Nordic artisans from pastoralism to the hedonistic period

artisan provisions

The role of the artisan in food production is often considered primordial, feudal, existing on a plane of time both bucolic and fleeting into the vanishing past of absolute time. The real history of artisans and food in northern Europe, however, is welded to the power of some culturally complex and little-known societies, the best of known of which is the Vikings.

The first peoples of northern Europe were migrant hunters. These were tiny tribes that followed the migratory patterns of large mammals. As a tactic of survival, food consumption was always possible because these tiny groups lingered near the great masses of flesh that grazed on the tundra grasses.

With the domestication of bovines, sheep, horses, and dogs, pastoralism took the place of migratory hunting. The pastoral societies could support a slightly larger population than the migrant hunter groups could, and this excess was prudently specialized into two classes of citizen: warriors and artisans. The first got their keep through the raiding of their wealthier but subordinate southern agricultural neighbors; the latter justified themselves through the production of cheese, yogurt, cultured butter, and textiles. And when the raiders brought home salt and liquor, the artisans made themselves even more useful, producing jerkies of all kinds, and pickling the fish.

The kings of Sweden and Norway are the progeny of the generals of this warrior class. They saw the French employing men who could concoct foods that would please the palate, lengthen life, and bring spiritual empowerment through the incorporation of the various imported foods and spices as the result of the expansion of Islamic trade, so they got chefs of their own, who utilized local ingredients and artisan-produced goods to turn canapés into smörgås.

The first factories in Sweden produced crispbread and candy. The former was an old standard, a preserved milk and grain product that bore the Vikings to the New World, and would now stimulate the growth of urban centers under capitalism; the latter was a development of scientific techniques related to the breakdown of the sugars of the corn brought over from the Columbian exchange. Artisans lost some ground in northern Europe as their wares became less valuable with the flight from villages to cities.

In the hedonistic period, artisan techniques are being re-learned and reworked. At NoMa kitchen in Denmark, there is a lab where chefs combine Japanese preservation techniques with Swedish artisan-produced foods. And the growth of the haute bourgeois means that Michelin-star restaurants receive steady patronage from the global tourism industry.

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