The name rúllupylsa describes a rolled lamb flank product, and it is a traditional way of using the less valuable cuts of lamb or mutton. The flanks especially were used to make a rolled meat that could either be left plain or seasoned with local spices (including yarrow, artic thyme and other herbs). The meat was then salted and/or smoked and then pressed firmly between two wooden boards. The rúllupylsa is then sliced and served on top of bread.
The earliest known mention of rúllupylsa appears in a recipe dating from the late 18th century, probably translated from Danish, which was then printed in a cookbook published in 1800. Rúllupylsa became common in Iceland in the late 19th century and at the very beginning of the 20th century: before that time, the common and traditional use of the flanks was to produce magáll. This precursor of rúllupylsa was not rolled; instead the flanks were cut whole off the lamb or mutton, boiled briefly, salted and pressed under a weight overnight, and then usually smoked but could also be preserved in fermented whey, wind dried or simply salted. When the meat was smoked, a piece of cloth was often sewn around it to prevent it being covered in soot.
Even though rúllupylsa was not very common until the late 19th century, it was well known under many different names. A detailed recipe appeared in the second Icelandic cookbook published in 1858, using the name vöðlubjúga, meaning “rolled sausage.” But rúllupylsa, a more casual translation of the Danish name, rullepølse, became the common name. Since the beginning of the 20th century, rúllupylsa has largely replaced magáll in traditional Icelandic cuisine, though it is still produced as such.
Today, rúllupylsa is made at home by many housewives and a national competition has been organized for the last three years to invite the small producers to keep the tradition. Rúllupylsa is produced throughout Iceland, and semi-artisinal versions can be found in many shops. However, the traditional product is considered at risk of extinction as there has been a decline in number of small-scale producers and farm families producing it compared to the past.
Image: Slow Food i Reykjavik