Paul Cunningham of Henne Kirkeby Kro and Mads Battefeld of Hjemme takes dinners to the farm ‘Spangsbanke’ for the yearly al fresco lamb feast in the meadows of the Varde River Valley in the Wadden Sea National Park in South West Denmark. Preparing rustic dishes to highlight locally sourced food and showcase the farmers.
Ever since Paul Cunnigham’s “re-birth” at Henne Kirkeby Kro, as he himself puts it, he has taken pride in sourcing the best local ingredients to the dining tables at the famed inn and working closely with a select number of local farmers and suppliers. Once a year for the past five years he goes beyond this and takes the dining experience even closer to the source of the inn’s amazing organic lamb, rabbit, pork and eggs with a unique dining event on the farm ‘Spangsbanke’ home to the Kousgaard family and Varde Ådal Lamb.
Paul Cunningham and Torben Kousgaard
The Kousgaard family started rearing lamb as a hobby in 1989 after taking over Torben’s father’s farm with grazing meadows between the Alslev River and Varde River in the Varde River Valley part of the Danish Wadden Sea National Park. Varde Å (river) is the only river in the Wadden Sea National Park that is not regulated with floodgates, so the meadows are naturally flooded in periods, with nutrient rich brackish water from Ho Bay. The flooding naturally fertilizes the meadows making them excellent organic grazing pastures. The hobby production has over the years expanded to a livelihood for the family. Torben an Eva Kousgaard together with their three sons Emil, Anton and Asger all passionately take part in rearing and slaughtering the lamb of mixed breed Dorset and Texel. They have even built their own abattoir and butchery so the animals are not stressed by transport. Animal welfare to the family is paramount.
The Varde River Valley gives the lamb a delectable, delicate flavored and well-structured meat favored by a lot of top Danish chefs. On the other bank of the Varde River Matt Orlando sources his Varde Ådal Beef , that has the same qualities, of farmer Ole Andreasen for Amass,
The naturally valuable wet meadows are maintained by grazing sheep and cattle to maintain an ecological balance and preserve wildlife diversity. Conservation livestock grazing plays an essential role in the management of these important habitats for plants and animals, and in return gives some of the best flavored beef and lamb meat. Grazing here is nothing new. Rearing and exporting livestock has been an important livelihood of the Wadden Sea region since the middle ages. The tradesmen of Varde, Ribe and Tønder became wealthy on exporting livestock to Holland and importing spices and other goods from Dutch overseas colonies. This is why exotic spices for centuries have been used in local kitchens to flavor the good farm produce and fish from the North Sea. A culinary tradition that Paul C adheres to, dismissing the fanatic and contrived dogma of using only Nordic ingredients of the “New Nordic Movement”.
A mix of the best local produce rustically flavored by wood fire and spiced up with flavors of Paul Cunningham and Mads Battefelds travels are what the fortunate 50-odd guests get to savor on this unique evening.
The menu starts off with a wooden cutting board with Henne Kirkeby Kro’s own charcuterie with pickled cauliflower, cheese shavings, naan bread and radishes with mormor dressing. The wooden cutting boards are burn branded “Vi i NATUREN” which basically means “Us, in nature” and is a mindset and a movement for the whole municipality of Varde and a number of local companies to value and appreciate the natural beauty and wealth of the region and to create new products and experiences that enhance humans attachment with nature.
Three local companies Kvist, Annebergs Limtræ and Oksbøl Savværk voluntarily worked together to create new benches for this nature dining event. The benches have five birch wood J67 seats designed by Ejvind A. Johansson for FDB Furniture mounted on a rustic heavy pine wood frame.
‘Grand Prix’ Polished stainless steel cutlery by Kay Bojesen
Riverboat jazz entertainment by Brewhouse Jazz Band in Ølgod
The second course is a ramen noodle soup with the farm’s own eggs freshly collected the same morning.
The main course was a medley of lamb, rabbit, and pork from the farm. Inspired by the “Turducken” a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck, further stuffed into a deboned turkey popularized by Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme. Paul Cunnigham´s Varde Ådal version consists of lamb stuffed with rabbit rolled in pork belly like a porchetta given the name ‘Varde Ådal’etta’ by Paul and served with new potatoes and grilled pointed cabbage and spring onions.
For dessert, strawberry and rhubarb rødgrød with flamed meringues and double cream.
For this special evening Paul had teamed up with local chef Jacob Møller Justsesen together with waiter Heine Ladefoged and Mads Battefeld and Paul was assisted by Henrik Levinsen of Hjemme and Kristian Kyt Bonde.
Henne Kirkeby Kro Lamb Feast was part of the annual Vadehavslammefestival that celebrates the region’s lamb arranged by Sydvestjyske Smagsoplevelser (Savour South West Denmark).