The Northern location, light summer nights and clean soil give aromas to Finnish food. A top chef who has worked at Michelin restaurants takes the nearby environment into account in his menus. He often goes to the forest to pick ingredients for the dinner.
Markus Maulavirta trained a few years ago to be a wilderness guide. Two of Maulavirta’s passions are combined in his enterprise offering experiential tours: love for local quality food and nature. He conditions the menus with produce of the forest, such as lichen and wild herbs.
The food is served by the fire deep in the forest. “Forest tourism is constantly growing. We hike with clients in the forest to a hut in the wilderness, warm up the wood sauna, carry the water from the lake and then prepare food on an open fire.”
The menus always consist of some produce of wild nature. Stock made of chaga mushroom is added to mushroom-onion soup. The salmon is flamed and served with lingonberry mayonnaise and ember root vegetables. Everything is spiced with spruce nuts. For dessert, there is bark pancakes with dandelion syrup. Splints and genuine Lappish guksis are used as cutlery.
“Such experiential dining requires special arrangements. If necessary, we carry the benches and tables into the terrain.”
Only about ten million people in the world live north of the 60th parallel. Over a half of them are Finns. Finland is, in fact, the world’s northernmost grain-growing country. Although the season is short, the climate also has advantages for the quality, purity and aromaticity of the ingredients.
“The quality of ultraviolet radiation is good in the north, and there is proportionately more light time in the summer than in Central Europe. Long summer nights and an intensive growing period give a unique aroma to the ingredients.” The cool climate kills vermin and plant diseases effectively, so the use of pesticides is low in Finland, compared to Central and Southern Europe. Winter frosts are a good disinfectant. Because of this, Finnish soil is particularly clean,” Maulavirta notes.
Maulavirta thinks that Finland’s extensive surface area per inhabitant also affects the soil.
“Because there is a lot of unbuilt land in Finland, the soil has remained diverse. Finnish root vegetables and dairy products are of good quality thanks to the soil. Swiss cheese masters knew already in the 19th century the effect of Finnish soil, for example, on the quality of dairy products. Swiss cheese masters who had heard of well-structured milk came to Finland. The casein content of Finnish milk was in a class of its own. The Finnish forest cow, or eastern Finncattle, ate a diverse range of nutrition which gave a good taste to cheeses. Free-range cow’s milk is still prepared. Its taste is due to the cow eating different foods, not only animal feed.”
Maulavirta has experience of over 30 years with wild forest products. He goes to the forest a couple of times a week. Maulavirta organises forest tourism for enterprises and tourists. His Arctic Aihki enterprise organises experiential tours to the forest. Cooking tours have been done in the Sipoonkorpi National Park and in Lapland where Maulavirta runs a wilderness hotel.
“Last I served the guests Cetraria islandica soup, hare casserole with boletus powder and juniper berries. All self-picked or self-made.”
Lichen is the object of Maulavirta’s passion. Because lichen has no roots, it takes all its nutrients from the air and rainwater. It has no protective layer on the surface, so it is constantly exposed to pollutants. The presence of lichen, for example, on the trunk of a tree, is a sign of the purity of the environment.
Maulavirta’s favourite, Cetraria islandica, is one of Finland’s most common lichen. “Cetraria islandica contains a lot of starch, and spirits were made of it in old times. It is a real survival product, but also delicious. It has a strong taste of umami.”
Maulavirta also picks chaga mushroom, a decay fungus that grows on birch trunks. “The aromatic chaga contains plenty of antioxidants. I drink it as morning tea and use as an addition to mushroom soups.”
Arctic Aihki, piloted by Markus Maulavirta, organises tours into the Salla wilderness. At Aihki, nature and peace surround the visitor. Aihki is a unique place to visit and relax in northern nature. In addition to accommodation facilities, Arctic Aihki offers a large sauna with showers, a fireplace room, a dining room, a spacious kitchen and a modern goahti (Sámi teepee) for passing time and cooking. www.arcticaihki.fi
“The cool climate kills vermin and plant diseases effectively, so the use of pesticides is low in Finland, compared to Central and Southern Europe.”
FinRelax-programme, Visit Finland