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From local food to terroir product ? - Some views about Tjukkmjølk, the traditional thick sour milk from Røros, Norway

Virginie Amilien, Hanne Torjusen and Gunnar Vittersø


This article presents different views expressed by focus group participants about Tjukkmjølk, a traditional, thick sour milk from Røros, a precursory product launched ten years ago under the “Food from the Moutain” logo. The aim of this article is to better understand how local food may become a terroir product, by determining the cultural values related to this very product. We will in the first part of this paper describe the evolution of the product during the last 10 years. In the second part we will describe the data material and the way it was collected, before giving the word to our informants. The focus group conversations helped to better understand the symbolic and mythic value of the local food product and the reasons why our informants liked this type of food. This cultural aspect will make up the third part of this paper, where we will compare the different views expressed about the tjukkmjølk. Finally, we will consider this local expression in a more global perspective, including regional, national, and international conceptions.

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1“Tjukkmjølk”, which could be translated as thick sour milk, is not only a traditional summer drink from mountain areas in Norway, but also the first Norwegian food product having a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). It is the reason why a proud journalist wrote : France has Champagne, Norway has tjukkmjølk.

  • 1 See in the preface references to Bérard and Marchenay, Barjolles and Sylvander, Tregear, etc.
  • 2 See for example Nordlandsforskning, Proceedings of the 2nd Nordic Workshop on Entrepreneurship in Re (...)
  • 3 Amilien V. & Hegnes A. 2004
  • 4 Ibid, p. 142
  • 5 Verlegh P. V. J. and Steenkamp J. 1999, p. 524
  • 6 More info in B. Hodne 1997

2As mentioned in the preface of this AoFood journal, local food products have been the object of many studies in Southern Europe1, from ethnological to marketing perspectives, through many disciplines such as anthropology or economic psychology, but the subject is still quite new in Northern European countries. The concept of terroir, combining shared traditional knowledge and local geographical area1, is for example absent from any Norwegian study about local food, and obviously from any conception of food product in the field. Although some recent studies concentrate on rural development and the marketing of local products2, considerations like origin and tradition are mostly considered at national level. In a previous article about Valdres fermented trouts3, we observed how the concept of “local” was delimited in geographical terms when speaking about fish from the mountain valley Valdres. In the Valdres fish perspective, the local aspect remained a “complementary aspect of the national image4, and was mostly in opposition to the global aspect. The national value is important in food market, as underlined by Verlegh and Steenkamp in their review of country-of-origin research. Origin has an intrinsic value, but not only the local one. The national aspect is valuable and has an impact on cognitive, affective as well as normative mechanisms5. Actually we have reasons to assume that this national origin plays a basic role in defining food consumption in Norway. Far from determination and playing on small nuances in the use of designation of origin, Norwegian people feel quite comfortable with the concept of “Norwegian food”. As a matter of fact, the concept of local usually emerges in contrast, or opposition, to another “closed space”, such as the nation or a political common union. Norway is a young country, recently free from the hegemony of neighbouring countries, and celebrating its 100 years of independence in 2005. The institutional aim has mostly been oriented towards the creation of a collective national identity where the local is mostly a part of the national6. First when the agricultural policy took a European orientation, in the 1990’s, evolving from bulk production to small niche markets, local products became an interesting challenge from a political, and perhaps economic, point of view.

  • 7 For more information, see (...)
  • 8 Svennerud M., Moxnes Jervell A. and Vandvik Øyen B. 2003
  • 9 Verdiskapningsprogrammet, see for example (...)

3This recent change in agricultural policies opened the national food market to small-scale productions. At the same time, the largest and best known Norwegian food label, called “Good Norwegian” (Godt norsk) has been challenged by the creation of a PDO and PGI system for Norwegian food products7. Recent publications emphasized possibilities for alternative distribution, often linked to local food products. A survey report about farmers’ markets in Norway8 underlines that local food is one of the five dimensions that are important for customers at farmers’ markets (together with knowledge about production, proximity, quality and choice.) Nevertheless, this seems to concern mostly consumers who have a special interest for fresh food products, or rural local customers, and neither sales figures nor larger national surveys show that consumers are particularly interested in local food products. In spite of this special consumption context, a governmental program for added value of food culture were launched in 2000.9 The aim of the program was to support small-scale production and stimulating rural development. Many local communities decided to focus on their food products and several projects have emerged since then. Because this is a new initiative, there are many uncertainties regarding the results. But even in a country where the national value is central, local food products can have a significant impact on production and consumption in some local areas. Røros is obviously one of these areas, and tjukkmjølk one of these products. By listening to local consumers and following the evolution of thick sour milk in its particular socio-economical context, we will try to understand how a traditional product, which is used in many parts of the country, can potentially become a terroir product.

4After a contextual presentation, following the development of the product during the last 10 years from a local food product to a protected geographical indication product, this paper will concentrate on consumers’ words and expressions about tjukkmjølk. Mostly based on group discussions with local people during a chef’s competition – concerning new ways of using two local and traditional products - this paper aims at a better understanding of the meaning of a local product for people living in the area. While PGI is obviously presented as a market advantage in a globalisation perspective, we will focus on local identity and the fascinating intertwining of tradition and innovation. Although we refer to interviews with local producers and stakeholders, this study mostly analyses the ways in which consumers understand, and talk about, the product.

  • 10 Eliade 1971. This idea is particularly developed in the first part and the fourth chapter , paragrap (...)
  • 11 See Nordlandsforskning, 2003, Proceedings of the 2nd Nordic Workshop on Entrepreneurship in Regional (...)

5Actually tjukkmjølk is more than a product, it has been a local « star« , and we would consider it as an actor in the local food development story. As the historian of religion Mircea Eliade10 wrote in “The Nostalgy of Origins” : “It does not help to demystify if we want to understand. We have to accept the fact as it is, as a witness or an actor.” While the reconstruction of cultural heritage then moved from folkloristic clothes and tools to traditional food, many new visions exploded from those new possibilities such as multifunctional farms to diverse forms for entrepreneurship11. It is the reason why we will concentrate here on different actors of the food network, as well as the product itself in its own context, as an actor but also as a witness of the development of local food in Norway.

About Røros and 'Tjukkmjølk'

6The place, Røros, plays an important role in the network. Located in a mountain region of the eastern parts of southern Norway, Røros was historically a mining town. It is now placed on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List. Besides traditional economic activities such as agriculture and forestry, tourism is an important activity for the town and the district.

  • 12 Pinguicula vulgaris (latin), Butterwort (english)

7The central actor, tjukkmjølk, is a kind of thick sour milk. In many parts of Norway it was traditionally produced and consumed out in the fields on hot summer days. Tjukkmjølk is produced by use of 'tettegras'12, which is a special plant that grows on the moors. In the early season the leaves were picked and washed before they were put in a little wooden bowl where lukewarm milk was poured on. After some time the milk thickened into a milk culture called 'tette', which could then be used over again to produce more tjukkmjølk.

8This kind of thick sour milk was used in many mountain areas in Scandinavia, but as far as we know the tjukkmjølk has never been commercially distributed until the dairy at Røros started to produce it in 1995. Nevertheless some of our sources attest that the 'tette' -which is the necessary ingredient in producing the Tjukkmjølk - was distributed by dairies at least before the Second World War.

  • 13 Christie 1994
  • 14 Smakeriet ( (...)

9Back in the late 1980s the liberalisation of the world food trade, through the Uruguay Round of the GATT-negotiations, were perceived by many Norwegian farmers as a possible threat for the future development of Norwegian agriculture. In 1987 farmers in the regions of Nord-Østerdal and Røros initiated a campaign against the national agricultural policy and later against the Common Agricultural Policy of EU. However these campaigns did not live up to the expected results, and the farmers started to look for new strategies13. This resulted in the establishment of an alliance of producers and local NGOs concerned about food- health- environment issues, which in turn led to the creation of a network of different local stakeholders in an organisation called 'Food From the Mountain Region'. This local socio-economic actor became a strategic alliance between primary producers, local food processors, local authorities, retailers and consumers The major common issue for all these stakeholders was the support for local food production, which was - and still is - of vital importance for employment and income in the numerous small communities of the region. A major event underpinning the success of the alliance was the 3rd International Symposium for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development that was held in Røros in March 1995. This event gathered rural activists from all over the world, and it was indeed a major achievement for the small Røros community to host this conference. Much because of the Conference, new local alliances were made and further co-operation between local stakeholders was enhanced. One specific result of this co-operation was the establishment of an annual food festival, 'Smakeriet'14 : This festival has managed to put focus on many different aspects of food production and consumption such as typical local food products, local food culture, taste, tradition and innovation.

10The tjukkmjølk was launched for the first time at the international symposium in 1995. Introducing this local product in an international rural development Conference must be seen as a rather symbolic action . However, the group of organic farmers had been working with the idea of processing a local organic dairy product, since the early 1990s. They hoped that this innovation could contribute to solve two of the problems that they were facing at the time. First of all it would enable them to sell their special milk product for the 1st time as certified organic in food stores, and it could also contribute to prevent a closing down of the local dairy. It was important for the farmers that the product could be distinguished from organic milk, “Dalsgården”, which also was launched on a national basis in 1995 by the Norwegian milk farmers co-operative (TINE). Therefore, they promoted milk from Røros as more genuinely local and traditional compared to the 'Dalsgården' milk, which could be regarded as a more “generic” product.

  • 15 Flø et. al 2000

11The production of tjukkmjølk represented a new drive for the local dairy, but soon TINE, the main market actor who at that time owned the dairy, suggested to close down the dairy in order to rationalise the production. However, the organic milk farmers, well supported by other local key actors and local interests, started to lobby for continuous production of organic milk at Røros. Local retailers protested against a closing down of the dairy. They feared loss in sales and poorer service to their customers15. Even the Minister of Agriculture was contacted by local stakeholders, and finally Røros Dairy was permitted to produce the tjukkmjølk as well as organic light skimmed milk “on license” for TINE. In addition they were free to produce other old and new local dairy specialties. From the beginning the organic dairy-products were produced with the official organic certification and labelling (Debio). During recent years there has also been much work within the dairy in order to obtain additional labelling, and in 2004 the tjukkmjølk was granted a PGI. Today six different local and traditional products are processed at the dairy.

About data and sources

12This paper is built on three different sets of data, from interviews to newspapers’ articles, through discussions with consumers. The main dataset is based on group discussions with 35 people from the Røros area (3 parallel focus groups with 10-12 people each). During Røros food festival in 2002 we had the opportunity to meet three different groups of local people. Together with local people, the researchers tasted three desserts that were presented during a chefs’ competition at the festival. The products, which usually are used together with the main course, were then presented in a totally new context, through three new recipes, which made our common taste experiment a challenge. An open interview guide was followed enabling us to structure the three discussions in a similar way. The three researchers moderating each group came from the capital Oslo, and were obviously considered by the local people as “outsiders” who did not know too much about local traditions. This position created a pleasant and enriching tension between the “group” of local people, and the “researcher” who did not belong to the group. It probably emphasized the promotion for local food and local recipes in our discussions. Local myths and features, which were perfectly obvious for local people, had to be explained to the visiting researcher. Those discussions were extremely enjoyable and informants were much involved in the debates.

  • 16 Vittersø et. al 2005

13The second data set refers to the whole food chain; producers, stakeholders and milk processors that have been interviewed in a previous research project16. This data helps to better understand the political, economical and cultural contexts of tjukkmjølk, which is considered as a successful local food product. The third data set is constituted of Norwegian media and public discourses about tjukkmjølk and local products. This dimension does not only play an important role in relation to informants and the way they speak, but is also important because of the strategic impact of tjukkmjølk as the first PGI product, in a country where PGI, PDO and TSG are forthcoming as a vital part in the new course of agricultural politics. The official discourse on local food tends to build on a premise that consumer demand for local food products is important. This makes local consumers’ words particularly interesting.

About method

  • 17 We refer here to Eliades’ quotation, on the first page.

14Words, local place and food products are actually the three main types of “witnesses or actors”17 that this paper is built on. Words are the most important source of knowledge, since everything we consider, or refer to, is seen through words : Consumers' words, stakeholders' words, journalists' words or producers' words. Local place, the mountain area of Røros and its tradition, and the food products we tasted in the dessert competition, are, in this study, for the most part active through our informants words. We do not think that words are free and objective, and this is the reason why we could neither choose a restorative method or an illustrative way for understanding the sources. Discourse analysis seemed to be the most suitable method for such types of datasets, so we can confront informants' words with the contexts they speak from. In this perspective the fact that "we" (researchers) were considered as outsiders and urban people, plays a major role. On the one hand, the groups of local consumers could immediately place themselves in a "cultural" context restoring their local traditions, being a part of the "territorial origin" discourse. On the other hand the groups could also represent the "countryside" and focus on rural development while joining a pro-agricultural discourse. A third aspect is their role as consumers, introducing different kinds of discourses, as gourmet or ecological. Words are then to be considered as a process through which informants can create and affirm their local identity during the discussion. This relationship between people from Røros and people from the capital on the one hand, and between consumers and researchers on the other hand is here a major perspective, obviously influencing words and world visions. Informants’ "words" will be described, translated and expressed through our way of structuring the paper, but also concretised by a few chosen quotations.

  • 18 See the network model in appendice
  • 19 At the IX Rural Sociology Congress 2004. See reference to G. Brunori in the preface

15Although tjukkmjølk is acting through informants’ words in our main dataset, the two other datasets will nevertheless permit us to consider it as both a witness and an actor : Witness of a rural politic, which promotes the local against the global, and an actor in the development of a living local food product. Tjukkmjølk can be considered as the central part of a complex network, where every part plays a role in the success of the product18. This multiple relationship between culture, environment and institutions creates a frame, which reminds of the French concept of “terroir”. As G. Brunori noticed, terroir and local food products are bounded by a symbolic invisible but strong link. Economy, culture and society play complementary roles19 represented by environmental, cultural, social and institutional capitals. Emerging from this multiple frame, the symbolic link seems to be especially visible within consumption. Tjukkmjølk is a characteristic product related to different consumption contexts and we will here look at those different aspects through consumers’ words and expressions. The promotion of tjukkmjølk alludes to several faces : traditional product, local product, ecological product with an organic certification and at last the PGI as a jewel in the crown. This is very concretely represented on the carton of milk, as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. Four perspectives from the four faces of the carton

16The four faces of the carton of tjukkmjølk will guide us through this part of the paper. By viewing the carton, we will try to understand how our local consumers perceive quality in this product by virtue of 1) territorial origin, 2) traditional value and 3) ecological aspect. PGI (which is number 4) will be considered at the end, and only in a general discursive perspective, because tjukkmjølk was not yet a PGI product at the time of the interviews.

17In a context where 10-12 local people spoke together with a non-local researcher, the territorial origin immediately became a common identity factor. There was no doubt that tjukkmjølk was a local product from the mountain area. The local feature was a type of evidence that nobody denied, even though a Swedish emigrant noticed that there was a very similar product on the other side of the border. But local feature is actually much more than the “territorial origin” of a product. Many informants made a connection between raisins, which were in one of the desserts, and local food. The mixing of raisins and tjukkmjølk, expressed as a combination of sweet and sour were definitively considered as local. Raisins have become typical for the area, as a kind of summer and autumn ingredient in traditional and seasonal food that local recipes used to contain. Another ingredient that informants connected to the local area was cowberry, or lingonberry. Those red small sour berries are often served together with game in Norway, but are also the main component of the trollkrem (giant cream, a cream of cowberries, sugar and egg white). From a product perspective, the local aspect was translated through a tension between tjukkmjølk on the one hand and raisins and cowberries on the other hand. While tjukkmjølk’s territorial origin was patently obvious, the debate around raisins and cowberries was very enriching, especially when informants were reflecting about the possible local status of the raisins, which could not be original from the area. The general conclusion showed that, in this case, cultural features are more important than geographical ones : the taste of raisins mixed with tjukkmjølk was definitively perceived as local.

18The local aspect was also emphasized in a rural perspective. Buying local food is a way of supporting local peasants and local society. These kinds of arguments were not directly linked to the taste of the product, but rather based on the official discourse on agricultural political and rural development.

19The same connection could also be noticed in interviews with other informants, where both food safety and support for local employment are important reasons for buying local food : “Now, traceability and labelling of origin is coming more and more. Clearly, if you see that N.N. (local organic farmer) in XX (name of the valley in the mountain region) raised this cow, then you will be confident that he has produced this cow in the right way. Then you get that sense of security and at the same time you contribute to making it possible for them to survive too.” (a local inhabitant supporting organic farming told us )

20Local aspects were also intimately linked with the traditional aspect. Tjukkmjølk obviously enters into the “use-sphere” of seasonal local food habits. Local consumers’ familiarity with tjukkmjølk – both as a product and in terms of traditional use – was expressed in an interview with a representative of the local dairy who stated that it was sold in regions where “people typically were familiar with the product”. Tjukkmjølk was associated with a particular period of the year, and traditionally consumed in the summer. It was described as a seasonal product, only getting its cultural and social meanings in a warm summer day : As the food festival took place in late October, most of our informants felt this was the wrong season for using tjukkmjølk.

21Opposition between tradition, which the tjukkmjølk represents, and innovation, which the dessert competition claims to encourage, created a complex situation. The fact that it was not the ‘right’ season could be forgotten with some imagination, supported by a quite warm restaurant room. But the use of tjukkmjølk as dessert in a hotel restaurant brought tjukkmjølk into a new and unusual context. The disregard of traditional habits provoked several reflections about authenticity and the intrinsic traditional value of a food product. Tjukkmjølk was here presented at the “wrong” time and in the “wrong” structural context, which made judgment and appreciation difficult. Tjukkmjølk is usually eaten with cured ham and flat bread, or with sour cream and fish, but this is in connection with dinner and not dessert or cake, and informants continually confirmed the link between taste, tradition and habits : In a traditional discourse, these desserts seemed exciting and challenging, but also a bit unfamiliar and strange because they were not served in keeping with local traditions.

22If we then move to the real innovation context, that is to say comments from the tasting panel and tvote for one of the three types of desserts, we observe completely different reactions. Forms and colours were exciting, and many informants expressed their attraction for the aesthetic aspect. But the most important factor, in terms of innovation, was taste. Concepts like contrasting tastes of sweet and sour emerged from the conversation, then followed a classical gourmet discourse, illustrated with expressions such as “a wonderful round taste” that is typical of many gourmet food articles in newspapers. On the other hand processes of innovation were also connected to everyday life, when for example children use tjukkmjølk with cornflakes, independently of the season. “Frosties with tjukkmjølk” bears witness of the success of a food product, which could be born again through “living tradition”.

23Different discourses underline the tension between tradition and innovation, between old and new, between the seasonality of traditional foods and the detachment from locality and seasonality of modern foods. Informants supported one another’s discourse according to the role they had to play in the discussion. Emphasizing the local aspect evoked tradition, while modern recipes stimulated innovation. Health discourse was, for example, connected to reflections about differences between modern and traditional lifestyles, focusing on needs and ideas about the fat contents of the diet.

24The ecological aspect was mostly related to the participants’ ideas about clean nature and sustainable agriculture. It seemed that food produced within the region was perceived to be pure and safe. A common claim was that everything was ecological “30 years ago”. Local and traditional food was then automatically linked to ecological food. Few informants were aware of the fact that the tjukkmjølk was a certified organic product. But our announcement did not arouse any surprise, because of the already known traditional and local aspects, which seemed to imply an ecological aspect. (We could imagine that the discussions would have been quite different with groups of urban consumers who did not have any direct link with the cultural value of the product.)

25This tendency to view organic production methods as somewhat in the background, as compared to tradition and locality, was also evident in interviews with other informants. In interviews at the local dairy, local tradition and geographical origin are expressed as more important sales arguments than the fact that it was organically produced. Still, the combination is viewed as important. Interviews with people in the association “Food From the Mountain Region” (MFF) also tended to indicate a larger emphasis on the local, traditional aspect than organic production : “To me, MFF is safe, locally produced food. That is the central point. Up here in the mountain, we have such marginal farming that even if it is called “conventional”, it is almost more or less organic.” (from a local inhabitant involved in MFF)

26PGI aspect, which is the fourth side of the carton, could not be taken into consideration during our discussions, because the designation came two years later. It is the reason why we cannot really treat it at the same level as the three others sides, but we can give some complementary information : In the public debate on local food products, tjukkmjølk may be considered as a real hero. In competition with other European food products under the SIAL in Paris in April 2004, the tjukkmjølk from Røros was presented as the first Norwegian PGI and as the little Cinderella conquering the culinary world. Both the Minister of Agriculture and journalists emphasized the symbolic role of tjukkmjølk.

  • 20 Quotation from the PGI application. Many thanks to Matmerk for sending us the copy of the applicatio (...)
  • 21 Béghain P. 1998. He also noticed that even when central monuments do not any longer play an active r (...)

27Because this was happening almost two years after our interviews, these events did not have any impact on our informants, but from interviewing people from the dairy, we know that the name of Røros as such was viewed as “positive” in the context of the marketing of food, because of its association with “tradition for home production of food, good taste and purity”. Territorial origin was a “marketing argument” based on the traditional knowledge (the “tette” culture) “coming traditionally from Røros”. The application for PGI refers to local food habits mainly confirmed by the local museum and documents about the local copper mine ”which was central for the whole Røros existence”.20 In the application, as well as in the media discourse, tjukkmjølk definitely appears as local cultural patrimony. The milk-product is concretely linked to local monuments, a visible way to create, or confirm, the local identity, as P. Beghain noticed in his book about patrimony and culture21.

  • 22 See the network model in appendix

28The four sides of the thick sour milk carton, which we chose to build the first part of our description on, are finally intimately linked with each other. They represent a network of different aspects depending on each other, and having a meaning through each other. Personal and collective action, local and national values, politics and childhood blend together, creating, or confirming, a local identity materialized in a food product : the tjukkmjølk. Although we can distinguish between internal interests (linked to local people and regional development) and external power (linked to food politics, marketing and the program for national food)22, interviews reveal a surprising consensus about the importance of local aspects. Tension between internal and external interests is transformed into a dynamic process, which creates and concretises the concept of local identity, based on tradition and safety. Along the whole local food chain, from producers to consumers, we find an agreement about the important value of the tjukkmjølk, and similar discursive expressions about the four aspects illustrated on the “sides of the carton”. The homogeneity of local discourses reflects a strong local identity.

29As a matter of fact this complementarity of the four sides reminds of the terroir / local food model proposed by Gianluca Brunori, where 1) the environmental capital is represented by the ecological aspect, 2) the cultural capital is represented by the traditional aspect, 3) the social capital is represented by the “food from mountain” movement and 4) the institutional capital is represented by the new PGI. The invisible link between tjukkmjølk (the local food product) and terroir (the Røros area) is actually apparent behind the concept of symbolic capital that every local consumer we discussed with knew about, but which is still unknown for many other Norwegian consumers.

Other perspectives beyond the four sides of the carton

30Lifting our eyes from the concrete tjukkmjølk carton, we also find many other perspectives among the informants' words. Everyday routine, feast, taste or quality, are some of these key concepts that will constitute the second part of our description.

  • 23 Avhengig av sammenhengen”… ”noen ganger om høsten, er det godt å ha ting fra lokalområdet, men jeg v (...)
  • 24Er det ikke litt avhengig av om det er…er det hverdagsmat så er en mer avhengig av å bli mett…men j (...)

31The first perspective takes into account one of the main structural features of Norwegian food habits, that is to say the difference between everyday food and festive food. Our informants are very clear about the fact that they only consume tjukkmjølk on specific occasions, "depending on the context"23. "the situation is important : if we talk bout everyday food, so it is important to eat one’s fill. But I think we focus more on local food if we have visit from outside (several people in the group agree), but for everyday food, local is not so important."24 In this perspective, local food is not any longer a means to unify local people, but becomes a way to differentiate themselves from outsiders, by emphasizing the symbolic link which leads to “terroir”. We also notice that seasonal rhythm and tradition play a central role, which sometimes exceeds the dichotomy between everyday and festive days. Summer and autumn are “traditionally” the proper times of the year to eat tjukkmjølk, and actually "in autumn it is good to have food from the local area". In this peculiar context, tjukkmjølk can become an everyday food product, while it remains a festive and distinctive product in other contexts.

  • 25Jeg må innrømme at jeg satser på det som er godt jeg. Jeg bryr meg ikke om hvor det kommer fra.(...)
  • 26Smak betyr aller mest. Jeg synes det er veldig stas å kjøpe lokal mat, men … når vi har besøk er de (...)

32The second aspect is based on taste. Food has to taste good, first of all. "I have to confess that I prefer food which has a good taste, and I do not check where it is coming from,"25 one of our informants states. The link between local food and good taste is not automatic, and many informants think that local food is often too fat, not so tasty and difficult to use regularly. Local is then mixed with traditional, and the local aspect has not to do with product from a special territory but with cultural knowledge from the area. Another woman explained that "Taste is the most important. I think it is fun to buy local food. When we have visit it is all right, but it should be lighter, lighter in fat and easier to prepare.26" From the taste perspective, it seems that the value of tradition is much more important than territory origin, even if this “terroir” value is in opposition with a modern health discourse about light food.

  • 27 The Norwegian certification body for organic agriculture
  • 28 The Norwegan Food Branding Foundation
  • 29 The Norwegian Food Safety Authority
  • 30Det kjenner jeg som en veldig fordel å kjøpe lokalt, da er det beste kvalitet.”

33The third aspect is linked to quality. The Norwegian system permits food quality to be formally assessed by a number of institutions (as Debio27 or Matmerk28 in terms of labelling, or Mattilsynet29 in terms of security and hygiene). Although consumers usually trust the institutional judgment, our informants mean that “local equals best quality”, “I feel it is a real advantage to buy local : it is the best quality.” 30 Local quality is often mixed with organic quality : These products are safe. From the quality perspective, it seems that the local value is more important than the traditional one. Territory origin means then origin from our territory, the one we know and the one we feel safe about.

34As a matter of fact we observe, through those three aspects, how tradition, culture and geography are dependent of the context of the discourse. On the one hand, the discursive frame is a central factor for determining why informants like local food : while taste is based on traditional values, quality is obviously linked to close geographic area. On the other hand, the creation of tjukkmjølk as a terroir product is the result of a dynamic collective action. This composition and combination of many facts and people acting together, evolved step by step. Following the diachronic evolution of tjukkmjølk the last 15 years, when it became a commercialised local product and obviously a terroir product, we distinguish three complementary but very different steps, influenced by different parts of the network :

351) A first step, that we could call level zero : at this level, resistance to globalisation was important and “food- health- environment” ideology (mat- helse- miljø) acted as the main force, the one that originally stimulated the transformation of the product.

362) A second step is based on a local collective action aimed at local market and rural development. Getting the product into the ordinary supermarket was for example an important challenge. Much effort and personal risk was mobilised to get the product ready to fight for "a good place on the shelves from the very beginning" when the local co-op was being re-built into a store with a larger assortment. The basic processing and distribution system has a cooperative structure, which makes qualification strategies quite inclusive : every organic farmer producing in the determined geographic area delivers to Røros dairy. Exclusion does not seem to take place, co-operation among local actors seems to be important in this first step, which could be perceived as the birth of a terroir conception.

373) A third step, of the evolution of tjukkmjølk during the last 15 years, is built on the national agricultural policy aimed at protecting and promoting national food products by developing a niche market and brand. Globalisation is here a central argument, which is strongly influenced by the EU food regulations and policies. It is obviously the reason why discourses held by non-local stakeholders and politicians are different from the local ones. They contain many references to "Norwegian consumers" and the global market. Concept of terroir could then be a mark of distinction.

38The territorial origin was not so significant at the national level at the beginning (in the so called first step above). Then it refers to unification in the local area during the collective action (in the so called second step) and is finally transformed into a symbol of differentiation (in the so called third step). In this perspective we can observe that the concept of “locality” and “territorial origin” can easily change meaning according to the discursive context.

Tjukkmjølk year 2005

39As a matter of conclusion we could say that the local food product from Røros, tjukkmjølk, seems to have a more important value as a marker for local and traditional cultural identity than a marketing label. On the one hand we observe that local consumers’ skills and perceptions of quality are directly linked to the traditional and cultural values related to the territorial origin. Local and traditional aspects seem to be more important for our informants than the ecological feature. Ecology represents an ideal view of life, quite abstract, while tradition - emphasized by local connections, appears in a more tangible way. On the other hand we notice what seems to be homogeneity in the local way of speaking about tjukkmjølk, which emphasises that tjukkmjølk is really the fruit of a local collective action. The fact that tjukkmjølk is the first local and traditional food product joining a national marketing brand, makes it not only a key product, but also a specific cultural link between local people.

40Although territorial origin is the central collective argument, officially confirmed by the PGI, tradition is obviously the main structural frame, giving the tjukkmjølk a historic existence and a terroir dimension, which also lends credibility to the local value. Traditional and local aspects are interlinked and constitute the main basis for credibility evaluations of the whole concept of “territorial origin”. This authenticity is nevertheless kept alive thanks to innovation, commercialisation and industrialisation. Tjukkmjølk would have progressively disappeared if it had not been commercialised. “The taste is not really the same as it was before”, as our informants told us, but with marketing in ordinary supermarkets, there is now a better opportunity to taste it.

  • 31 Friedman 1990 ; Appadurai 1990
  • 32 Robertson 1992
  • 33 Featherstone and Lash 1999

41We also notice that the same product changes meaning with the context : from a mark of cultural community, in a local context, it becomes a mark of differentiation in the market in the globalisation context. Globalization theories suggest a worldwide assimilation and integration of food culture where global/ local reflect a main dichotomy, like the opposition between cultural homogenization and fragmentation31 or “universalisation” and “particularization”32. The example of Røros tjukkmjølk shows how the tension is complex, mixing several dichotomies together – global/local, tradition/ innovation, etc. - and creating a dynamism where the food product becomes a living and mutating actor in the local area. We could assume, together with Featherstone and Lash in “Spaces of cultures” that : “The process of globalization does not result in the homogenization and unification of culture, but rather in the provision of new spaces for the clashing of cultures. The clashing and mixing of cultures occurs not only accross the boundaries of nation-state societies, but within them also.”33 Reinforcing or reconstructing cultural identity, PGI Tjukkmjølk from Røros created a new space of culture, a “terroir”, where a product defined as traditional could meet a new commercial image, a space of culture where Norway can meet other countries, a space of culture where outsiders can taste Røros : The combination of raisins and tjukkmjølk was a wonderful and tasteful example.

42The opposition, or complement, between tradition and innovation, and between local and national or global, emphasizes the double meaning of tradition, which is at once a state and a process. “Tjukkmjølk with dry ham in a summer day” bears witness of tradition as a state, while “tjukkmjølk in a rose cake” or “tjukkmjølk with frosties” for breakfast testifies of a process. Innovation with such a traditional product was a challenge, which seems to turn to a local success, in matter of consumption, and a national triumph, in matter of agricultural policy. Even if tjukkmjølk is not a common consumption product, and will obviously never be, the organic thick sour milk from Røros is definitively a hero, witness of our country and our time where niche production and local food are meant to progressively complete, or replace, bulk production and global food.

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AMILIEN V., Hegnes. A.W., 2004, ”The cultural smell of fermented fish”, Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment (JFAE), 2 (1), 141-147. WFL publisher online : (

Appadurai A., 1990, "Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy." in M. Featherstone (ed.) : Global culture : nationalism, globalization and modernity, London, Sage.

Béghain P., 1998, Le patrimoine : culture et lien social, Presses de Sciences Po, La bibliothèque du citoyen, Paris.

Bérard L. et Marchenay P., 2004, Les produits de terroir. Entre culture et règlements, Cnrs Editions, Paris .

Eliade, M., 1971, La nostalgie des origines, Folio, Essais, Paris.

Christie. H., 1994, Mat – miljø – utvikling. Landbruksstrategi under Verdens Handelsorganisasjon (WTO). Landbruksforlaget.

Norlandsforskning, 2003, Entrepreneurship in Regional Food production, Nordlandsforskning NF. n.26-2003, Bodø

Featherstone M., and Lash S., (eds) 1999. Spaces of culture : city, nation, world. London, Sage

Flø, B.E., Forbord M. and Stavrum T, 2000. Interorganisatorisk samarbeid ved omstilling i en samvirkebedrift – eksempelet Røros-meieriet, Paper no. 1/00 Centre for Rural Research (CRR), Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim.

Fosman S. And Paananen J. , 2002, Local food systems : Explorative findings from Finland. Paper presented at SYAL 2002. 16-18 october 2002, Montpellier.

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Friedman J., 1990, "Being in the world : Globalization and localization" in M. Featherstone (ed.) : Global culture : nationalism, globalization and modernity, London, Sage.
DOI : 10.1177/026327690007002018

Hodne B., 1997, Nasjonalisme og nasjonal identitet : eksemplet Norge , Oslo.

Robertson, R. 1992. Globalization : social theory and global culture. London : Sage.

STRÆTE E.P.,2003, “Blir det mangfold av 18 brunoster i ostedisken”, In Den politiserte maten, Jacobsen and al (red), Abstralt Forlag AS, Oslo.

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Verlegh, P. W. J. and Steenkamp J., 1999, « A review and meta analysis of country-of-origin research », in Journal of Economic Psychology 20 : 521-546.
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Figure 2 : Model representing some of the actors influencing the evolution of the tjukkmjølk, from a local product to a terroir product

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1See in the preface references to Bérard and Marchenay, Barjolles and Sylvander, Tregear, etc.
2See for example Nordlandsforskning, Proceedings of the 2nd Nordic Workshop on Entrepreneurship in Regional Food production, Bodø 2003 or Fosman S. and Paananen J. SYAL 2002
3Amilien V. & Hegnes A. 2004
4Ibid, p. 142
5Verlegh P. V. J. and Steenkamp J. 1999, p. 524
6More info in B. Hodne 1997
7For more information, see
8Svennerud M., Moxnes Jervell A. and Vandvik Øyen B. 2003
9Verdiskapningsprogrammet, see for example
10Eliade 1971. This idea is particularly developed in the first part and the fourth chapter , paragraph “The illusion of demysthification
11See Nordlandsforskning, 2003, Proceedings of the 2nd Nordic Workshop on Entrepreneurship in Regional Food production, or Stræte E.P. 2003
12Pinguicula vulgaris (latin), Butterwort (english)
13Christie 1994
14Smakeriet (
15Flø et. al 2000
16Vittersø et. al 2005
17We refer here to Eliades’ quotation, on the first page.
18See the network model in appendice
19At the IX Rural Sociology Congress 2004. See reference to G. Brunori in the preface
20Quotation from the PGI application. Many thanks to Matmerk for sending us the copy of the application for PGI.
21Béghain P. 1998. He also noticed that even when central monuments do not any longer play an active role or have a social function, people still live with the monument. The copper mine is here witness of the local identity, and linking tjukkmjølk to the mine historically, which confirm the existence of the product. « Chaque édifice est étroitement lié à une fonction sociale, à l’exercice d’une pratique collective ; Même lorsque cette fonction s’atténue, voire disparaît, les hommes n’en continuent pas moins de vivre autour du monument. » p. 55.
22See the network model in appendix
23Avhengig av sammenhengen”… ”noen ganger om høsten, er det godt å ha ting fra lokalområdet, men jeg vet ikke om jeg er så bevisst.”
24Er det ikke litt avhengig av om det er…er det hverdagsmat så er en mer avhengig av å bli mett…men jeg tror vi fokuserer mer på lokal mat om vi har besøk av noen som ikke er fra distriktet (mange bekrefter dette) men til daglig er det ikke noe stor poeng.”
25Jeg må innrømme at jeg satser på det som er godt jeg. Jeg bryr meg ikke om hvor det kommer fra.
26Smak betyr aller mest. Jeg synes det er veldig stas å kjøpe lokal mat, men … når vi har besøk er det greit…men det burde være lettere, lettere i fettinnhold, lettere å lage.”
27The Norwegian certification body for organic agriculture
28The Norwegan Food Branding Foundation
29The Norwegian Food Safety Authority
30Det kjenner jeg som en veldig fordel å kjøpe lokalt, da er det beste kvalitet.”
31Friedman 1990 ; Appadurai 1990
32Robertson 1992
33Featherstone and Lash 1999
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Electronic reference

Virginie Amilien, Hanne Torjusen and Gunnar Vittersø, « From local food to terroir product ? - Some views about Tjukkmjølk, the traditional thick sour milk from Røros, Norway », Anthropology of food [Online], 4 | May 2005, Online since 01 May 2005, connection on 17 April 2014. URL :

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About the authors

Virginie Amilien

SIFO – Norwegian Institute for Consumption Research - P.O.BOX. 4682 Nydalen N- 0405 Oslo. Norway

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Hanne Torjusen

SIFO – Norwegian Institute for Consumption Research - P.O.BOX. 4682 Nydalen N- 0405 Oslo. Norway

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Gunnar Vittersø

SIFO – Norwegian Institute for Consumption Research - P.O.BOX. 4682 Nydalen N- 0405 Oslo. Norway

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