My mentor in the cheese industry used to spread out a detailed map on our big conference table. “To say a cheese comes from France means nothing,” he would exclaim. Specificity meant everything. A big wheel of Comté from the Jura mountains couldn’t be more different from the fresh, delicate buttons of chevre from the Loire Valley. Each cheese was full of clues about its home’s unique geography, culture, history, and identity.
I thought of his words as we changed into green jumpsuits in the freezing night at Grøndalen Gård in Norway—it was 4 PM, and the sun had already set.
Hans, who grew up on the farm, showed us how to rub a warm cloth over the cows’ udders before making a fist and milking. He handed out teacups so we could taste the sweet, still warm milk. As fresh as it gets!
“The cows give us so much,” Hans told us. “It is only right that we give them something, too.” At the farm, the calves spend the first few months of their lives with their mother, which is almost unheard of at dairies around the world. But at Grøndalen Gård, the cows’ happiness is at the heart of everything they do.
After milking, we warmed up by the fire in their gorgeous, cozy farmhouse. Hans and his wife Anne Birte Olsen showed us photos of their four adult children, including their son Lars Kristian Grøndahl who is carrying the baton of the family business. Their family has farmed this land since the 17th century.
Grøndalen Gård makes a fresh cheese called Nýr, which tastes a lot like labneh (but also very much unique): smooth, creamy, tangy, and bright. We tasted spoonfuls before sitting down to a delicious, homecooked meal: blueberry soup topped with Nýr to start, epicly tasty burgers, a kale pie made with a bubbly Nýr topping, and Nýr ice cream for dessert with Anna’s Christmas cookies. Hans and Anna told us how they had gone folk dancing on their first date and showed us videos of their family carrying on the tradition.
Only late into the evening did Lars let slip that their Nýr won a silver medal at the 2018 World Cheese Awards—we were in the company of cheese masters, albeit very humble ones.
I thought about my mentor’s words, and how Nýr couldn’t be made anywhere else in the world. These happy cows—my favorite was Selma—this family who has been farming for generations, this cold, stunning land, even the folk dancing videos on our phones, was absolutely singular. Also key to the experience? An introduction from WOW Lister Torunn Tronsvang, whose travelers are among the only ones Hans, Anne, and Kristian welcome into their home.
A joyful update: A month after our return home from Norway, we received an email from Hans. “A very nice and pretty little female calf was born early this morning at 6 o’clock,” he wrote. “We thought the calf should be called Wendy.” Here’s brand-new calf Wendy, the latest addition to Grøndalen Gård. Now it’s time for her to cuddle and nurse with her mom!
Many of you write in to say that your trip highlight was a visit to a small farm. You love spending time with a local food-producing family and learning about their lives over a meal. Read on for a small taste of the large variety of farm experiences to be had around the world. When you take a WOW trip, those are the sorts of moments you remember long after a trip has ended.
Tuscany: truffle hunting and farmhouse lunch
“A highlight was an outing with a truffle hunter and his dog into the hills and woods where the dog found truffles and after we were hosted at their farmhouse overlooking the valley while they served us a multi-course lunch of truffle-focused dishes that were scrumptious, along with their own wines. We also adored a private tour and lunch prepared for us at a little-known but spectacular vineyard in Chianti, with tastings paired with each course. And, last but not least, we will all remember forever our lunch at an agriturismo farm with a most generous host and chef that happily went on for hours, on a glorious afternoon, on their patio on the edge of their fields, where we were served mind-blowing grilled meats and the best lasagna and tiramisu any of us has ever tasted. My boys wanted to stay and work on the farm and never come home! And I got his grandmother’s recipes!” —Jessica Tolmach
Spain: meeting Iberian pig farmers
“An exceptional day was a visit to a family-owned Iberian pig farm in the Basque Highlands. The family was delightful. The farm was beautiful and we were treated to the many types of pork products produced by the farm. The owners were 13th generation of the family on this land, literally spanning hundreds of years. Amazing.” —Ann Wilkinson
Peru: traditional Inca cooking techniques
“In Ollantaytambo on an organic farm, we learned the traditional Inca cooking technique of pachamanca and savored the delicious al fresco lunch while admiring the snow-capped peaks of Mount Veronica. Thank you, Wendy, for a delightful experience!” —Molly O’Neill-Emmi
Ireland: sheep farm, making soda bread…
“We spent a morning at Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen, making (and eating) delicious soda bread, along with other delectables. Like all the folks we encountered, Tracey was an absolute delight, and we loved getting to go out to the countryside and spend some quality time with people who were so happy to share their lives with us…. Another absolute highlight of the trip is the Killary Sheep Farm. It’s on an absolutely beautiful fjord, and it’s fascinating to watch the sheepdogs in action and to participate in shearing the wool off the sheep. Tom, a 3rd generation proprietor, is eager to share his place, and it helps keep the lights on for these family businesses…” —Michael Kelberman
Sicily: vineyards, fruit orchards, pasta making…
“A visit to Santa Maria La Nave Winery is a must. This area is known for its fertile soils, orchards, and particular grape varietals located on the northernmost flanks of Mt Etna. Vera, our wine expert, explained the recovery project of previously abandoned varietals on the property and the Casa Decima vineyard. The Grecanico Dorato and Albanello grape varietals were new to us and not something that can be found easily in the US. After a tour of the vineyards, we joined Lucia, an amazing cook, and Vera in the Zen building (our name for the structure). You walk in and immediately feel at home. A wall of glass overlooks the vineyards and mountains. Now, we got down to business with a glass of sparkling wine and a pasta-making lesson. Suffice it to say that Lucia did most of the cooking, and Vera paired the wine for a delightful afternoon in a beautiful location.” —Joe Lyle
Vietnam: rice farm, fishing with locals…
“Another highlight of the trip was a day we spent in Vietnam doing local things in the countryside; we rode water buffalo, went fishing in a small boat with nets, met local rice farmers and learned how they grow their crops. It was such a special day meeting real people and learning about their lifestyle, and it would be something that we would’ve never been able to do on our own…” —Tara Murphy
Panama: coffee plantation
“Our hike ended at a lodge with a restaurant, where we enjoyed lunch and a beautiful view of the Baru Volcano. We were then met by our coffee plantation guide, who did an excellent job of explaining the unique coffee varieties of the area, including the famed Geisha, showing us each stage of the growing and roasting process and then sampling by smell and taste the varieties of coffees made by the Kotowa Coffee Plantation. We have since ordered many pounds of this coffee as Christmas gifts.” —Mary McDonald
Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.