At the Icehotel in Swedish Lapland, about 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle, staffers deliver cups of hot lingonberry juice to guests’ rooms each morning. Juice is a favorite way to enjoy the hardy red fruits, which thrive in cold climates and are too bitter to be eaten raw. Also known as partridgeberries, foxberries, or cowberries, lingonberries are especially popular in Scandinavia. And although this smaller, tarter cousin of the cranberry is cultivated in the Pacific Northwest, many Americans first learned about lingonberries at Swedish furniture chain Ikea.
Rårörda lingon (uncooked fresh or frozen lingonberries mixed with sugar) and lingonberry jam are beloved accompaniments for much more than meatballs and pancakes, explains Johanna Kindvall, co-author of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break (Ten Speed Press, 2015). Swedes eat them with fried herring, oatmeal, and a variety of cakes and pies. Rich in antioxidants, the tart berries have also been touted for their health benefits in recent years, with Dr. Oz and others dubbing them the new superfruit. Though lingonberries aren’t traditional cheese accompaniments, their blend of tartness and sweetness makes them sublime with many wedges and wheels.
A staple in Swedish kitchens, lingonberry jam is akin to cranberry sauce—but its use isn’t pegged to the holidays. It’s available year-round at many US retailers, including Ikea, Whole Foods, and a growing number of grocery stores. Swedish-bor n cheese professional and monger Alexandra Ruane recommends spooning a dollop on a meaty camembert to bring “a bit of saltiness and pungent flavor” to the sugary preserves. Another approach she suggests: Play with the popular Swedish Christmas coupling of blue cheese and ginger snaps (pepparkakor), and top with a bit of jam to complement the hint of spice in the cookies and the nip of a robust blue (the jam works with the cheese solo, too).
Roquefort PDO + Ikea Lingonberry Jam
To make this traditional Swedish dessert, peel and poach pears in a mixture of water or lingonberry juice, lingonberry jam, and cinnamon sticks. The mellow sweetness of the pears and the slight bitterness of the berries result in a balance of flavor that Swedes describe as lagom, or “just right.” Skip the typical whipped cream topper—add a scoop of custardy buffalo’s milk ricotta for a decadent match: The ricotta’s dense creaminess offsets the gently spiced pears. Or serve with a thick slice of citrusy, tangy bûcheron—a bright foil for the tart berries.
Calabro Cheese Corp. Ricotta di Bufala + lingonpäron
Sèvre et Belle Bûcheron + lingonpäron
This classic cocktail originated in northern Sweden, where lingonberries grow abundantly in forests and winter temperatures can plummet to –40°F(!). A blend of vodka and lingonberry juice, the potent Vargtass (“Wolf’s Paw”) is no frilly libation. “It’s pure, no fuss, no decoration on it whatsoever,” Ruane says. “It’s about as far from an appletini as you can get.” She suggests pairing it with an aged hard cheese with a dense mouthfeel and a hint of sweetness to tame the drink’s acidity. So envision yourself in a ski lodge, and sip Vargtass while noshing on Gruyère (hints of toast and burnt sugar abound) or a caramel-tinged cheddar, such as crumbly clothbound Flory’s Truckle.
Gruyère AOP + Vargtass cocktail
Milton Creamery Flory’s Truckle + Vargtass cocktail