Håøya has no power supply but, in the summertime, the island is home to a herd of 130 Kashmir goats roaming happy and free amongst the bushes. They belong to Helge, a very charismatic goat farmer whose voice echoes in the forest twice a day when he calls them. They come trotting to the wooden« milking parlour » as he likes to say. The story of Håøya Naturverskted begun when Helge, farmer, Jack-of-all-trades and proud owner of a herd of Kashmir goats, was offered by the Commune of Oslo to leave them grazing on the island during the summer months. The goats have a key role in the process of rewilding the land: they keep vegetation under control and help clearing the hardly accessible zones like cliffs and bushes.
Helge was soon approached by Lise Brunborg, a dairy technician, and Yngve Strøm Tingstad, a cheese maker who offered to collaborate in order to set up an artisanal cheese factory. Well, their goal was actually to make the best raw milk cheese from Kashmir goats in the whole country! After a couple years of successful collaboration, the trio has split and the two others went to pursue their own journey. However, the idea of creating a space to revive old cultural traditions and hold workshops and dinners in such a wild but accessible part of the country had grown up on Helge.
He asked his family if they would follow him on this crazy summer project and accept to spend three months a year on Håøya. Their answer was yes. All in. Helge and 19 years-old son Sasha are now in charge of hand-milking the goats every morning and evening. They call them with a soft tone of voice (otherwise you would never get them to come your way says the goat farmer!) and inspect each one of them as they milk them.
The Kashmir breed produces less milk than other ones but it has a very subtle sweet and floral flavour and can be used to make the double amount of cheese than the regular goat milk.
Straight after milking, Helge filters the precious liquid, adds the natural coagulents and then presses the curd in those tiny white and round moulds. The little cheese lab is a glass-panelled room in a corner of their big baking and selling space. The only way to control humidity and temperature is by opening and closing the windows. And the equipment is sterilized with boiling hot water pumped right out of their wood-fired tank. Let me tell you that this is a very holistic, slow and honest way to produce cheese!
While the men divide their time between wood-chopping and animal husbandry, Johannika, who is a chef by trade, bakes breads and pastries all day long in a beautiful cast-iron wood-fired oven.
She uses the whey, a by-product from the cheese production to make a sourdough bread called mysebrod. The whey acts as a leavener agent and brings a touch of acidity to the bread. The smell of straight-out-of-the-oven cinnamon rolls is pretty hard to resist to, she bakes them through the day and serves them still hot with a cup of coffee to the curious visitors and hungry campers.
When we got there, Helge had just been busy experimenting sea salt making on a rustic outdoor stove. By boiling down 25 liters of sea water for aproximately 20 hours in a large wok-shaped pan, he had managed to harvest 5 or 6 big handfuls of white sea salt flakes and pyramid-cristals.
The end of august is the time where blueberries and mushroom meet in the forest. We are told that there is a blueberry heaven in the southern part of the island and decide to go for a foraging walk. Stained fingers and dirty nails, the harvest is good: bags full of blueberry, tyttebaer, juniper berries and piggsopp, steinsopp and trumpeter kantarell.
Back in the 15th century, the island used to host a monastery founded by the St Mary Church. The herbs planted in its garden have gone wild since then, which has turned the island into a fantastic mine of herbs and plants for those who like to look for them.
King of herbs, the wild oregano is at his very best right now: showing off his elegant pink and purple flowers and diffusant a fragrent scent all around.
The wild apple trees are covered with small, wonky fruits that work wonders in compote, just cooked up with a little sugar to ease their sour tang and reveal their beautiful flavour.
The waters are rather cold even at this time of the year but our chef Magnus is not the kind of guy who gives up so easily. With the help of Sasha, he dives and brings back oysters, mussels, sea snails and a beautiful, plump mackerel. The Pacific oysters are not an endemic norwegian specie, they have grown in Europe over the last decades and have happened to spread accross the Oslo fjord. Since there is no effective method to harvest them in the wild, they tend to proliferate at a high speed and transform their new environment. Therefore, the best way to deal with them is by going picking and eating as many as possible. They are deep and curved, show a wavy shell and can grow up to 30cm, hard to miss them under the sea!
We boiled water in a giant teapot over the fire and tossed in a handful of wild strawberry leaves, some of the berries we found and a little bit of honey. The strawberry leaves are said to restore your energy after long hikes and they are full of antioxydants.
Now is the time to sharpen our knives, brush every mushrooms and open the oysters. Let’s sit on a log, on the grass or on that swing hanging from a tree and do what we do best: tell stories, make dinner and watch those last shafts of sunlight fade on the nordic waters. We raise our cups to the bountiful island of Håøya, to the Kashmir goats and to Helge and family who take such good care of it.
Text by Nina Sahraoui
Photographs by Alexander Benjaminsen & Svein G. Kjøde