Carrots worth travelling for

Rob Dunlop sits down to a vegetarian degustation of produce from the country's most lauded patch of earth.

In a world obsessed with celebrity chefs, seasonal ingredients and ways to fiddle with them, along comes the "world's best vegie patch". It's not a vegetable patch you strive to create at home, however; it's one you can visit in Scandinavia.

Any Michelin-starred chef worth his salt will have heard of this vegie patch but, most likely, by its local moniker, Lammefjord. It is an unusual setting that produces fresh vegetables for the world's best restaurant, Noma in Copenhagen, the winner of the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants awards in 2010 and 2011.

The Lammefjord was once a shallow fiord and was reclaimed as land between 1873 and 1943. Today, it supports a thriving agricultural community and a vegie patch of about 6000 hectares.

Lammefjord is famous for its distinctively flavoured vegetables, particularly its carrots and potatoes. The taste and nutrient mix come from millenniums of deposits of dead plants, animals and shells in the original fiord bed. And this is why Scandinavia's top restaurants seek out these vegetables.

When visiting Lammefjord, among the rolling hills of Odsherred in the north-western corner of Denmark's main island, Zealand, it's impossible to escape carrot themes.

Roadside stalls sell them and they feature on restaurant menus everywhere, including Castle Kitchen in the old vaulted kitchen of Dragsholm Castle, which dates to 1215. The Lammefjord reclamation project was instigated by the castle's resident nobleman of the time, Baron Georg Frederik Zytphen-Adeler.

Over time, the surrounding landscape and castle have changed. Dragsholm has been a palace, a fortified castle, a prison for nobles, a ruin (bombed by Sweden's King Gustav) and now a museum hotel with a gourmet restaurant.

For several years, Castle Kitchen has collaborated with Noma to develop its menu. The former sous chef at Noma, Claus Henriksen, heads the kitchen with a passion for the local carrot.

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After swanning around the ballroom and salons, peeking at the chapel and running up and down crooked staircases, I settle at one of the chef's smart Nordic timber tables for a degustation of local vegies with matching international wines.

The first course is a terracotta pot with green stalks of carrots protruding from the top - ripe for yanking out and devouring. Rye bread strips encased with twigs collected from the nearby forest add more touches of grit.

Freshly baked bread rolls are presented in little potato sacks. Dollops of butter and horseradish adorn a pebble collected from the nearby beach. Sweet wild berries appear. So does a tiny bundle of hay, which burns on the table, accentuating the theme of Nordic earthiness and gastronomic art.

The main dish is a surprise. I use fancy replica cutlery of the 1700s to pick at the collection of Lammefjord leaves and vegetables.

Dishes with more carrots arrive. Then, dessert is announced: carrot cake. OK, I give in - the carrots taste wonderful. More matched wine, please.

Rob Dunlop travelled courtesy of Scandinavian Airlines and the Scandinavian Tourist Board.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has a fare to Copenhagen for about $2145 low-season return from Melbourne and Sydney, including tax. You fly Thai Airways to Bangkok (9hr), then SAS to Copenhagen (11hr).

Staying there

Dragsholm Castle has 34 rooms. A Gourmet Break package includes a five-course dinner, overnight stay in a double room and breakfast from 1650 krone ($300) a person. See dragsholm-slot.dk.

Touring there

Walk off the carrots with an eight kilometre trek from Dragsholm Castle that includes Lammefjord, the hills of Vejrhoj and the flats of the beach. Across Odsherred, there is a 300-kilometre network of walking, cycling and canal paths.

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