A taste of Västmanland

Text: Bo Masser, cookbook author, food guide

Guests from near and far come to the region of Västmanland to explore everything from reedy islets in open, glittering bays to barren, pine-clad mires, filled with cloudberries. Västmanland offers rich history as well as exciting innovations and, of course, plenty of delicious food!

Early on in history, people started using the waterways to transport the riches of Bergslagen. Over time, mill towns grew up around the waterways and canals. The towns are still characterised by manufacturing today. Cities like Västerås, Köping, and Arboga became major trade hubs for shipments of iron products. In 1917, Hakon Swenson founded Hakonbolaget in Västerås, today known as the major grocery retailer ICA.

Lake Mälaren, the third-largest freshwater lake in Sweden, offers an archipelago that has been used by mankind ever since it was uncovered at the end of the ice age. The cultural landscape is traditionally maintained, bearing many traces of cultivation and grazing cattle. Even today, farming still takes place on the largest islands. The microclimate around the shores on some of the islands is so favourable that their flora consists of plants and small animals that are otherwise only found down by Sweden's southernmost coast.

For generations, freshwater fishing has been a source of income for many families, and today you can find commercial fisheries along the northern shore of Lake Mälaren. Pike is a sought after delicacy on the continent and most of what is caught here is exported. The catch of fish is especially good from October until late spring. During this time, the water temperature drops and the very popular walleye enters shallow waters, where they are easily caught using nets. The tender, white fish is delicious and served in many restaurants. You can also buy it from any of the fishermen at their farm stands.

The farm Stora Ekeby Säteri, quickly realised the benefits of taking advantage of the unique qualities of the land:
– Grandpa and one of his good friends were probably first in Sweden to import Red and Black Angus. They make for better grazing animals than Swedish breeds and are able to better benefit from the “inferior” wet meadows along Lake Mälaren, says Fredrik Esseen. Eating only grass fodder, they grow slowly and become very tasty. And, they keep the landscape open!

Somewhere halfway towards the northern border of Västmanland, you enter the biological northern zone, Limes Norrlandicus. Here the microflora and fauna change and thus the conditions for food production. Hunting and small lake fishing combined with vegetable and berry plantations result in dishes with their own, distinct touch.

Visiting any of these growers is a marvellous experience. Picking up the soil, feeling it flow between your fingers like the softest gold dust. Mankind has cultivated the land here for centuries. Every handful of soil tells the story of all the hard work and love put into these cucumber beds, onion rows, and patches of carrots.

You can enjoy all these flavours in places like Skeppshandeln Stone Oven Bakery in Köping or in the heart of the forest at Färna Manor. For those wanting to eat their way through parts of Västmanland, there is plenty of delicacies to find in the shops and restaurants at Saluhallen Slakteriet, where you can also join a guided food safari.

– 20 years ago, locally grown potato was pretty much the only thing available in larger quantities, says Johan Erberth at Mälardalen Frukt och Grönt that sells fruits and vegetables. But in the last 3 years, the selection of produce has really expanded, as increasingly more growers and producers have learned how to increase volumes enough to supply more than just the farmers’ market. There is also a growing trend of local, proprietary brands, such as Nibble gårdsgris and Kärrbo Prästgård, reaching out to the consumer market.