I'll be honest, the Faroes had never featured on my bucket list. I'd usually thought of them – if I had thought of them at all – as kind of poor man's Iceland. Actually, you can probably visit Iceland for less money, so where did that leave the Faroes? In the middle of the North Atlantic, that's where.
How wrong I was. On a visit just before Christmas, I met some really amazing people, tasted some utterly fascinating and unusual food and took in some of the most remarkable scenery I have ever seen.
Nervous about helicopters? Me? That's sheer excitment you can see there, that is.
I also ate a lot of dried, fermented lamb.
Served three ways. Pretty delicious, complex flavours. Strong, but great in small doses and wonderful with sherry, as I discovered.
Here is how it is made: no salt, which is how they do it in Norway. Apparently, the climate is so perfect for air drying that no salt is needed. The Danish dairy, Arla, has recently started a project to age cheese up here. I tasted some: bitter, but again, complex and interesting. Definite potential.
This is the hillside where the sheep roam, taking on a unique flavour from the indigenous grasses and the ozone.rich air. This entire island is inhabited by just one family, with two kids who are schooled in a specially-built shool house – the small hut top left. The teacher flies in by helicopter and stays for four nights a week in the school house. If the weather's bad – which it usually is – they take lessons via Skype.
The view from my room at the Hotel Foroyar in the capital, Torshavn. It's the best hotel on the islands, and actually one of the best in the Nordic region. Properly world class.
And it has a world class restaurant, too, called Koks. I was there to interview the chef, Leif Sørensen, who returned to his homeland a few years back after running a Michelin starred restaurant in Copenhagen. In the spirit of the New Nordic manefesto (to which he was a signatory), he wanted to explore the produce of the Faroes and develop a new Faroese cuisine. Sørensen has cooperated on a gorgeous new book, also called Koks (with text in English), all about his food and the produce of the Faroes, by Danish author Bent Christensen and photographer Claes Bech-Poulsen.
I was invited to a gala dinner to celebrate the launch of the book. First up were some dried shrimp. Intensely shrimpy.
On this cod spine were served various crispy snacks, which were snapped up so fast I didn't grab a photo.
Langoustine tails. Fat, juicy, phenomenal.
We went out – in very choppy seas, I have to say, not that this bothered me, oh no – to try and catch some ourselves the next day.
This is Michelin-starred Copenhagen chef, Jacob Mieckle, 'preparing' them (ie ripping their heads off) for us to eat raw. Words can not begin to describe how sweet and tender they were. Is it wrong that I sucked their brains out too? I don't think so. It's what they would have wanted.
So, in summary: the Faroese might not be world class cartographers…
But I have never visited a place less likely to induce this upon arrival: