Welcome to our online exhibition about the past, the present and the future of Atlantic Cod.
Seat comfortably, relax and take your time to dive into the journey to the Arctic Cod, from the North of Norway to Portugal and Italy to tell the story of how this incredible fish connects the world.
We hope you will find new insights, interesting provocations, songs and the voices of people who fish, process and eat the cod
Atlantic cod is a vital ingredient of many national food cultures. It has been traded in Europe since the Middle Ages.
The first begins its journey in the Barent Sea, from where it migrates to the coasts of Lofoten, looking for the perfect environment to spawn. It is from here, once it is fished and processed that cod begins its multiple journeys across the world – in form of stockfish (air-dried cod), clipfish (dried and salted), or fresh fish (chilled or frozen). Then the Norwegian skrei is shipped to Italy, Portugal, Spain, China, Nigeria, Greece and America among others.
This section shows how Atlantic Cod is a connecting agent between places, communities and cultures.
” Cod travelling the world “
” Looking back, cod has always been an international foodstuff “
The origin of the European stockfish trade can be localised in Lofoten. From here the stockfish travelled the world and became an important foodstuff for many countries.
There are reasons to believe that men have harvested the rich waters around Lofoten as long these islands have been inhabited.
The archaeologists found traces of a settlement in Vágar (in Lofoten), that from the end of the 12th century it was developed around trade. From this period the production of stockfish exceeded the population’s needs and the dried cod became a commodity. The commercial trade with stockfish had started. Because of this trade, Vágar was the first urban centre in the north of Norway.
Ships with merchants came from the south to Lofoten to trade stockfish for grain, wine and luxury goods. In the excavations of the medieval town of Vágar, there were found ceramics from many European countries, seals from fine quality fabrics, and other remains from the trade.
The Norwegian trade with stockfish became reliant on Bergen as a staple port and the export of the fish. This reason is what brought to the growth of this city. During the 13th century, the trade assumed much bigger proportions, cementing the close cultural and economic relationships between Northern Norway and urban Europe. For centuries, and up to modern times, stockfish actually was the most important Norwegian export item.
The stockfish was distributed to Northwestern Europe, England and the Baltic Sea area. It became an attractive foodstuff in Catholic Europe due to the stringent dietary restrictions during Lent.
The Black Death, the devastating plague of the mid-14th century, also reached the Norwegian coast and ports. The plague led to a decline for the North Norwegian town Vágar who lost its position as an important trade centre. The settlement was then reduced to a small fishing village. The fishing village remained for over 500 years, and today the site had been transformed into a museum.
The Venetian merchant Pietro Querini became an Italian legendary name as it is considered the first person who introduced stockfish to Italy. Read more about his journey.
In the spring of 1431, the Italian merchant Pietro Querini (from Venice) was on his way from the Mediterranean to Flanders. His ship and crew of 67 were equipped for a peaceful trading expedition, but instead, they met the roaring powers and drama at sea. In a terrible storm, they lost their ship to the black depths and drifted for weeks in open lifeboats. Finally one of the boats with 29 remaining survivors made land in Røst, the outermost of the Lofoten Islands in the North of Norway.
It was in January 1432. Here the inhabitants of the island came to their rescue. After four cold winter months on the little island, Querini and the remaining 10 of his men had a safe return to Italy in May 1432. Back home he made a written account for his journey. Querinis account is an historic document of great value to Norwegians. It is the first one to describe everyday life, not only in Røst, but also for the rest of North Norway.
The conditions on Røst was totally different from the noble life Querini was used to. But the Italians were very thankful and appreciated the simple way of life and the simple food. The Italians also hailed the abilities and piety of the people of Røst. When Querini left the island he brought with him stockfish as provisions for the journey. He wrote: «…he presented me, as being superior in rank to others, with sixty stockfish dried in the wind, and three large loaves of rye bread…». Because of this we might say that Querini was the first Italian stockfish importer.
The fantastic story of Querini lived on in the oral traditions for centuries. In 1932, after 500 years, a stone momument was raised on the shores of Røst. The old ties connecting Røst to Italy have been very important through out the history. And it is all about the stockfish. Italy is by far the largest importer of stockfish from Norway, and a large share of it is produced in Røst.
The Pomor trade was the trade carried out between the White Sea area in Russia and Northern Norway for 150 years. Read more about the history of trade.
The Pomor trade began as a barter trade between people in the area, trading grain products from Russia with fish. Over time it developed into a regular trade with money. The Pomors were skilled traders and sailors and came sailing to settlements and places of trade along the coast of North Norway.
The fish landed in July and August was difficult to conserve because of summer temperatures and there were no market southwards for the fish. The Russians recognized this opportunity and sailed west. They bought stockfish or salt fish, or they salted fresh fish themselves in the cargo hold of their vessels. It was cod and pollock, but also halibut and haddock. The fish was then shipped to Archangelsk and other harbours along the White Sea. Fish was in demand in Russia due to the Russian Church’s frequent fasting days.
In addition to the main trade with rye and wheat flour, the Pomors carried other food, such as oatmeal, salt, peas, meat and dairy products. Other useful merchandise was also carried, such as iron, timber, tar, birch bark, candles, cooking pots, hemp, rope and canvas. They also brought some luxury items such as candy, soap, porcelain and wood carving.
The trade also led to other relations, personal acquaintances and cultural exchange. Between Norwegians and Russians, a special pidgin language developed.
The trade between the Pomors and the northern Norwegian population was considerable, especially during periods of war, and years with supply problems from the south. In the 19th century, when the Russian trade was at its greatest extent, more than 300 Pomor ships came annually to the northernmost regions of Norway.
In 1900, Russia was Norway’s fourth most important trade partner, and it was still rye flour that was the main commodity. After 1910, less flour was traded, the Russians paid for the fish with money instead. After the Russian revolution in 1917, the Pomor trade was ceased. This had negative effects on the economy in North Norway, and especially for the settlements along the coast. The fishermen no longer had a possibility to sell their summer catch.
It is still unclear when to set the beginning of cod fishing by the Portuguese. Learn more about what we know and how codfish became the national foodstuff of Portugal.
It is known that by the earlies 1500´s Portugal already discovered most of the Northwest Atlantic through the expeditions of the explorers João Álvares Fagundes, João Fernandes Lavrador and the Corte-Real brothers. Until the second half of the 16th century, the Crown did not show a clear interest in these newly discovered lands, and the attempt to colonise Newfoundland failed (was later colonised by France and England). From there on, the State took an interest in the cod fishing and trade and Portugal became the first of the many main states to send fleets to Newfoundland and Labrador to fish cod, an activity that Portuguese affectionately call the “great fishery”. The ships were mainly from Aveiro, Viana do Castelo and Porto.
By 1578, just before we lost independence to Spain, there were more Portuguese fishing in the banks than Spanish, English and French. However, due to the damage caused by the English and French corsairs, the silting up of the ports of Aveiro and Viana do Castelo, and a certain negligence of the State, who seemed more interested in the trade of the Indies and the sugar of Brazil, amongst other events of political and economic essence, led to the suspension of fishing by the Portuguese ships until the 19th century. Cod fishing was relaunched in 1835 at the initiative of the Lisbon Mercantile Association using English crews and ships with a new fishing technique that included the use of one-man dories with longline and lead Portugal to return in 1866 to the Newfoundland banks.
During the 20th century, the cod industries went through three different and important stages. The first was the State reorganisation of supply and production, in which after the 1933 Constitution, Salazar’s regime focused on the reorganisation of the cod fishing industry, presenting it to the people as the emblem of the national resurgence. The second was the apogee of the ’50s and ’60s, based on State credit and other protective measures provided by corporative organisations, in which the State gives credits and subsidies to shipowners, to expand and modernise their fleet. The third was the decline of the fishing industry, during the last quarter of the century, associated with the dismantling of the fisheries oligarchy in 1974 and the changes to the Law of the Sea which created new property rights and put the traditional fishing zones under Canada’s jurisdiction.
Marion Fjelde Larsen from the Lofotr Viking Museum talks about the stockfish in the Viking Age
” Importing stockfish is a family tradition “
Once fished, Atlantic Cod becomes an intangible cultural heritage because it plays an essential role in the production of national, regional and local identities.
In Norway, Italy and Portugal, Arctic Cod is ingrained in the everyday life of communities, through rituals, traditions, gastronomic offers and other creative processes.
This section transforms the concept of regional cultural identities into a more fluid and more inclusive concept, where the regional and national identities are put into a conversation, to compare and identify similarities and to learn from each other’s cultural practices.
” Atlantic cod shapes identities in many region of the world “
Dried cod is a matter that Portuguese take very seriously and it is a unique national passion that has no similar examples in the history of Gastronomy.
The Portuguese like codfish cooked, raw, boiled, fried, charcoal-grilled or baked in the oven. It has to be dried and salted, though. They use everything from the cod: head, cheeks, tongues, gut, maw, roe, liver. It is all good and they would not exchange it for no other fish, although the Portuguese coast is rich with very tasty and abundant fishes and shellfish.
The Portuguese is now one the world biggest consumers of cod and have a true and lasting relationship with it, however, the cod isn’t fished in Portuguese waters and the Portuguese didn’t discover it. The discovery belongs to the Vikings, who firstly dried the cod in the open air after finding that this operation did not diminish the quality of the product. The dried cod, also, had other advantages: it did not rot, it occupied less space and could be eaten in pieces during the long voyages. Around 1000 AD, the Basques began not only to consume it but to trade it, cured, dried and salted. Since then, in the Middle Ages, dried cod became famous as durable foodstuff, with a better taste than other salted fishes. It became the food of the poor folk up until the Second World War. For this reason, the Portuguese, call it the “true friend”.
The Catholic Church gave great help to the popularity of dried cod in Portugal: on fasting days – Fridays, the 40 days of Lent and many other days of the Catholic calendar – “hot” foods such as meat was forbidden, and only “cold” food such as fish were allowed. The meat was off the menu during almost half of the days of the year, and fasting days came to be days in which dried salted cod was eaten. During Salazar’s authoritarian regime Estado Novo, the cod was turned into a symbol of the regime, but luckily this attempt was overcome, and the Cod is not remembered for those days.
Still today, cod is an important element in the Portuguese gastronomy, proof of it is that we are one the biggest consumers in the world, eating it even on Christmas Eve, one of the most important days in the Catholic Calendar.
The Veneto region and Venice have a long history and connection with the Atlantic cod, which began at the end of the 15th century, initiated by the Venetian merchant Pietro Querini.
After suffering shipwreck on 1431 in the North Sea, Pietro Querini found himself and some of his crew stranded on the coasts of the Lofoten Islands. The accounts of his journey describe the drying of codfish in Røst Island, and it is assumed that he brought back stockfish to Italy, which might have been the start of the stockfish trade from Norway to Venice. Trade with the Venetian markets and an increase in consumption began in the 16th century, mainly following a demand of the large Venetian Jewish community, which used to cook the “baccalà”, “stoccafisso” “oro bianco (white gold)” days in advance to be eaten on Saturdays when cooking and lighting fires was forbidden due to religious reasons. Many of today’s recipes derived from the Jewish culinary traditions of the Venetian Ghetto and from the indications given by the Council of Trent (1454-1563) on how to eat lean following the Christian Calendar. Since then, the baccalà prepared in various different ways became a recognised regional dish and a symbol of the Veneto region. The baccalà, among other dishes, as Ulderico Bernardi points out, since the 16th century became one of the symbols of a particular food identity called “Mediterranean diet”, which does not refer only to the geographical area around the Mediterranean sea, but it is more concerned with the geographical history of communication, trading, travelling and multiculturalism from the East and other countries of selected foodstuff, a past which highly characterised Venice and the Venetians. In these terms, the codfish represents certain social behaviours and economic practices of the Venetian community.
Skrei has also been part of Greek cuisine and food culture for centuries, present in many local and regional recipes. It is the main ingredient in soups, served fried or prepared in the oven with tomatoes.
Salted codfish has become a Greek national dish called bakaliaros skordalia. Bakaliaros is the Greek name for cod and skordalia is the name of the garlic dip that accompanies the fish.
It is consumed in most households on the 25th of March, a big national holiday in Greece. On this day, Greeks celebrate the beginning of the Greek war of independence against the Ottoman empire in 1821, but also the annunciation to the Virgin Mary. This day is within the 40-day period of strict fasting before Easter, when Greeks are invited to abstain from all animal flesh. But given the celebratory character of the holiday, the 25th of March became one of the few days when Greeks could break fasting and consuming fish was allowed.
But what sort of fish? And how come a fish coming from a foreign land became a Greek national dish?
The selection of salted codfish was mostly…practical. Back in the day, only those close to the sea had access to fresh fish. Fresh fish in mainland Greece was difficult to find and very expensive. Plus, many households might not have had access to refrigeration. Salted codfish was easy to transport and preserve, and as such, it could be found in small food shops across the country. It was also quite affordable, so accessible to all Greeks. So consuming salted codfish became a tradition, one that most Greeks uphold every year on the 25th of March.
The preparation for the dish begins a few days before, with the salted codfish being soaked in plenty of water to remove most of its salt. On the day it is dipped in a thick batter, made traditionally with flour and some sort of alcohol, ouzo, tsipouro, or beer. It is then fried in plenty of olive oil. It is served with skordalia, a classic Greek garlic dip made with garlic, olive oil and bread or potatoes.
The dish became so popular, that it is now often found in tavernas all around Greece throughout the year. As for salted codfish, it is now widely sold, often appearing in upscale delis that focus on traditional Greek produce, always with the sign “Norwegian cod”, so that no one forgets its long journey to Greece.
Written by Dr Nafiska Papacharalampous for SKREI Convention
Atlantic cod is ingrained in Norwegian coastal history, it’s economy and culture, someone says it is cod that made Norway and its identity.
The fish grows up in the Barents Sea between Norway and Russia and migrates to the Vestfjord in Lofoten where it spawns between February and April every year. People who live here have fished this natural resource for over 10 000 years, and due to the seasonal abundance, the fish was dried.
The Vikings took this dried cod – stockfish – on their journeys for survival. It enabled them to discover new parts of the world and to extend their reign. It might have been the necessity of exchange with other cultures or early expression of trade, this is unknown, but traces of Norwegian Arctic cod can be found in many Viking settlements throughout Europe.
Commercial trade of stockfish started in Vágar, the largest town in Northern Norway in Medieval times. The earliest trading records are from 1100 showing trade between Norway and the UK. The Hanseatic League opened trade from Lofoten to Bergen and to all parts of Europe. Stockfish was an important good for people from Russia to the Mediterranean. By 1700 the Italian market opened fully for stockfish and has continued till today. From 1850s the trade with klippfish started as the Norwegians learned to salt fish from the Dutch. They used this method of preservation, first drying, then salting, to extend the market. This allowed trade with Portugal and other European countries in more recent years.
Without stockfish, Lofoten and Norway would be a different place. It has brought economic wealth and power to a very poor, peripheral country. Because stockfish had such a value it was seen as too good to eat. Even today Arctic cod remains mainly an export good which is little consumed, except for some specific dishes which mark certain seasons or celebrations such as boknafisk, a half-dried cod or lutefisk which is served around Christmas time.
The tradition of hand- beating stockfish is here explored through the secret of the Zoratto family by Alessandro Marzo Magno.
Abstract from the article published in “Il Gazzettino”, 19 December 2019
Christian Zoratto is the owner of a 600-year-old water mill, the only one left to use the mallet to beat the Baccalà (or, as well-known for the rest of the world, the stockfish). The Zoratto mill in Codroipo, in the province of Udine, demonstrates how much tradition and quality combined can give added value. Of course, it takes love, a lot of love, to make wood and stone mechanisms work that every day – we repeat: every day – needs maintenance work (also because they have often been there for at least a hundred years).
The oldest core of the mill dates back to 1450, the part where work is now carried out is from the 19th century, the wheels with metal blades from 1850, built by an Austrian company with hand-beaten plates and joined by nails, there is not even a weld, the gears are made of cast iron wheels with wooden teeth, the stone millstones – five quintals each – in a single block and not of agglomeration, every year they must be dressed (even the words are from the past here: it means restore roughness on the grinding stones). Of course, not all stones are good for grinding everything: every mineral wants its cereal, therefore ferrous granite, green in color, is good for bakery grains, while red granite is used for corn.
The old mallets formerly used to beat hemp (one of the stones is from the 17th century) are now used to beat stockfish: three strokes per second, with a force of three hundred kilos per stroke, a couple of minutes for each fish. The effect of the wood beating on the stone is not to break the cod fibers and causes it to absorb more water in the softening phase and more gravy during cooking. To the touch, the fish is beautifully smooth, while, explains Christian, the stockfish passed between the rollers that you normally buy in shops, is immediately visible because it is wavy.
First-class “Ragno” stockfish is imported from Norway and these are also sold to those who come to pick them up, the vast majority at restaurants that look at the quality of the product. The beating takes place in a special room, separate from the one used to grind the flour .
In the middle flows the Sant’Odorico canal which takes water from the Tagliamento river, near Gemona village, and flows into the Stella river. The wheels that give movement to the machinery are placed there. Christian Zoratto produces 14 different types of flour, using cereals grown especially for his mill, in dedicated fields where farmers do not use pesticides.
Visiting the Zoratto mill is an experience of other times: a road through the fields to the buildings that make up the mill. A courtyard, the arches, and on the ground floor the small store with the machines that turn and grind next to it; on the first floor a large room perfectly restored with beams and a beautiful fireplace on the wall. “Once upon a time the mill,” explains Zoratto, “was the center of the village, they all came because everyone brought their grain to grind, leaving a fraction of flour to the miller. The same happened with cod, here was the force given by the water and the villagers used it. And then the carpenter came and did some repairs, the tinsmith came and welded what was to be welded, the boys and girls came, they knew each other and arranged weddings. Here, our next goal is to return to be an aggregation center”.
Salted and dried cod, bacalhau or clipfish: different names for the same product. But how is it made?
Clipfish is a preservation method where the fish is salted before drying. As with most ancient methods of curing, creating clipfish used to be a simple process. ‘Klippfisk’ literally means ‘rockfish’, a name derived from the traditional process of leaving the cod to dry out on flat rocks by the seaside. Since the 1950´s the production is more complicated and today the fish is dried indoors using modern techniques.
The unsalted stockfish has been produced in Norway for about one thousand years, while the production of clipfish started in the mid-18th century.
There fish must be cut in a specific way; the head and backbone are removed, and the fish is folded out like a triangle. There are different ways that fish can be salted – dry salting, brining or pickling. The fish is usually salted for 3-4 weeks to create its unique flavor.
Once the fish has been salted, it is put onto pallets and left to dry indoors. In Norway they use specially designed drying tunnels in which temperatures are around 20°C.
The length of time it takes for the fish to dry depends on its size and how it was salted, somewhere between 2-7 days. The producer must keep a watchful eye on the fish to make sure that it doesn’t dry out too much, or too quickly. The fish is ready when it has a water content of around 40-50%. It is then stored at a low temperature, between 0-5°C.
The last step before transport to the markets is sorting the clipfish by size and quality – the highest of which is “Superior/Primeira”. The biggest markets for clipfish today are Portugal and Brazil, but the fish is also exported to several other countries.
Clipfish is highly appreciated by chefs all over the world because of its versatility, wonderful texture and distinct taste.
Good quality stockfish demands correct weather and temperatures, and this perfect environment is found in Lofoten.
In Lofoten, nature provides optimum conditions at exactly the same time that the Winter and Spring Cod arrive at the spawning grounds. This has made the region famous for top-grade stockfish all over the world. Good quality stockfish is also produced in other parts of Norway. Traditionally, the drying or “hanging” period in Lofoten is from early March to the middle of April. Later, the temperature in Lofoten is often too high for drying, but one can successfully dry fish in Finnmark in both April and May.
Both flat lofts and drying racks are employed in the drying of fish. Flat lofts demand greater area, while racks exploit height. No documentation exists as to which is best. Therefore, the use of various types of lofts or racks is more a matter of tradition and depends on available space than an expression of a comparative advantage.
Ties of small fish are hung on the thin end of the pole, and the
larger fish are hung on the thick end. The fish is hung well spaced to ensure sufficient airflow. It is also important that the fish does not come into contact with other fish or the boards. This can cause hanging marks that can later lead to a reduction in sales value. An inspection round is therefore carried out immediately after hanging to ensure that the fish is properly separated.
Natural drying is one of the oldest and most used methods for preserving food since ancient times
What is Natural drying?
The process of cod drying consists of some operations needed to extract a large part of the water from the fish tissues, at a level that salting has not yet achieved, thus increasing its conservation. To achieve the fundamental aspect of quick dehydration, the fish is salted in the first place.
Natural drying is, however, a process with enormous dependence on climatic conditions. If it is humid or rainy, evaporation does not occur, and if it gets rain, the product may be affected. On the other hand, if the weather is very hot, above 26/28º C and according to the conditions of humidity and salinity of the cod, changes in muscle mass and skin may occur, making the cod “burned” and unfit for consumption.
The process of drying
In the glorious times of national fishing, when the campaigns lasted from 5 to 6 months, ships arrived at ports with full holds. The catches were taken from the shops to the drying facilities on land. Here they dried the fish and prepared it for public consumption. The operation required a considerable amount of labour, usually women. The codfishes (already salted) were laid on a table, washed and brushed, and being exposed to sun and wind. These tables were simple drying racks made of wire or cord, to facilitate the fish drying through better air circulation.
However, given the conditions of the Portuguese climate, during the warmer seasons, the fish was laid on the racks very early and at 9 or 10 am it was collected and laid again at the end of the day, with cooler temperatures. When cod wasn’t outside drying, it was stacked. The procedure was repeated as many times as necessary to obtain the desired degree of cure. Fresh cod has about 80 to 83% of water and dried it will have about 45%, with a salt content up to 20%.
Artificial drying only appeared in some Portuguese companies in the 1950s, becoming a technique widely used only in the 1970s. The substitution of natural by artificial drying was a difficult and slow process and in 2017 the natural drying was prohibited by European regulations. In 2007, the Portuguese traditional codfish drying process, that existed since the XIV century and that gives the cod a good consistency, a long and intense flavour and a pleasant and pronounced aroma, was certificated as a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TGS) product by the European Commission.
In this section, we want to ask a provocative question: Can Cod Feed the World?
We were curious to understand what comes next for cod as a foodstuff. We decided to initiate a discussion around this topic, and during the SKREI Convention conference in October 2019 in Norway, we invited lawyers, food technologists, historians, anthropologists, businessmen and scientists to share their views. In this section, we want to bring the question to you, opening the space to new ideas.
Guri Hjallen Eriksen, PhD Candidate SALT Lofoten/University of Oslo shares a provocation on the future of Skrei and the fisheries law.
We have come far in establishing international best practices for fisheries governance. The challenge is, however, that we still seem far away from achieving sustainability goals. Why is this so? This is obviously a complex question that needs a broad analysis. I believe that one reason
is that domestic legislation and cultural context for too long have been ignored on the policy agenda. The problem is that domestic legal issues are often seen as technicalities. This can make the implementation of international principles less effective, or in worst cases not working at all, at the national level. There is, however, growing attention to the role of regulator and legislative processes for achieving effective regulation. By this, I mean how to develop regulations that are complied to and can be afforded, how scientific uncertainty should be addressed, and how policy
goals should be balanced to make legislation flexible, predictable and legitimate.
Domestic law is not the only answer, but it can be a valuable instrument for combining and tailoring knowledge from social sciences, biology and economics into legislation that can work.
Is it possible to implement international commitments without a deep understanding, and regard to, local circumstances and domestic legislation?
Dr. Dele Raheem, Senior Researcher at Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland, Finland, shares some reflections on how cod can empower coastal communities
There is an interest to expand aquaculture in the Arctic region to promote food security and food sovereignty. An initiative such as the SKREI convention project is an important avenue to achieve this as it will help to enhance a viable economy and maintain the biodiversity of
aquatic species in the region.
In academic fora, there is a debate on which is most important – food security or food sovereignty? Depending on how definitions are interpreted, food sovereignty seems to be more appropriate for local communities.
Considering the future impacts of climate change on Arctic cod population in a high emission scenario, it will be important to improve preservation techniques of Arctic cod by combining both traditional and scientific knowledge. Creative ideas to add value and promote the use of nutritious foods from Arctic cod will be innovative in feeding the world. In addition,
digitalisation as a tool can be used to enhance the consumer experience, marketing and future export-oriented opportunities for the Arctic cod. An important question for all stakeholders in the future of Arctic cod is:
What important steps can be taken to ensure food sovereignty for the producers of cod in a complex global market?
Nafsika Papacharalampou is an anthropologist and chef from Greece. She shares below some provocative questions on what means living with the cod.
How is skrei part of our human worlds?
How does living with skrei invite us to rethink our relationships with nature
?Is skrei good to eat, think with, and most importantly, live with?