Food history | milk from the domesticated animals | Norway

For thousands of years, milk from the domesticated animals has had a dominant position in the Norwegian diet. People used milk from the cow, the reindeer, the sheep and the goat.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
Milking the cow in 1935. The location is Skudeneshavn, Karmøy, Rogaland, Norway. | Photo: Esther Langberg - digitaltmuseum.no OB.Z17967 - cc by-sa.
Milking the cow in 1935. The location is Skudeneshavn, Karmøy, Rogaland, Norway. | Photo: Esther Langberg - Oslo Museum cc by-sa.

Food preservation

Daily life for the historical Norwegians – living in a climate with long, frosty winters and short summers – was all about thinking ahead and food preservation.

The modern humans think of cheese and butter as delicacies – but they are in fact nothing but methods used for preserving fresh milk for long-time storage.

The responsibility of the women

Throughout history, the women did the milking and looked after most of the domesticated animals.

Only with the industrialisation of agriculture did the men get more involved.

The important summer

During a few and intense summer months, the domestic animals roamed the Norwegian forests and mountains. There they thrived on what Mother Nature had to offer. The summer had to be used to the fullest, to achieve the best possible milk production.

The harsh winters confined the animals to cramped and dark barns and sheds – and they were 100% reliant on the care and food provided by their masters. The milk production during this period of the year was more limited.

Regular as clockwork

The milkmaids of yesteryear took great pride in getting the best yield out of every cow. They perfected the ways of handling the animals, and the methods of preserving the milk for storage.

Twice a day – regular as clockwork – the milkmaid walked to the cowshed to milk her cows. During the winter, only with a small lamp guiding her in the dark.

She made sure that the animals had enough food and water – and clean, warm and calm surroundings.

It starts with a calf being born

Getting milk from the cow builds on a natural process – and begins with a calf being born. The dairy cow usually bears a new calf every year.

Historically, to ensure that both mother and offspring could utilise the summer months to the maximum, most of the Norwegian cows calved in the spring.

The milkmaid separated the calf from its mother after a short period of time. She then continued to milk the cow throughout the year.

At the latest, she gradually stopped milking the cow some eight weeks before it was due to give birth once again. And then the cycle started over.

The cow and the goat

Today, it is the cow that is the main provider of milk to the Norwegian population. In certain regions they still also keep goats. Milking reindeer and sheep is overall a thing of the past.

An untapped resource

After the industrialisation of agriculture, the vast mountain and forest areas of Norway are no longer utilised to its fullest extent as a natural food resource for the domesticated animals.

Maybe one day – if the situation so requires – this significant resource will once again come into play – and be a place for the animals to feed – and feel summer free.


A fjord horse and a young cow on summer pasture. Jotunheimen in 1968. | Photo: Paul A. Røstad - digitaltmuseum.no DEX_PR_000749 - CC BY-SA.

A fjord horse and a young cow on summer pasture. Jotunheimen in 1968. | Photo: Paul A. Røstad – digitaltmuseum.no DEX_PR_000749 – CC BY-SA.

 

Our most recent posts

My Norwegian heritage

Klippfisk - or klipfish - is fish preserved through salting and drying. Since the early 1700s, the Norwegians have been large-scale klippfisk producers and exporters.
Skjemat is a Norwegian noun that means food eaten with a spoon - often before or after the main course at dinner. It could be porridge, soup, dessert, and more.
On 18 November 1905, after a supportive referendum, the Norwegian parliament unanimously elected the Danish Prince Carl as the country’s new king.
When the industrial revolution brought machinery to the Norwegian farms, it didn't just change the old working methods, it also changed the layout and look of the farmland.
With a growing population and public sector, Norway pushed through significant reforms in several areas: public structure and organisation, welfare, health care, tax, policing, public services, and more.
A primstav is an old wooden calendar-stick, marking the days of the year and important events. It splits the year into two equal halves: summer and winter.
In olden Norway, the farm-animals were sent off to the mountains and forests all summer. With them came a herder to guard them, and a maid to turn their milk into cheese and butter.
Skigard is a Norwegian noun that means wooden fence. It is made of split tree trunks, using simple tools. Fence making and mending was a task for early summer.
17 May 1814 is regarded as the birth of the modern-day Norwegian state. But it took almost another hundred years before the Norwegians could declare complete independence.
Some of the beautiful Norwegian wooden stave churches are almost 1000 years old. Today, there are 28 of them left.
The old Norwegian farming society was a self-sufficient and balanced world. Coins and notes were all but an alien concept.
The first Norwegian Buhund breed-standard came in 1926, based on a dog that had evolved, lived, and worked with the Norwegians since time immemorial.
This beautiful oil painting by Johan Christian Dahl says a lot about generations of Norwegians - and the landscape and the skills they knew.
1769 was the year of the first complete Norwegian census. Today, Norway has a population of more than 5 million, in 1769 the number was 723,618.
In this selection of beautiful hand-coloured lantern slides from around 1900, we visit the city of Bergen - and other west coast destinations. Enjoy!
The wild ocean world of Værøy in Lofoten, Norway, was the birthplace of Mimmi Benjaminsen – born in 1894. Here are some of her childhood memories.
After the end of World War 2, the Norwegians all took part in lifting their country well and truly into the 20th century.
The oldest wooden buildings in Norway are almost 1000 years old - like Urnes stave church in Luster. How come these buildings do not rot away and disappear?
With the Bronze age came a new and important phase in human history and development: mankind learned how to make tools and other objects from a metal they called bronze.
With the High middle ages came expansion and progress. But everything was about to change, in the most brutal way imaginable.
In the olden days, people dressed up warmly and got out onto the fjord or lake to catch their Sunday dinner. Enjoy!

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history