her legacy will live on. Lund, Bellsli, Arnt Langen, one of the original founders, and Hilde Myhren, market and experience manager and great niece of Ingrid, attended the funeral. They put a wreath on her coffin with thanks from Rørosmeieriet. Now, her butter is in America.
How did this journey from a town of almost 6,000 people transpire? Røros has a lot going for it as a town that small. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is known as the food capital of Norway.
The dairy was built on the “ruins of Tine, stone by stone.” Literally. Tine was Norway’s main dairy producer and closed the Røros factory in 2000. Four former employees connected with local organic farmers and restarted the organic dairy on Jan. 5, 2001. Tine sold its last shares in 2020.
The “secret” of the butter is “happy cows.” They graze freely eating fresh grass. They are not fed antibiotics or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Like most Norwegians, they spend summers in the mountains. They are brought inside in the winter. This results in the butter changing color but not taste.
“This is not an industrialized made product, where you throw the cream into a funnel and 30 minutes later the butter comes out,” said Sandbakken, who calls himself the “butter ambassador” in the United States. “This is handmade butter in a way. It is a very meticulous and laborious process.”
It takes three to five days to culture the cream and the butter is made from that in a small churn. They remove the leftover whey, which is repurposed. Then they hose the butter down with water six to seven times. The pre-measured sea salt is added and the butter is churned again. Then, it’s off to packaging. The churn dates to the 1950s.
“It’s a seasonal product, too, because in the summer the cows are out grazing in the fields or going out to the mountain farm for their summer holiday,” said Sandbakken. “When they come inside in the winter, they have more grains in their diet and the color goes down. But the fat content goes up because they have a richer diet, but it’s never less than 86% butterfat, which is extremely high. We call it a good økologisk—ecological—product, and it comes from happy cows. We’ll never scale up the size of the churn. We won’t change and make the butter a different way.”
In U.S. stores, the butter with 2% sea salt will be in a blue package, and the unsalted butter will be in a gold package. The butter is packaged in a brick instead of sticks of butter. Rørosmeieriet sells butter slicers on its website for delivery within Norway, but a regular Norwegian cheese slicer will suffice.
The sea salt is mined by North Sea Salt Works in Northern Norway—owned by Michal Bietz Øverland, an American woman originally from Oregon’s Willamette Valley—from the cold, clean, fjord seawater. It is soft, crunchy, and can crumble between the fingers. There are no additives or colors.
The taste tests: media, chefs, and bakers
Smak, Norway’s most popular weekend magazine and Norway’s oldest and most influential food magazine, compared it to “French gourmet butter.”
Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, is considered the best restaurant in the world. Vice notes the chef’s sourdough bread, “… served … with butter from Røros, Norway… which compliments the acidity of the sourdough.”
Oslo’s Maaemo, the first Nordic restaurant to receive three Michelin stars, finishes off meals “with brown butter ice cream topped with butter from Røros” (Lifestyle Asia).
At the reopened and renovated luxury hotel Britannia, in Trondheim, the butter is the only branded item on the table.
“The bakers tell us they get a flakier pastry because of the consistency of the butter,” said Sandbakken. “The chefs love it because of the high amount of butterfat. You don’t get any water evaporating, so you can fry at a greater temperature. It doesn’t splatter. When the world’s best restaurants source our butter and we’ve won awards, we think we can say it’s probably the world’s best butter.”
My taste test
The recommendation is “the best way to eat the butter is thick on a piece of bread. You should be able to see your teeth in the butter.” You get the flavor right away, but I found it hard to eat a thick piece of butter. My preference was melted and drizzling on a toasted everything bagel with a slice of American cheese. While eating the butter with smoked salmon was good, I’m still partial to Philadelphia cream cheese.
Most interesting was cooking with it. When I made turkey bacon or a burger, rather than the butter’s purpose being to prevent sticking in the pan, it enhanced the flavor and taste of the food. I used the unsalted. A taste of the butter with 2% sea salt proved it was better.
The launch culminated three years of work that connected the dairy to different entities in the Norwegian-American network. First, they connected with Ryan Marth, president of Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce North, who connected them to a marketing agency and the Business Accelerator Resource Network at Norway House in Minneapolis under the direction of Britt Ardakani, which connected them to further resources.
“The BARN network was instrumental in making this happen.” said Sandbakken. “They put us in touch with knowledgeable people with competencies that we needed and helped set up meetings with potential customers.” Everyone we met said, ‘This is the best bleeping butter I’ve ever tasted.’”
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE.