The Product: Elusive, Alluring Cloudberries
Since cloudberries are extremely difficult (some say impossible) to cultivate, foraging is really the only option, but even then, finding them is rare. Cloudberries grow almost exclusively in Artic swamps (they are uncommon except in a few areas in the United States), and are found typically around ferns and other plants.
Cloudberry plants are finicky. They can take up to seven years to produce fruit, and only one berry forms per stalk, if they produce fruit at all (some plants never get pollinated). The berries are typically ripe in late summer.
Dahlgren will present at this year's International Chefs Congress about Nordic ingredients and flavors.
Highland gold. Baked appleberry. Hjortron. Snåtterblomma. Or simply, whimsically, cloudberries.
Freshly picked cloudberries look like raspberries, with a similar creamy, juicy texture, but taste more like sour apples or even dry Riesling. And while they’re most often found in jams or preserves, some enterprising cooks and mixologists have used the berries to spice up Canadian aquavit or to make lakka (a Finnish liqueur). The plant’s leaves are used in certain teas and the fruit has even been cited as a cure for scurvy.
“The harvest is very limited these days,” says Jernmark, executive chef at Aquavit in New York City. Although the restaurant used to import cloudberries through a Swedish purveyor years ago, these days it’s very rare to find. “If I can’t get it fresh or flash-frozen it’s not worth it. You can’t grow it. Some years it doesn’t grow. It depends on how wet it has been, etc.”
Cloudberries are more readily available in Sweden, and especially in the north. For fellow Swede Dahlgren, whose culinary approach is to push the most under-appreciated ingredients into the spotlight (such as his ode to the sloe berry), foraging for cloudberries is a time-honored and near-sacred activity. Sweden’s “right of public access” laws essentially allow foragers to walk through any land as long as they do not disturb local residents or drive off-road.
“I believe that people and ideas should travel, but ingredients, fresh ingredients, you should try to use from the spot where you are working,” says Dahlgren, who pairs a cloudberry sorbet with his False Waffle. “Since we work out of local seasonal ingredients, the menu changes out of what nature gives us. And we follow nature.”
Foraging laws in Sweden and Norway are fairly permissive; foragers are allowed to hike through non-fenced in public lands (those who use quads or motorbikes are “frowned upon,” but not really punished), but some region-specific laws allow foraging only if the berries are eaten on site. Those who break these laissez-faire laws can face up to three months in jail.
Cloudberries are even harder to come by in the United States, but shipping them isn’t a problem. “It’s a very good product when flash frozen,” Jernmark says. “You don’t really eat them fresh, more in compotes or jams. They are very tart.” He’s made vinaigrette out of cloudberry juice, used them to cure salmon, and knows of a Swedish producer who uses the berry juice to make sweet wine.
A smattering of U.S. foragers have found the fruit in Washington State, a bit more in New England, a pocket in Scandinavian immigrant-heavy Minnesota, and in Alaska. Some stores, like Ikea, sell cloudberry jam. But even for the convenience of a local Ikea, cloudberries are rare, difficult to find, and delicious.