Norway's Christmas Feast Consists Of Eating A Sheep's Head

When you think of the star of the Christmas dinner table, what comes to mind? Depending on where in the country you live, it could be a bronzed, crisp-skinned turkey; your family might use the night as an excuse to shell out for roast beef (or roast beast, if you're the Grinch); maybe the tradition is to spring for a honey-glazed, spiral-sliced ham; and other families might celebrate the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. But one meat you won't usually find on the Christmas table in America is actually treasured in other parts of the world. We're talking lamb.

A lot of people eat lamb on Easter, but mutton and lamb fell out of popularity in the United States after World War II, thanks in part to the fact that a lot of the soldiers were "feasting" on canned mutton while out in the field (via NPR). But though sheep isn't a popular entree choice in the U.S. on Christmas, in other parts of the world it remains a treasured delicacy, especially during the holidays. However, even if you do like lamb and mutton, Norway's traditional Christmas dish smalahove might take some getting used to (via Visit Voss). But if you don't judge a book by its cover, you might discover that this dish is pretty tasty.

What is smalahove?

Forget about the leg of lamb. In some areas of Norway, especially those with a history of sheep farming, they go big or go home at Christmas by serving up a whole sheep's head for dinner. It's called smalahove. The tradition started in the town of Voss, and originally the sheep's heads started being eaten to reduce waste from the slaughtering process (via Visit Norway). These days, there is a business called Smalahovetunet) in Norway making the sheep's heads required for the dish, still in the town of Voss (via Visit Voss). They produce up to 70,000 each year. The heads are salted, smoked, and steamed before being eaten. 

As for its taste? Many people say that smalahove tastes like you would expect mutton to taste. If you don't know what mutton tastes like, think of a richer, gamier lamb or young goat meat (via Chef's Pencil). A lot of people say smalahove tastes just like the dish Pinnekjøtt (via Reddit), another Norwegian holiday food made of smoked, soaked, and steamed lamb ribs (via Scandi Kitchen). Don't fancy eating a whole sheep's head, but are intrigued nonetheless? Apparently, at the restaurant on the sheep farm in Voss where they produce the smalahove, you can order the meat removed from the bone. You'll get all of the traditional smalahove flavor and none of the "sheep staring into my eyes making it hard to take a bite" vibes.