As It Happens

Icelandic pizzeria nods to pagan tradition by serving sheep's head as special topping

On a bed of arugula and carrot slices, an Icelandic pizzeria has laid out an unusual topping for their new, seasonal pizza: a sheep's head boiled in stout beer.

Laufey Sif Larusdottir takes traditional dish and spins it on its head for young, urban eaters

A pizzeria in Hveragerdi, Iceland is serving sheep-face pizzas to celebrate Thorrablot, part of Iceland's version of Valentine's Day. (Submitted by Laufey Sif Larusdottir)

Story Transcript

On a bed of arugula and carrot slices, an Icelandic pizzeria has laid out an unusual topping for their new, seasonal pizza: a sheep's head boiled in stout beer.

The head itself is laced with a smoked chili barbecue sauce that plays up the animal's flavour — more than when it's traditionally been served for Thorrablot, the midwinter food festival celebrating Iceland's pagan history.

And that's because the sauce includes another juicy ingredient — sheep dung.

"It's really delicious. I mean, it has to be tasted to be able to describe it," Laufey Sif Larusdottir, the owner of Olverk Pizza and Brewery in Hveragerdi told As It Happens host Carol Off.

She said that during Thorrablot, Icelanders traditionally eat sheep's head as well as fermented shark, whale blubber, ram's testicles and blood pudding to honour pagan gods (think Thor) and men.

"It's basically our type of Valentine's Day," Larusdottir said. "We would give these kinds of food to all the husbands and flowers and cake. And then on Women's Day, one month in time, we will get flowers and something else."

We provide gloves with this meal- Laufey Sif Larusdottir, owner of Olverk Pizza and Brewery

But this, she says, is the first time that the festive sheep's head is being served on a pizza rather than a platter. The pizzeria owner wants this to be the beginning of a new tradition for young, urban Icelancers who have grown apart from the tradition.

"It's a visceral experience," she said. "A smell, a taste … it stirs a lot of feelings."

Larusdottir's pizza is intended to look like a sheep laying in a field of grass. But it's not so clear how to eat it.

"We provide gloves with this meal," she said. "I don't know about you, but we don't use cutlery when we're eating pizza, so we kind of just rip.

"We shred off the head and we, like, put it around the pizza and then we flip it and eat it."

She says Icelanders can eat every part of the sheep, except for its bones. 

Laufey Sif Larusdottir, left, is the owner of Olverk Pizza and Brewery. (Submitted by Laufey Sif Larusdottir)

"People will be nipping on the eye. Tasting the tongue. But the most juicy part goes from the chin and down [the jaw], up to the ear," she said.

During Iceland's current wave of the COVID pandemic, the sheep-face pizza is also Larusdottir's take at a safer alternative to the annual buffets of Thorrablot. People aren't hosting big festivals anymore, but the pizza gives them a chance to order take-out and celebrate at home.

"We sold quite a few," she said. "We [also] had a few come in and eat it with a great appetite."

With all the attention this pizza has gotten, she's considering bringing it back to Olverk Pizza and Brewery for another special occasion. Perhaps in the fall, when farmers round up their sheep from the vast highlands, or during the harvest season.

"It's barbaric for us to look at, I must admit," Larusdottir said. "But it's our tradition. It's a good experience."

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Laufey Sif Larusdottir produced by Chris Harbord.

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