Eating Well: Denmark - #121

BURT WOLF: Denmark, home for some of the best food in Europe. We'll cook with a few of the country's best chefs, discover the recipe for Denmark's national pea soup, eat in a famous restaurant with a menu that is over four feet long. We'll learn the origin of the open sandwich and find out where Danish pastry really comes from. Join me, Burt Wolf Eating Well in Denmark. (CUT)

Denmark, known as “the little kingdom” is the southernmost of the Scandinavian countries. It's twice as large as the state of Massachusetts and was the home of many of the ancient Vikings. Ruled by a king or a queen for almost a thousand years, Denmark is one of the world's oldest monarchies, with the world's oldest flag. But it's Queen, Margrethe the II is the world's youngest queen. This scenic country is made up of a peninsula and more than five hundred islands that are covered with carefully-attended farms. Hundreds and hundreds of fairy-tale castles and picturesque little villages that have been unchanged for centuries. 

One of the things you notice about the Danes is that their favorite form of transportation is the bicycle, which gives them a built-in form of exercise. And considering how good Danish cooking is, anything that burns up calories is a step in the right direction. Danish cooking is what is is for a number of historical reasons. Denmark is a northern country with a short growing season. Food had to be held through the long winters, so preserving became a matter of survival. Today's there's lots of food all year 'round, but Danes still love the flavor of their preserved foods. Throughout its history, Denmark has been a nation of farmers and sailors, so there's a strong down-home, farm-family approach to much of their cooking. And seafood from the always nearby water is at the center of many recipes. 

Finally, there's a new and growing appreciation of the relationship between what you eat and how you feel and look. They love their own ways, but they're beginning to jazz things up. (MUSIC) Speaking of Jazz, a surprising but delightful fact, that I discovered is that the Danish city of Copenhagen is known as the jazz capital of Europe. A lot of sweet sounds of saxophonist, Jesper Thilo, Denmark's superstar of jazz. The Viking Warriors of music are giving Dixieland a run. 

BURT WOLF: Copenhagen is the jazz center of Europe. How come?

JESPER THILO: There's always been jazz as far back as I can remember, and even further back. And actually during the war there were some secret jazz clubs. You know, the Germans didn't allow jazz music. A secret jazz club, underground jazz clubs, you know. I think the Danes were always into jazz since the first jazz records came from America. Of course, New Orleans and Dixieland music, but also in Copenhagen, there's an interest in modern jazz and we listen to Charlie Parker and things like that. And we had the fortune that many American musicians came over here on concerts, you know during concerts. And some of them stayed here, actually. 

BURT WOLF: Are there certain foods that give you a higher energy? Do you eat before you perform? 

JESPER THILO: I think the dishes I like most are leg of lamb, you know, with the potatoes provencal, and the peppermint sauce, and a little garlic over the...I like that very much, that's a fantastic dish.

BURT WOLF: Do you think at all about the relationship of diet and health?

JESPER THILO: Yes, of course, it's impossible not to think about it, because it's in the papers all the time. And of course in the later years, you think more about it. And if you have a real fat Danish meal, the body is suffering after eating it. And that must be wrong in some way. You're supposed to feel nice. But that's because when the Danish eat, they always eat too much. Always. They can never say “no” to the next dish, the next portion. It's impossible. 

BURT WOLF: Jesper is learning to make a transition from the old heavier style of eating to a healthier lighter menu. But like much of his jazz, it's soft and slow. 

BURT WOLF: Sitting smack in the center of the Danish city of Copenhagen for more than a hundred and forty years is Tivoli. It's an enchanting amusement park. It's the summertime playground of the local residents. It's been presenting outdoor entertainment to four generations of Danes, and there's a constantly- changing parade. It's a place where people of all ages, and of course the kids, take to the rides they always took to. Tivoli also has still and quiet corners, where people can enjoy the peaceful pleasure of strolling through flower-covered gardens. There are hundreds of thousands of flowers. It's the perfect place to watch the people of Copenhagen practicing their favorite between- meal activity, which is eating. Ice cream and homemade waffle cones with fabulous toppings are all over the place. Foot long pieces of black licorice are a favorite. Pale pink clouds of cotton candy float through the streets. And every afternoon Tivoli seems to fill up with older people, who literally eat their way through the garden. The theory seems to be that after sixty-five years of devoted dieting, you can throw away you Weight Watchers card and live it up. 

Denmark is a compact country which makes it great for tourists. You can see a lot of it in a little time. And one of the best ways to see it is to join the rest of the population on a bicycle. It's their national mode of transportation. And fortunately it burns up body fat instead of foreign oil.

This is the Amalienborg Palace Square. It's the royal residence of the present Queen of Demark, Her Majesty, Queen Margrethe the Second. The Danish rulers have had a great deal of influence over how the people of Denmark have eaten. A couple of hundred years ago, King Christian got fed up with everybody overeating, so he passed an eating edict. He got ten courses because he was the king. Everybody else in the world only got six, and the general public, they only got three. Oh, those were the good old days when kings were calorie unconscious. If he had been alive today, he'd know that most of our chronic diseases are one way or another related to excess dietary fat. And he would have flipped the law over and kings would only get one. Excess fat is dangerous -- even if you're a Danish King. 

And there's Christiansborg Palace, one of the most amazing sets of dishes is on exhibit at Christiansborg; it's called the Flora Danica service. Originally, Flora Danica was a set of books illustrating the plants and flowers of Denmark. In 1790 the Danish King, Christian the 7th, ordered a set of dinnerware with paintings of the plants as a present for Catherine the Empress of Russia. It took twelve years to finish making the service and by then, Catherine had died. So King Christian kept it for himself. Good move, because today the set is considered a Danish national treasure. It's hand-made, hand-painted and hand-washed after dinner, which is why the Crown Prince doesn't offer to do the dishes very often.

Today, Flora Danica is also the name of a cheese that has become a national treasure. It's a blue cheese with a rich intense flavor and it makes an interesting salad dressing. Here's the recipe for Flora Danica dressing. First a half cup of cheese is chopped and placed in a bowl. Fresh pepper goes in, a quarter cup of onion, some chopped chives, the juice of half a lemon and a cup of low-fat plain yogurt. Whisk that together and you're ready to serve. Some of the flavors that we love are actually a result of a bacteria working on the food. Cheese is a perfect example; so is buttermilk and yogurt and saurkraut, it's actually a process of controlled aging. I wish I could find a bacteria that would control my aging.

The history of how people have eaten in the past is mostly the story of hunting and gathering, which is a tough way to come up with dinner. The moment we learned to milk animals, things got better. Having a cow is like having a four- legged supermarket right outside your kitchen door. Only problem is you didn't have a refrigerator case, so if you didn't use the milk right way, it spoiled. The system we developed for preserving the nutrients in milk is called cheese; that's a very important system for the countries here in northern Europe. They have a short growing season, cheese is essential to their survival. These countries have become master cheesemakers. The perfect example of what I mean is Denmark. Their dairy industry is as technologically advanced as you can get. The cows are scientifically bred to produce milk that makes great cheese and the cheesemaking facilities are state-of-the-art. They're also very organized in their educational programs. 

This is a cookbook called Caroline's Kitchen. It's published every two years or so by the Danish Dairy Board and it contains recipes for cheese and other dairy products. Actually they publish so many copies of this, that they are able to give one copy to every single household in Denmark. It's actually a cookbook with better distribution than a telephone book, which is an udderly delightful story. (COW MOOS)

Hannah Neilsen was a farmer who pioneered the Danish cheesemaking industry in the 1870's. She traveled from country to country checking on the local techniques. It's pretty unusual for a woman to travel alone during those days, but she went to Switzerland, and England and Holland and France and when she got home she organized the Network Of Dairywomen, and literally revolutionized the cheesemaking industry in this country. She taught over a thousand people her revolutionary techniques. Today the most famous cheese in the United States from Denmark is called Havarti. And it's named after Hannah Neilson's farm which is called Harvadegard. It's over a hundred years since Hannah started making cheese, but her basic technique for Havarti is still in use. The fresh milk is delivered to the ND Cheesemaking facility, which is a cooperative of fourteen thousand dairy farmers. Milk is pasteurized, pumped into large vats, separated into solids called curds and a liquid called whey. The solids are pressed into a rectangular form, soaked in a solution of brine, and wrapped and packaged for shipment to the U.S. This hamburger is already waiting. Hannah Neilson is one of the great people in the history of cheese. Here's to you, Hannah. (COW MOOS)

Now it's time for our next course, a little soup. The Hotel D’Angleterre in Copenhagen opened in 1755. It's a national landmark upholding the country's traditions, especially in the kitchen. Today the chef is making the national soup, yellow split pea. When you're picking out peas in the market, look for ones with bright color. A dull surface usually means they've been in storage too long. Also you don't want any with pinholes or cracks; those are the first signs of decay. And if you can get them so they're pretty much uniform in size that's even better, because they will cook more evenly. One and a half cups of yellow split peas that have been soaked in water overnight are drained into a sauce pan with a quart of fresh water. A little thyme and fresh onion, that cooks for two hours. The soup is then sieved until smooth. Some chopped carrots, leeks and celery are added and cooked for five minutes more and it's ready to serve. Peas are high in fiber, iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, thiamine, niacin and vitamin B6. What else could you ask for? Except, maybe a second portion. 

No wonder Denmark is one of the countries where fairy tales began. Scattered throughout the Danish countryside are some of the most picturesque and untouched villages of Europe. The own of Ebeltoft is a perfect example of what I mean. It has the country's smallest town hall, which was built in 1789 and has remained unauthored. The streets give you a clear idea of what a village looked like in those days. In 1721 a resolution was passed calling for a team of town watchmen to walk through the streets of Ebeltoft checking on the safety of the community and warning the residents of any dangers. Most of their worry was really centered around fire, which was a major problem in those days, and intruders. But recently they've shifted their area of concern. 

MEN: (WHISTLES) Watch out for cholesterol and fat. 

BURT WOLF: Good piece of advice, and I'm not surprised to get it in Ebeltoft, because one of Denmark's leading authorities of nutrition, Ulla Hollund, lives right down the road. Ulla Hollund is one of Denmark's leading authorities on food and good health. She originally started her career as a dentist but quickly learned that the food that goes into the mouth was considerably more interesting and had a greater impact on health than what we used to chew that food. So she became an expert on nutrition. 

BURT WOLF: In the United States, we're very much concerned with food and its relationship to good health. Is that true in Denmark too?

ULLA HOLLUND: A lot of campaigns and information are going on. But I think the result is confusion. And lately a study was made to see just how many organizations are really informing you about your health. And it, they've calculated about eight hundred organizations telling people their single message about health, health, nutrition and exercise and smoking, and everything. And the result is confusion. Of course, they want to profile themselves, all of them. 

BURT WOLF: If you were going to send an unconfused message to the public, what would be the message?

ULLA HOLLUND: Variety. And uh...reduce fat, because that's one of the main problems, it's the fat intake. 

BURT WOLF: When you talk about variety, what do you mean?

ULLA HOLLUND: Well I mean you should eat from all sources. You should eat plenty of grains and cereals and fiber rich food and you should eat vegetables. You should eat less meat than you do and less fat than you do. You see, after the war the problem was malnutrition, because of lack of certain vitamins and minerals. And now we have the opposite problem because we got more money for food and we could afford buying all those things that are bad for our health. Then we bought them, and now we have the problem of abandoning them again. It's always easier to give people things; it's more difficult to take it away.

BURT WOLF: Ulla is definitely an authority of the building blocks of nutrition. But those are not the only building blocks of importance in Denmark. Lego Blocks. The word Lego comes from a Danish word meaning “play well.” They were created by a Danish carpenter named Ole Christianson. And incredible monument to this man's creativity is Lego Land Park in Denmark. Every summer, over a million visitors come here to see an open-air exhibition of Lego models, representing famous places around the world. Mini-land is an incredible miniature version of entire villages. There's the castle of Guttenfels, which in real life sits in Germany on the Rhine River. A detailed reproduction of an Arctic Fishing Village in Norway. The canals and streets of Amsterdam. The bridges go up in order to accommodate the barge traffic. Part of what makes this place so interesting is the fact that there is so much movement within the models and everything is made of Lego blocks. This is the Amelienborg Palace; it's where the Danish royal family lives. Perfect size for them. A little tight for me, in spite of my weight-loss diet. There's a model of the American Wild West, where Chief Playing Eagle teaches children to bake bread over a campfire. To me, one of the most amazing facts about Lego Land is that when it comes to snack foods, they offer fresh fruit, a good building block when it comes to nutrition.

Sir Neville Wilkinson was a British army officer at the beginning of the 20th century. One day his young daughter Gwendolyn came to him and said that she had seen tiny fairies playing in their garden and asked him if he would build a home for the fairies. His response was to build a miniature palace for the Queen of the Fairies and her Prince Consort. Today it's on exhibit at Lego Land in Denmark. More than three thousand miniatures, furnitures, books, sculpture... all hand-made in detail. The whole thing seemed perfect until I suddenly realized that there was no kitchen! A royal dining room, but no kitchen. I checked with the director of the museum who reminded me that fairies only eat nectar, honey and the scent of flowers and you don't need a kitchen for that. How could I have forgotten what fairies eat? Of course I knew that, but you get a little old and your mind just goes. Fairies love honey. They even know how to store it properly. They keep it at room temperature in an air-tight jar. And if it crystallizes, they bring it back to liquid form by putting it in a little warm water. Fairy Godmothers have a honey of a time with honey. They even know that honey has about the same number of calories as sugar, fifty to a tablespoon, so they use it in moderation. Even fairies are interested in food and good health.

With over five hundred islands, miles and miles of shoreline and a history of thousands of years of seafarers and fishermen, it's only natural that fish should be a basic part of the Danish diet. Ferries like this one connect the major islands of Denmark, and the seas they travel through have been important to the country. Fish is a a great source of top-quality protein, vitamins and minerals. Fish are generally low in fat, and even those varieties that are fattier may be quite valuable in terms of great heath. Fattier fish from the sea like salmon, which is a deep-sea fish, contain a type of fat called Omega-3. And that's proven to be helpful in blocking heart disease. The people of Denmark have a traditional relationship with the sea that goes back for thousands of years. One reason is that wherever you are in Denmark, you're never very far from the sea. So it has always been part of their daily lives. And the sea has been good to the Danes, especially the fish. It was the ancient Vikings who lived in this area who perfected the technique for preserving fish. So most of the nutrients in the fish lasted for months at a time. Once they were able to do that, they put the fish on board their Viking boats and made longer voyages than anybody ever made before. As a matter of fact, it was the ancient Viking Leif Erickson who traveled from this part of the world across the North Atlantic to North America. And he did it hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus. He could not have done it, except for his preserved fish. The Danes still make fish a regular part of their diet, and they have some healthful tips. Do everything you can to keep the fish cold from the time you buy it until the time you cook it. When you're preparing to cook the fish, cut away any dark-colored areas of flesh. If the fish has absorbed any of the man-made contaminants of the sea, they will most likely be in the dark flesh. When you're cooking a fish, grill it or broil it; that will let much of the extra fat drip away. And when you do get that fish home, here's a very easy, low-calorie recipe for its preparation. 

Start with a pan of water and add in some pepper, bay leaf and mustard. The fish goes on top, the water is brought to a boil and then simmered for eight minutes. While the fish is cooking, Chef Johnny Neilson makes a cucumber salad that tastes wonderful and it couldn't be easier to make. A cup of white vinegar in a sauce pan, a few mustard seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves, half-cup of brown sugar, half-cup of water, boil for three minutes. Pour it over sliced cucumbers and they're ready to serve. The fish is removed from the pan and served with boiled new potatoes, half a lemon and of course the cucumber salad on the side. Low-fat, great taste. 

The Danes love shellfish. But for many years, we thought shellfish was extremely high in cholesterol, and so people on a heart-healthy diet, tended to avoid shellfish. Well, it appears that that's not the case. The system we were using for measuring cholesterol in shellfish just didn't measure up to the job. It lumped all of the different fats in shellfish under one heading and called it cholesterol and that's not true. There's much less cholesterol than we thought. And the fat that is there may very well be the type of fat that blocks our body's ability to absorb cholesterol in the first place. So shellfish is good stuff.

And now for something sweet. Copenhagen, Denmark's capital is a crown jewel of a city. It's been inhabited in one way or another for over six thousand years. and the present city was founded in 1167. The name Copenhagen actually means “merchant harbor.” If you're talking about merchants who sell things to eat, it's a perfect name. There's a beautiful market in the center of town called Kokkenes Torvehal, which offers the best products of the local farms, as well as great cheeses, meats, fish, homemade pasta and wonderful breads. The Bakers’ Guild, which has been around for hundreds of years, has its own symbol, a pretzel-shaped pastry with a crown on top, that they hang above the door of every bakery. Danish pastry is certainly well-known in the United States, but here in Denmark it's called Viennese Pastry. That's because about a hundred years ago the Danish bakers went on strike. They wanted to get paid money as well as just room and board. The bakers brought in Viennese workers to do the baking. After the strike was over, the people loved the Viennese pastry so much that the Danes began to bake it themselves. The Americans learned about it from the Danes and that's why we call it Danish pastry. But strictly speaking, from a historical point of view, it's more accurate to order a coffee and a Cheese Viennese. 

Smorrebrod is the national sandwich of Denmark. The word means bread and butter, but that's definitely not what you're dealing with. It's a meal in itself and almost everyone in Denmark has it for lunch. Ida Davidsen's restaurant in Copenhagen is the Smorrebrod epicenter of the world. And it is by her work that Smorrebrod are judged throughout the planet. First a piece of bread is given a light coating of butter, then a topping of fish, meat or poultry. A garnish and then you're set, and it's always eaten with a knife and fork. A series of different smorrebrod sandwiches are chosen to make up a meal of three or four courses. You can start with a fish and go on to a poultry or a meat and finish off with a really nice cheese. In the U.S. most Danish cheeses are eaten in chunks. But these days the traditional family of Danish slicing cheeses, called Danskmester are being imported into the States. The menu contains almost two hundred different open sandwiches and is over fifty inches long, which has put it in the Guinness Book of Records as the World's Longest Menu. Folks have come from all over the world to taste Ida’s work and each sandwich has a story.

IDA: This is steak tartar here in the bottom and it's made like an airplane with caviar and smoked salmon as the wings and the egg yolk as the motor. This is called the Union Jack. It's made like the English flag as you can see. And it's shrimp and egg yolk and of course, steak tartar. And this is called the Food Editor's Nightcap. It's with tomatoes, bananas and a summer salad And in the summer salad there's lots of radishes and fresh cucumbers and chives, so on. And this is bacon with potato and Camembert cheese. And this is your favorite, it's fried filet of place with remoulade sauce, shrimp, smoked salmon and caviar and little asparagus with fresh parsley and lemon.

So what's doing with dining in Denmark? Well in spite of their history of a high-fat diet, they're beginning to lower the fat content of their meals. Many nutritional authorities are saying that calories from fat should be about twenty-five percent of your daily calorie intake and not much more. The Danes are also taking advantage of the deep sea fish that surround their country. The fish contain Omega-3 oil, which may help protect against heart disease. They're also increasing their intake of fresh vegetables. And they're bicycling all over the place which is great. By bicycling for this report, I've burned over three thousand calories which I can now trade for a day of Danish... pastry that is. (MUSIC) That's Eating Well in Denmark; please join us next time as we travel around the world, looking for things that taste good and make it easier to eat well. I'm Burt Wolf.