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

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.
In a cold country like Norway, warm clothing is essential. This is a refined and old version of a woollen sweater from the district of Setesdal.
The Heddal stave church - stavkirke - is Norway's largest remaining building of its kind. It is a woodwork masterpiece, with a history that stretches back more than 800 years.
Bergen is Norway's second-largest city and one of the country's oldest urban locations. The first post-viking king, Olav Kyrre, gave it market-town-status around AD 1070.
After the end of World War 2, the Norwegians all took part in lifting their country well and truly into the 20th century.
Kløvhest is a Norwegian noun that means packhorse. Well into our own time, the Norwegians used horses to help transport goods through a challenging landscape.
Queen Maud of Norway was born in London in 1869, as Princess Maud of Wales. Her grandmother was none other than the formidable Queen Victoria.
The spinning wheel was a lifelong companion for most women in the old Norwegian farming society. Enjoy this video-collection of wonderful vintage photographs.
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.
Carl Fredrik Sundt-Hansen created this fascinating oil painting in 1904. It is like a window leading into the house of history. If only we could climb through.
Some of the beautiful Norwegian wooden stave churches are almost 1000 years old. Today, there are 28 of them left.
In this selection of beautiful hand-coloured lantern slides from around 1900, we visit the city of Bergen - and other west coast destinations. Enjoy!
Oslo is the capital city of Norway. It was founded in AD 1048 by the Viking king Harald Hardråde. Historically, the city is also known as Christiania or Kristiania.
A kjenge is a drinking bowl used in the old Norwegian farming society – usually with two handles - carved and hollowed out from one piece of wood.
There are many types of cheese slicers, but Norwegian furniture maker Thor Bjørklund invented the Norwegian version in 1925.
In Norway, the first traces of iron date back to 400-300 BC. The country has significant iron resources, and making tools and weapons from this new metal was a significant step forward.
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.
The horse settled in the Scandinavian landscape after the last ice age. Let us meet this majestic animal - and follow in its footsteps.
Skibladner is one of the world's oldest paddle steamers still in regular service. She was launched in 1856, and sails on Norway's largest lake, Mjøsa.
In 1935, Aslaug Engnæs published a guidance book on how to milk the cow.
At Easter in 1906, renowned Norwegian photographer Anders Beer Wilse took this series of photos on a trip with a group of friends.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history