Nothing Says Summer in Denmark like Koldskål
I find koldskål fascinating – when the temperatures rise, Danes flock to this buttermilk beverage. It takes over the dairy aisles, infiltrates restaurants and inspires a slew of seasonal recipes. So, before the weather turns, I wanted to get to the bottom of this popular Danish drink. What is koldskål? Why do Danes love it? And how did it become synonymous with summer?
What is koldskål?
Koldskål – or “cold bowl” when directly translated from Danish – is both a chilled milk beverage and a popular summer dish. The main ingredients in koldskål (the beverage) are buttermilk, eggs, lemon, vanilla and sugar; mixed with another dairy product like heavy cream, yogurt or soured milk. Koldskål (the dish) is the buttermilk drink topped with sweet biscuits and (usually) strawberries.
Soup or dessert?
To definitively define koldskål is not an easy task; the dish has evolved through multiple food categories. Originally, koldskål was a cold soup starter made with summer fruit and wine or beer. In the early 1900s, buttermilk was incorporated into the recipe after it shifted from being pig to people food. While you’ll never find koldskål as a starter today, it is (sometimes) still called a soup. It’s typically eaten for dinner, as a cold dessert or a snack to “cool down” during the Danish summer months.
The other component of the koldskål dish is a small sweet biscuit called kammerjunker. Kammerjunker – literally “chamber page” – are twice baked and made with flour, butter, eggs, sugar and salt. It’s believed that kammerjunker were named after a low-ranking page in the Danish court. The biscuits, like the position, weren’t worth much and thus displayed on bakeries’ bottom shelves.
It’s not clear when kammerjunker were first added to koldskål, but there was precedent for the pairing. The original cold fruit soup was served with a crisp sweet bread called tvebak, a Danish-style rusk.
‘Tis the season for buttermilk
I’m in a restaurant when I pick up a conversation between a pair of tourists and a waiter in distress. The couple is asking for a description of koldskål but the explanations are coming up short. “Is it cereal?” the woman asks with a hint of impatience. “No,” the server replies, pausing to regroup. “It’s like sweet milk with biscuits… It’s a traditional summer dish.” “Like milk and cookies?” I look away and try not to laugh.
To be fair, koldskål to Danes is the taste of summer, a sentiment that’s difficult to convey. You can’t find it year-round; it’s strictly seasonal, magically appearing and then disappearing three months later. Koldskål is so tied to the summer months that dairy farms can predict sales by weather forecast. Maybe the best way to describe it is simply to say that koldskål is sunshine in a bowl.