Taking a Danish Vacation

My Session 3 course at DIS is a bit unique. Instead of a one weeklong Study Tour, we have two weekend long study tours. This past weekend, I went to Samsø for my course’s first study tour. Samsø is a Danish Island located 15 kilometers north off the Jutland Peninsula. We went there to study how the “terroir” (or environmental conditions – in this case, the island geography) and culture influenced food production and taste. Given that the island is primarily farmland and is responsible for nearly all the local produce found in Danish supermarkets, it plays a vital role in shaping Denmark’s culinary culture. 

The main town of the Island
The Island’s countryside
The Island’s beautiful coast

On our first day, we visited the Energi Akademiet (Energy Academy), which is the foundation responsible for spearheading the green energy movement in Samsø. All the energy used on the island is renewable – they use exclusively wind and solar to supply their power needs. In fact, they produce so much energy that they export about a third of it to the main island of Denmark. At our visit to the Energi Akademiet, we met Jesper Roug Kristensen who explained how Samsø transitioned to 100% green energy. He gave us an interactive demo, explaining how different heating plants and wind turbines were strategically placed to ensure maximal efficiency and minimal harm. What surprised me most was that they were able to produce enough energy to power the island with only 34 wind turbines (11 on land and 23 on the water). Kristensen also emphasized the community aspect, and that many people on Samsø, especially farmers who were the first supporters of the green initiative, are very environmentally conscientious. 

Interactive demo placing wind mills and heating plants

It should come as no surprise then that farmers on Samsø put a lot of thought into their farms. After visiting the Energi Akademiet, we met Hester Callaghan, who owns Yduns Have, a small, completely organic farm. Her farm utilizes no chemicals (such as pesticides, insecticide, fungicide, chemical fertilizers, etc.) and crops are grown as closely to nature as possible. We toured the different parts of Yduns Have and tried various crops straight from the farm. I got to eat a carrot that I pulled straight from the ground (felt like Bugs Bunny)! I learned that the decision Hester (and many Samsø farmers like her) made toward keeping her farm small and free of chemicals affects not only the quality, but the taste as well. 

A carrot fresh from the ground

This was best demonstrated when I had a traditional Samsø meal at a local brewery: Samsø Bryghus Café og Butik (Samsø Brewery Café and Shop). The original meal is pork sausage, potatoes, cabbage, bread, and butter, however since I can’t eat pork, the sausage was replaced with eggs and lentils. My meal was absolutely delicious! The cabbage had an earthy crunch reflective of its locality. The bread was a warm sourdough and  the butter was soft and easy to spread – together, they were scrumptious. And then of course there are the potatoes, the crown jewel of Samsø. The island soil and wind (i.e. the terroir) provides a perfect composition ideal for extremely flavorful potatoes – the potatoes I had were simply boiled and seasoned lightly (salt used when boiling, and local herbs used for garnish), yet there were amazingly soft and filling. In addition to the meal, we got to sample three home-brew beers made with the local crops. The three beers were very distinct in taste, complementing the meal and atmosphere well. 

My traditional meal of lentils, eggs, potatoes, and cabbage
Three home-brew beers

To wrap up the trip, we visit Jørgen Tranberg’s estate. He was one of the earliest adopters of renewable energy on his farm. He explained how the model of sustainability used for energy applies to agriculture. By keeping the energy clean and friendly to the environment, it protects the soil quality and enhances the terroir. Coupled with organic farming, it creates a unique biodiversity and gives the vegetables grown a distinct, fresh taste. Tranberg gave us a tour of his farm and let us climb up one of his wind turbines. To go up, you have to use ladders inside; once I was at the top, he opened the rotor area, letting me see Samsø from above. He even rotated the wind turbine several times to give us multiple views. Cool fact: Samsø is very flat and doesn’t have any tall buildings or mountains, meaning that I was at one of the highest points on the island when I was atop the turbine! 

The wind mill from below. It’s roughly 50 meters in height.
The climb to the top
The wind turbine’s internal motor
The view from above
Selfie atop the wind turbine

Besides touring different farms and learning about agricultural and energy sustainability, our class also did some touristy things. We stayed at Feriecenter Hostel, which is a camping ground and mini-resort. I got to bike a BMX course, lounge by the pool, jump on a huge trampoline, and play (and win) a giant game of Chess. On the first night, we had a small bonfire social and made snobrøds and s’mores. Our class also visited the Samsø Labyrinten, which is deemed the largest maze by the Guinness World Records. I will spoil the surprise and say that I got pretty lost – my group unfortunately could not make it to the center, but at least we all got out safe! Samsø is very much a vacation spot for local Danes, with many of the homes serving as vacation houses. In this sense, my study tour doubled as my first Danish style vacation! 

Trying Organic Currant Ice Cream near the pool

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