This dessert is Norway’s answer to France’s creme brulee or Italy’s panna cotta. Kalvedans is made from raw milk from cows that have just given birth, from the first, second and part of the third day following the arrival of the baby calves. Technically this is not really milk, but a nutritious secretion from all mammals following birth, before regular milk is produced. This liquid is particularly high in protein (15%) , but low in lactose (milk sugars). It also has a higher content of vitamin A than regular milk. Because the milk- like liquid is so rich in protein, no addition of eggs is necessary because the milk coagulates when heated. Now you might think “ew this doesn’t sound appetizing”, but in the old days, it was important to use every bit of the raw ingredients available. It was vital for the economy, but it also gave people creativity to make exciting (and delicious might I add) products and dishes. Besides, this is where you really can understand the close connection people had to their food! I think it’s great to carry this tradition on.
This raw milk dessert was hence named “kalvedans”, which translates into “calf dance”. Not sure the calves were dancing as much as the humans after having tasted this deliciousness, however it makes for a fancy name! A much richer flavor than any creme brule I’ve ever tasted, it relies on the complexity and freshness of the raw milk rather than the sugary sweetness of the caramelization that creme brule goes through.
My favorite aunt, Gudrun, lived only a stone’s throw away from us in my home town of Sykkylven, and she along with my uncle Nils had a farm with many cows, chickens, horses and other animals. Aunt Gudrun was widely known as the number one cook in town, she cooked everything from scratch and was like a lexicon when it came to old, traditional dishes and how to make them. She was one of the few people I had heard of that regularly made kalvedans, and it was in fact in her house I tasted it for the first time. Later on, my mom learned to make it and she would get the milk from aunt Gudrun. I vividly remember the excitement I felt when I learned that aunt Gudrun’s cows had given birth, as I knew that was synonymous with upcoming kalvedans. There was something magical about this dish, not like any other dessert out there. The flavor cannot be replicated anywhere else, it epitomizes the flavor of a specific place, almost like wine mimics its terroir. I feel so fortunate now thinking back to my childhood, and how I grew up eating foods that originated from around the corner. There were no processed foods (with the exception of the rare product here and there), everything was made from scratch and the animals that so generously produced the foods we enjoyed were respected and honored.
To this day, I regret not spending more time with my aunt on my regular trips to Norway, not only to to learn old techniques from her, but to listen to more of the stories she had from growing up. She died a few years ago at the age of 92, the oldest of five children, and she is dearly missed.
The recipe calls for one third raw milk, and two thirds regular milk. One is to use the first milk from the cow after the calves are born. If the second or the third milk is used, the regular milk portion has to be reduced. Almond extract or cinnamon and a bit of sugar is added to the milk, and the mixture is placed in a hot water bath, where the temperature is carefully watched so that the milk doesn’t boil. The pudding is baked for about 1 hour, and enjoyed with additional cinnamon and milk. Other names for this dessert could be “råmelkspudding”, “kjelost” or “spannost”.
Naturally, raw milk is extremely hard to get a hold of these days, but perhaps you can develop a relationship with your local farmer and ask him or her if it would be possible to get access to some. Technically not legal in the U.S. as all milk has to be pasteurized (the same goes for cheese), I always feel sorry for people who never get the opportunity to discover the true, rich flavors of raw milk products.
I’ve supplied a basic recipe for kalvedans in this post. You can enjoy it either warm right out of the oven or chilled – either way is tasty. Try this for a true taste of rural Norway!
3 cups raw milk, mixed from the 1st and 2nd day
1 cup whole milk
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 300F.
Combine all ingredients and pour into a deep ovenproof, flame proof pan (a loaf pan would work). Fill a deep tray with hot water that reaches half way up the form, place in oven and bake for about 1 hour. Check to see that the pudding is firm before removing from oven. Can be served hot, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Many people serve it chilled topped with a raspberry or strawberry sauce, but in my house we ate it with cinnamon and poured milk over it. Alternatively, if you want to serve it more like a creme caramel, you would pour melted, caramelized sugar over the top before placing it in the oven.