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Reindeer meat has always been the most important food for the Sámi people, an ethnic group native to Northern Europe. They live in the Sápmi region, an arc of land spreading across the north of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia.

Reindeer meat cooked on an open fire
A reindeer grazing in the Sápmi region
A member of the Sápmi community

The Sámi have their own language and culture, profoundly influenced by the extreme conditions in which they live. 

Sápmi girls in traditional clothes
Reindeer during the winter season

Their winter lasts more than six months, and temperatures frequently fall to -30°C.

The fleeting Arctic summer is barely long enough for them to collect enough berries, wild herbs and lichen to set aside for the winter. Their main source of food is the huge herds of reindeer that migrate across the polar circle every year.

Out of the 35,000 Swedish Sámi, around 3,000 are reindeer herders, a vocation limited by law to ethnic Sámi. The semi-wild reindeer spend the winter grazing in the forests and move to higher altitudes during the spring and summer. The Sámi are no longer nomadic—and some innovations such as helicopters and snowmobiles have radically changed the way they herd—but many Sámi still follow their herds during the annual migration from the forests to the mountains.

Reindeer during transhumance

Much of their traditional food was designed to keep for long periods, so that it could be taken on the nomads’ long journeys. One of the most important preparations is Suovas, a lean fillet of reindeer meat, salted and smoked for eight hours.

During their journeys, the Sámi eat Suovas with a typical unleavened bread, heated on the stones around the campfire.

The typical bread that accompanies suovas

This Presidium wants to safeguard the production of traditional Suovas, aged and made only from a tender cut from the inner loin (coarbealli). The reindeer who provide the meat are never given antibiotics or man-made feeds, and find all their food themselves in the Sápmi meadows.

A suovas producer
A traditional smoking hut, where suovas is prepared

The reindeer meat is smoked directly over a fire made in a traditional peaked hut.

Flavorful and aromatic but still delicate, reindeer Suovas is eaten in thin slices, accompanied by pickled wild mushrooms and lingonberries. It can be eaten raw and aged, or grilled.

Suovas with lingonberries

What is a Slow Food Presidia?

The Slow Food Presidia are projects sustaining quality production at risk of extinction, protecting unique regions and ecosystems, recovering traditional processing methods, safeguarding native breeds and local plant varieties.

Check out our website: http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/presidia

Credits: Story

Photos — Archivio Slow Food
Photos — Ol-Johàn Sikku

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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