Release the cows!

Finland has amazing dairy products but something we have often mulled over is, “Where are all the cows?” It’s true we haven’t seen a lot of Finnish country-side but we’ve seen enough to wonder at times where they are all kept.

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Well, we found out when friends invited us last weekend to join them at a unique Finnish event – the releasing to pasture of cows after a long, cold winter.

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It was a beautiful spring day and we caught the bus to Viikki, about 30 mins from the city centre, to the University of Helsinki Research Farm.

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We weren’t quite sure where to go but just followed all the other families heading to where crowds had gathered for the occasion.

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And I mean crowds. By 11.00 the fence around the paddock was lined with people who were soon joined by even more people arriving by foot or bicycle.

The first thing we saw upon arrival was the large barn where the cows had spent winter.

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I would have loved to go inside but only managed to get into this one – which was lovely but didn’t answer my questions about insulation.

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Back at the fence-line, we had prime position as an MC on the back of a truck talked us through the names of the ‘ladies’ about to appear and their breed. Then three women from the farm sang a harmonious ballad to welcome the cows and encourage milk production.

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Finally as we were about to burst with anticipation, it was all on! Like long-awaited celebrities, out popped the bovine beauties, their udders swinging in the spring sunlight.

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They skipped and kicked up their heels,  ecstatic at being out on the grass.

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I have to admit I whooped and clapped and loved the show, as did anyone who recognises the joy of being out in the sun after a Finnish winter.

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They put on a good show, playing together and butting heads.

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Afterwards we shared a picnic with our friends and the kids enjoyed seeing other animals including sheep, calves and horses. I would say the pictures speak for themselves in that it was a good day out for all.

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A Bear in our Supermarket

I’m often asked about Finnish food and what we are enjoying the most. It feels a bit unpatriotic to say but we are really enjoying the dairy products here. There’s a huge selection of milk, cheeses, yoghurts and butter including lactose-free for the estimated 17% of Finns who are lactose-intolerant.

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The milk we buy

Valio is the main dairy producer here and one cheese they make is Oltermanni. It’s a yellow semi-soft cheese, a bit like Havarti. According to a book we have all about cheese (we do love it) they produce the cleanest milk in the EU thanks to the ‘crystal clear water and freedom from industrial pollution.’

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There’s also a strong emphasis on eating seasonal produce. It’s Chanterelle season at the moment and these small golden mushrooms  are very high in Vitamin D,  important for well-being during the Nordic winter. If you’re not out picking your own, the best place to buy them is at the market stalls around the city, especially down at Market Square.

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Chanterelle, portobello & field mushroom medley

The bread section in our local supermarket is split into two areas: Vaaleaa Leipää (light bread) and Tummaa Leipää (dark bread). I’m a new convert to rye bread and my favourite lunch is smoked salmon sandwiches with boiled egg on rye, from the deli.

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Most mornings I have a poached egg on rye toast with a gherkin on the side. It’s not as crazy as it sounds as the pickles we buy aren’t such an assault on the tastebuds as some that are sold in a jar. They have no colour added and are more like a dill pickle from the States.  We buy them from a big barrel at the supermarket where you can choose from plain or garlic.

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Something that I hadn’t seen before was soap nuts. Part of the lychee family, the fruit pulp is used to make soap and the shells can be used in the washing machine in place of detergent. They are meant to be great for people with allergies or very sensitive skin. They’re not actually a Finnish thing and have been used in India for years.

Soap nuts in the laundry section

Soap nuts in the laundry section

We’ve been fascinated by the bear meat sold in a can. Apparently bears that have a diet higher in berries than fish provide a sweeter tasting meat. Bears are protected animals and hunting quotas are set, although these are adjusted to remove bears from reindeer-herding areas.

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Which is kind of ironic because some reindeer end up in a can too! I’ll just have a side of cheese with my pickles thanks.

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Chanterelle mushrooms

Soap nuts