Gurpi is a type of cured reindeer meat, a specialty of the Sámi, an indigenous nomadic herding people who live in the mountains round Idre in the north of Sweden on the border with Norway, and also in Finland and Russia. The reindeer plays a fundamental role in their lives.
Gurpi is especially interesting because it is made with meat left over from other preparations, in which the Sámi exploit every part of the body save the head. First, any meat left on the bones – on cutlets, for example – is removed and placed in a container. Then small lumps of fat and salt are added, and all the ingredients are mixed together. The mixture is then left to rest at least overnight to allow the salt to dissolve and penetrate the fibers of the meat. When it is tender, it is rolled into a long loaf and wrapped in caul.
The resulting gurpi is smoked for two to six or seven hours (every producer has a recipe of their own) in a kota, a traditional Sámi tent or shed. Slightly damp birch wood is used to produce more smoke.
Since gurpi keeps well and can be fried or grilled according to necessity, Sámi nomadic herders used to eat it during long periods of transhumance with their reindeer. Some elderly producers still tell of the times when gurpi was never cooked, but kept in a perforated container to allow the air to dry and ferment it naturally in the course of the journey. In this way, it lasted longer as an ever-ready source of protein.
Today gurpi may be fried in butter or, better still, in reindeer fat, and served with puréed vegetables or salad, or with sauces or preserves made with typical Scandinavian summer berries.
The meat comes from free-range reindeers reared in pastures in the forests, unfed by man and without being treated with antibiotics. The animals feed exclusively on grass, mushrooms and lichen, and are butchered every autumn, from October to December, when the mating season is over and their meat is superior. The meat is processed in legally approved workshops, then smoked over naked fires inside the traditional kota tents.
The fact that the reindeer are raised in the wild is extremely important even when the moment comes to butcher them. The Sami, in fact, build huge pens in the forest, sometimes with a diameter of several kilometers, and herd the reindeer into them. They then choose the animals they wish to butcher and coax them into smaller pens that are still, nevertheless, large enough for them to graze on the grass and mushrooms and plants normally available in the forest. This system of smaller pens, designed to take the reindeer gradually closer to the area where they are to be slaughtered, causes no stress to the animals since it does not involve transporting or catching them.
The reindeer are thus not subjected to the stress of conventional slaughter and their meat is more tender as a result. Traditionally Sami butchers thank each reindeer before slaughtering them.
The Presidium strives to promote knowledge of this ancient cured meat, indissolubly bound to the culture of the Sami, a people who preserve highly sustainable traditional practices.
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