After waking up at 5:30 am and documenting Lillemor's Lymmla Gott for about 10 hours, I need my standard ice cream fix. We decide to do what every recipe hunter would do...drive two hours to Börlange, Sweden, to visit the closest Ostrich farm?? Sahlins Struts, an ostrich farm, makes ice cream with their ostrich eggs and as a fanatic, I must try it! At the end of this long, slow, and rainy day in August, we are hoping that the Sahlins Struts owners, Kerstin and Gunnar Sahlin, will share our enthusiasm. Driving through beautiful forests, rivers, and lakes as Leila stares intensely into the abyss for a moose. With no time to waste to stop for food, we snack in the car on some recently made Swedish Tunnbröd and our new, favorite traveling go-to: yogurt with muesli.
Following signs for Sahlins Struts, we look at the horizon and notice what seems to be moving white poles sticking out over a fence. On top of each poles are two black dots...this must be the ostriches. As we pull up, the parking lot is closed but we see a guy in the distance exiting the farm barn. He is dressed up in a white lab coat with gloves as if he is working on some endothermic reactions. We wave and hurry over to him. He introduces himself as Gunnar Sahlin, the owner of the farm and tells us he is in a rush because he is producing skin ointment with his colleague, Elisabeth. Before I could mention ice cream, he introduces his wife and co-founder, Kerstin and rushes back to the Sahlins Struts Food Lab.
Before Kerstin can even turn on the lights in the store, I jump right into things as I so often do (it’s the New York in me). I start to ask loads of questions about ostriches (struts in Swedish). After my initial 20 battery of questions and purchasing a piece of smoked ostrich meat for the road, Leila asks the most important question, "can we taste some ice cream?" Phew, I almost forgot about the real reason we came here. Kerstin insists that we order the cloudberry, red currant, coffee and vanilla ice cream. The ostrich egg acts as a perfect emulsifier for each and every flavor of ice cream. One ostrich egg is equivalent to around 20 chicken eggs. Can you believe it? I imagine all the ice cream I could make as I lick my spoon clean. We should invest in some struts of our own...
In their fridge we see the Ostrich steaks, fillets, smoked meats/sausages, air dried meats, and pâtés/quiches. Walking through the aisles we discuss the Ostrich ointments, oils, soaps, lip balm and insect repellent that they make from the oil in the ostrich fat. Leila points to the beautifully painted lamps and the well crafted jewelry which Kerstin acknowledges that they make from the fertilized eggs. They send off the Ostrich skin and feathers and in return sell Ostrich leather products and dusters. We are impressed by how creative and resourceful they are, nothing goes to waste.
We follow Kerstin to the production lab just as Gunnar is jarring up the skin ointment. I jump in on this opportunity to talk about the ice cream. After seeing his state-of-the-art Italian Ice Cream machine, I ask him about how he makes various flavors, where he obtains his milk, and how he learned to make ice cream. I tell him that I am traveling around the world with only my clothes and one additional item: my Cuisinart ice cream maker. He notices how enthusiastic and knowledgeable I am, so he brings me to the ingredient room and asks me for some advice! We discuss serving temperature, gelato vs. ice cream fat %, the Swedish laws behind labeling a product ice cream, my personal flavor making tips, how long my ice cream lasts with only using natural products, and how to make ice cream with coconut milk. Seeing that I am one step away from starting a batch with Gunnar, Leila insists we check out the ostriches! Before we leave, Gunnar presents us with ostrich oil skin ointment and ostrich oil soap. We immediately smell our armpits to make sure the gift was out of kindness and not necessity.
During my ice cream chatter, Leila had bonded with Kerstin. On Kerstin’s 15th hour at work, she was reinvigorated by Leila’s kindness. We explore the Ostrich chick coop (kycklinger), where there are about 30, 4-6 week old chicks that run from side to side of the barn taking a bite of food at each end and acting as if every time is a new experience. We check out their welcome center. On display is a video that explains the farm history. We casually stumble upon the 3 Guinness Records for largest bird eggs laid in the world!
We follow Kerstin outside to the breeding pen where 3 dominant males (depicted by the black feathers) are amongst 8 females (grey feathers). The alpha male of the group rushes over to demonstrate his presence. I decide to demonstrate mine. I reach my hand up in the air and bend my wrist. My fingers now resemble an ostrich beak. To the small brain of an ostrich, my total height includes my hand (or beak to them) and I am now taller than the male ostrich who approaches. He depicts my hand as an Ostrich head and he obeys the laws of the land; the tallest ostrich is the most dominant. As I lower my hand, the ostrich proclaims his dominance by approaching me but when I raise my hand higher, the male ostrich shuns. I continue to play this game while Leila stares in disbelief of my asinine-ness.
Once Kerstin finishes cleaning up around the pen, we follow her to the slaughter pen. There are about 40, 1-year old ostriches whom at near full adult weight will soon be turned into the various tasty and useful products to be sold. Lastly, we head to the coop with about 60 young chicks all born this year but too old to be in the kycklinger. Kerstin explains the farm history:
Entrepreneurial Kerstin and Gunnar started the Ostrich Farm, knowing little about raising and keeping the birds! After buying eggs in 1994 and trying to hatch them, they realized that the ostrich comes before the egg and had to rethink their hatching plan. They purchased ostriches from Holland, Belgium, and Germany and began with the ostriches rather than the eggs. They traveled to farms in South Africa, Namibia, and throughout Northern Europe to research, experiment and educate themselves.
As we say goodbye, they invite us to celebrate their 20th anniversary on Saturday with a pizza party, clowns and horse riding. We congratulate Kerstin. Aside from the plethora of info that we learned at the farm, shared on 22 Fun Facts About the World's Largest Birds, Ostriches, Kerstin explains to us the key to their success:
“If you want to start something you must first both agree that you want to do it and then you must be very patient, ready to fail, ready to start again, ready to think in new terms, and do all this without ever giving up on your fantasy.”
Kerstin and Gunnar are certainly living out their fantasy but if you enter the farm you will see that they still work just as hard now as they always have. Like us, they feed off of an environment in which they learn each and every day. They are scientists and academics at heart who remind us of our friends Leslie and Wes at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery. We leave the farm with new excitement and with new friends at Sahlins Struts who most certainly Farm with Love in Sweden.
As we drive back to Lillemors from the Ostrich farm, I decide to have my first diet coke of our journey for a quick caffeine boost while Leila twists between napping positions. All of a sudden I see a large shadow coming out of the forest about 1 kilometer in front of me. Is Swedish coke a hallucinogen? Could it be? I whisper to Leila "wake up, look , look, look" and I pull the car to a complete stop on the highway as I flash my brights. Leila holds her breath in shock. We are 3 feet from a moose and her calf crossing the highway!!! We just left the Ostrich farm with advice to live out our fantasies and Leila’s dream to see a moose comes true! We allow the moose to pass and we flash the oncoming traffic to warn them. I now have Leila fully awake and enthusiastic for our next hour of driving! Will we see another one? The hour drive feels like 5 minutes as we arrive at Lillemor’s house. We are tired and ready to go to sleep. To our delight Lillemor is waiting for us by the camper that she moved to a flat surface, warmed up, and cleaned. How good it is to feel at home! Upon entering the camper, Leila tells Lillemor, "I want one!” Never before in my life did I think about owning a camper, but I was in full agreement. Leila and I look at each other and say, “one day we will have a camper!!!”