Panna cotta with sour cream. A dessert where Italy meets Norway. Where Piedmont meets the Norwegian UNESCO-town producing the finest sour cream in Norway.
Panna cotta is one of the most elegant, yet simplest desserts to make. It can be made with little sugar and loves the change of season. In summer it is lovely with berries. In winter it is stellar with blood oranges and pomegranate.
Panna cotta was one of the first desserts I learned to make. Not strange considering how easy it is. The simplicity reveals itself in its name. Panna cotta translates into boiled cream. You boil cream and add gelatine. I wanted to make a Nordic version with an ingredient I associate with Norway, sour cream.
Sour cream is used in multiple ways in the Norwegian kitchen. As a doll-up with fried mountain trout. In a creamy reindeer stew. In sour cream porridge. My mother even munched bread with sour cream and sugar. I had never tried panna cotta with sour cream before. What would it be like?
Røros meets Piedmont
Panna cotta originates from the region of Piedmont in Northwestern Italy. Piedmont, meaning ”foot of the mountain”, is situated at the foot of the Alps. This is not the Italy of lemons and olives, but a place where truffles, rice, polenta and milk products are important. Thus it does makes sense when I pair the silky panna cotta with sour cream from the mountain town of Røros.
Røros Mining Town is one of six World Heritage Sites in Norway togehter with the likes of the Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord. The small mountainous town in the Middle of Norway is rich in both history and food culture, showing how food and culture are bound together. Stepping into Røros is like stepping back in time. The town with a population of 5500 contains about 2000 wooden one- and two-storey houses dating back to the 18th and 19th century, many still with their blackened wooden façades.
A piece of Alaskan heartland
Røros, set 600 meters above sea leve, is blistering cold, resembling a piece of Alaskan heartland. While winter in coastal Norway is mostly gentle, the inner parts is a place of fierce temperatures and contrasts. Hot in summer, cold in winter. The coldest temperature measured was minus 50 degrees on January 13 in 1914, making Røros one of the coldest places in Norway.
Røros conjures an image of people horse sledding wearing thick fur and even thicker dialects. This is exactly so, at least during two of the most festive events, the winter market and the trail sled dog race, The Femund race (Femundsløpet). The annual Femund race is the Iditarod of Norway, though ”only” 600 kilometer long. In 2015 the race named after one of the national parks adjoining Røros, the Femund National Park, saw a total of 180 dog teams making their departure from the main street running off into the wild. And wild it is. Røros is neighboured by two National Parks.
In February the sled dogs are replaced by sled horses. Rørosmartnan is a yearly winter market in February instigated by Royal decree in 1853 and arranged ever since. The most interesting aspect of the fair is the horse-drawn sleighs coming from nearby Sweden and other regions of Norway to keep alive the tradition where goods had to be transported by horse and coachman. Another highlight of the market is the local food.
Local milk in winterwonderhistorical land
Røros has a gastronomical heart in the midst of its winterwonderhistorical land. In a country where the price tag is too often the leading star to many consumers, the concept of terroir has a river to run. In Røros, however, the concept of terroir, how food is differentiated and highlighted by its geography, climate and geology, is ingrained in the culture. Thus the small town musters a trade community called Rørosmat (Røros food) of 21 food producers, many among the finest in Norway. One of these, Rørosmeieriet, is the only fully organic dairy producer in Norway.
Rørosmeieriet started as a tiny dairy in 2000 with only four employees. From the onset their focus was on organic produce and local traditions, best exemplified by tettemjølk, a thick jelly like milk thickened by a plant called tette. The effort led to the first Norwegian product to be awarded the status of protected geographical indication.
I ask Gunhild Sun Bellsli, marketing director at Rørosmeieriet, why the Røros region is such a gastronomical powerhouse. She explains: ”This is a region with a strong identity where food is culture and culture is identity. We are proud of our culture here and to the fact that we live in a World Heritage Site.” She also points out how the tradition of mountain grazing is still intact. So their sour cream is partly made the way it was by the old milkmaids. Low pasteurized, non-homogenized and slow-fermented resulting in a sour cream with a higher content of fat and with a slightly sweeter flavour.
My nordic panna cotta with sour cream turned out much creamier than I could have imagined. It had to be paired with the sweetest seasonal winter fruit, blood oranges from Siciliy. In the recipe below, I have slightly amended the recipe so you can use ordinary sour cream.
Panna cotta with sour cream and blood oranges (makes 4)
180 ml heavy cream
½ vanilla pod
30 g sugar
2,5 leaf gelatin
250 g sour cream
3 blood oranges
25 g sugar
a squeeze of lime
½ vanilla pod
½ tsp maizena + 2 tbsp water
1. Split the vanilla pod lengthwise, divide into two and scrape out the seeds. Soak the gelatin in cold water for 5 minutes.
2. Bring to boil the heavy cream, sugar and half the vanilla seeds and pod.
3. Remove the pan from the heat. Squeeze the water out of the gelatin and add to the pan. Stir with a whisk and make sure it is dissolved.
4. Allow to cool in cold water for 5 minutes. When cool, add the sour cream and mix well.
5. Pour into small créme brûlée molds and leave overnight in the fridge (or a minimum of three hours).
6. Segment the oranges and leave the juice in a small pan. Place the segments in another bowl. This post explains in pictures how to segment an orange.
7. Divide the pomegranate into two and place the cut side down in the bowl with the segments. With the backside of a heavy knife, beat the pomegranate to loosen the seeds.
8. Boil the orange juice, sugar, lime juice and the rest of the vanilla pod for 5 minutes.
9. Stir the maizena into the water and stir into to the juice while boiling.
10. When the orange sauce is cold, add the segments and pomegranate seeds.
Loosen the panna cotta from the molds. This can be difficult, so maybe you have to use a knife to carefully loosen it. Serve with the blood orange sauce.