Emmanuelle Jary - 2008-07-10
Hands up those who have heard of Bornholm. There’s not much hype in UK tourist pages about this little Danish island situated near the Swedish coast. And yet, those who have ventured here have never forgotten it.
Like Eric Guggenheim, founder and president of the Olsen smoked-fish company. Talk to him about this “Corsica of the North”, as he likes to call it, and his eyes grow wide. Bornholm has been dear to his heart for over twenty years. For a few weeks now, it has been close to ours.
What’s the reason for this? A few objective criteria and a whole lot of little transient things. It is said that Bornholm has a little of all the finest landscapes to be found in the whole of Denmark. Vast beaches in the south of the island at Dueodde (whose fine sand was used to make hourglasses), a wild, craggy coast to the east, big forests in the centre.
Besides nature, Bornholm has good selling points from an architectural point of view, with coloured fishermen’s cottages and unexpected round whitewashed churches. These fortified churches – four in all – are one of the island’s main attractions; they enabled the inhabitants to protect themselves from attack – fairly frequent in times past. The Hammershus fortress, perched on a cliff over 70 metres high affording a spectacular view of the Baltic, also bears witness to this unsettled past.
To get from one site to another, it is preferable to use a bicycle like a good many Danes who have all, at some time or other, cycled around Bornholm – a sort of pilgrimage made possible by the 124 miles of cycle tracks. It is in fact the best way to explore this island of reassuring dimensions (227 square miles), since by car you can only skim the surface.
Thus you can set out to meet the numerous producers who have given Bornholm its highly gastronomic reputation. Starting with the fish smokehouses, the profusion of which gives you an idea of how lucrative a business the herring industry was in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, the small town of Gudhjem had twenty-five fish smokehouses. Today there remain only about ten on the whole island, but although the number has dropped, the quality is still there.
The island of Bornholm is renowned throughout Denmark for the quantity and quality of its smokehouses (røgeri) – most of the fish smoked there being wild ones caught in the Baltic Sea. Herring, mackerel, prawns, eels and other indigenous fish as well as salmon, of course.
The fish are smoked in the traditional manner, hot or cold. The smoking time and temperature distinguish the two techniques and make it possible to obtain a radically different product.
In cold smoking, after being salted, the fish are smoked for 10 hours at 27°C using beech wood.
In hot smoking, the time is shorter (4 hours) but the temperature higher (70°C) and the wood used is alder, which gives the fish a very delicate flavour.
Salmon can be cold or hot smoked. In the first case, one obtains the smoked salmon that we all know, which can be finely sliced. In the second case, the fish is presented in pieces; it has the appearance of an oven-baked fillet but has a smoked taste of incomparable elegance and mildness.
In general, all fish that can be sliced can be cold smoked. The other, smaller ones, such as herring or mackerel, are hot smoked. Depending on their size, they can be smoked whole or in fillets. In this case, the fish are sometimes flavoured with paprika, pepper, garlic, etc.
With the development of tourism, the røgeri have been gradually converted into little restaurants offering buffets with an assortment of smoked fish. Generally situated on the sea front, these establishments enjoy an unobstructed view.
The typical Bornholm dish, served in all the røgeri, is sol over Gudhjem: a whole hot-smoked herring served with an egg yolk and finely sliced red onion and chives.
The gourmet island
Bornholm is an El Dorado of taste. The numerous producers are spread out over the whole area. Another distinctive feature is that they have all gone for quality. The products of Bornholm are consequently renowned throughout Denmark and are sometimes exported beyond the borders, like the Bryghusetbeers, which are today dispatched as far afield as Hong Kong.
Cockerel breeders, manufacturers of caramels, cheeses, rapeseed oil, mustards, aquavit… You will find most of these products in a mill converted into a shop: Borholm Fødevareudvik-lingscenter, Møllebakken 4c, 3760, Gudhjem.
Also of note are the distinctively flaky crackers (the firm claims that there are 27 flaky layers), which are delicious and very crisp. Made using local flour from the island’s mills and rapeseed oil, also from Bornholm, tasting these unusual crackers is an absolute must. (Johannes & søn, østergade 1, 3720 AAkirkeby).
Another must: the organic ice-cream parlour in Nexø. Try the bilberry ice cream. Boisen, Hovedgaden 4 Snogebaek, 3730 Nexø.
The Bryghuset restaurant offers draught or bottled beer tastings. Svaneke Torv 5. Svaneke.
This tiny little island, 550 yards long at the very most and with scarcely more than 100 inhabitants, is worth a day’s visit. A fortress island dating back to the 17th century, it is now a protected nature reserve full of fragrant flora. Swimming possible.
Where to sleep
Langebjergvej 7, Sandvig. 3770 Allinge.
A small boarding house with simple rooms run by a tremendously nice couple. Copious breakfasts, and evening dinner available on reservation.
Løsebaekgade 3. 3770 Allinge.
About 7 yards from a very beautiful beach, this 18th century farm offers pretty rooms with a view.
Melstedvej 27. 3760 Gudhjem.
One of the finest hotels on the island, by a very quiet beach. Good restaurant too.
sdr Baek 20. 3790 Hasle.
This firm only hot smokes fish, in the traditional way in an immense fireplace.
Located by the sea on a wild coast subject to the winds and sea air. Sensational.
Nord Borholm Røgeri
Probably one of the best røgeri on the island, offering the widest selection of smoked fish.
Sverigesvej 5. 3770 Allinge.
Good smoked fish, with tables set out on a little fine sand beach.
Strandstien 10. 3740 Svaneke/Listed.
A little restaurant specialising in lobster. Poached, au gratin with garlic, in soup or simply grilled over a wood fire.
Snogebaek Havn Restaurant
Located by the sea, this little restaurant serves quality family cuisine. Fricandelles of salmon, slightly smoked salmon, etc.