Magáll is a traditional preparation of smoked lamb flank that was originally a way to use the less valuable cuts of lamb or mutton. It would be prepared by boiling and salting the meat before pressing it, then sewing it up in a cloth sack or wrapping it in paper before smoking it. Today it is mostly consumed sliced and served over bread.
Magáll was the traditional way of using the abdominal muscles of the animal before the rúllupylsa (or “rolled lamb flank”) largely replaced it in the mid- to late 19th century with a production method was probably imported from Denmark. The technique of producing magáll seems to have been known at least since the Middle Ages. Magáll was considered to be a delicacy, sliced thinly and eaten on its own or with bread and sometimes pancakes and syrup, much as bacon is nowadays. It was not always smoked; it could also be preserved in fermented whey or wind dried. Old documents refer to magáll as very common all over the country, made by farmers after the autumn slaughtering of sheep at the farm.
Today magáll production is mainly concentrated in the north of Iceland, and only a handful of producers make it commercially in small quantities. There are probably very few farmers who still work the flank into magáll for personal consumption. It was common on the Icelandic table, especially during holidays and festivities, but is now mostly served at the Thorri festivities during the old Norse month of Þorri (middle of January – middle of February), where many kinds of whey-fermented, smoked, dried and salted food are served. In some homes, magáll is also eaten at Christmastime. Magáll can be found for sale year-round in a few specialty shops, mainly in the north of the country, and in larger quantities and at more shops between December and February. This product, which represents a historically Icelandic method of preserving lamb meat, deserves to be saved as a part of Icelandic culture.