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John Lamb, Published December 20 2011

Lamb: Norway’s butter shortage no joke

While some locals are bummed by a Christmas without snow, some local Scandinavians have their eyes on a scarier holi-disaster; a Christmas without butter.

Norway is in the midst of a nationwide butter shortage. According to the Wall Street Journal, a very wet season stunted cows’ grazing and led to less milk production, which, coupled with a new fad low-carb, high-fat diet that saw 1,000 more tons of butter sold this year, led to the country’s butter shortage.

Compounding the predicament, officials were slow to relax a high import fee for the creamy gold.

And it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Butter isn’t just an ingredient for Norwegians, it’s their life-blood. Why do you think they are so blond and fair-skinned and melt in the summer?

And Christmas is time when Norwegian cuisine really shines, partly because of butter. The rich flakiness of a Scan-dessert can’t be matched.

Thirty percent of North Dakotans are of Norwegian descent, as are about 17 percent of Minnesotans, so what happens in the old country still hits locals close to home.

Norwegian expat Frode Tilden thought it was a joke when he recently heard of the butter shortage from a friend back home. Now the Fargo man calls the news “unbelievable.”

Tilden hosted a traditional Norsk Christmas dinner earlier this month at the Sons of Norway that fed about 230 people. Phil Hokanson, the club’s chef said about 20 pounds of butter were used for the event. When asked what he would substitute for butter if there were a shortage locally, Hokanson said he’d be hesitant to even try.

It wouldn’t be anywhere near the same,” he said. “You could try to sneak it by, but people around here want the real deal.”

As do the people preparing the food.

“If I was in Norway and told I had to use margarine, I would freak out and not cook,” says Ashley Thornberg. “I really like butter.”

The Moorhead woman helped at the Sons of Norway Christmas dinner and is an avid holiday baker, going through as much as seven pounds of butter making krumkake, rømmegrøt, rosettes and lefse.

(Too bad Norwegians can’t churn vowels into butter.)

To put the butter-geddon into perspective, Thornberg compares a Scandinavian Christmas without butter to Thanksgiving without pie.

Christmas baking isn’t just tradition for Scan-descendents, it is heritage.

Asked how a butter shortage would’ve affected his party, Tilden says, “No sugar, no butter, no party.”

It’s not just the baked goods that suffer. Tilden said butter is a big part of lutefisk, the lye-soaked white fish that requires, um, an acquired taste some may not be ready to acquire. “It will be harder for people who aren’t used to it to eat lutefisk without butter,” Tilden says.

So if that removes lutefisk from your Norwegian Christmas diet, maybe there is a silver lining to this shortage of creamed gold.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533