A modern food fairy tale
They wanted to be the best in Norway for local food. No modest aim, but today hotelier Olav Lie-Nilsen is the proud owner of a farm with five hundred happy animals supplying the hotel with all the meat it needs, a fertile vegetable garden and a cheese factory in the old swimming pool.
Text: Edda Espeland / Translation: Linda Vikaune / Photo: Per Erik Jæger
Olav Lie-Nilsen at Thorbjørnrud Hotell in Hadeland didn’t stop at wanting to be the best for local food, he wanted to produce it himself as well. He has always been interested in cattle, in a living cultural landscape and in local food, but the hotel owner didn’t have a farm. He started looking around in the nearby area, and when he found Øvre Kjekshus farm at Gran, a 20 minute drive from the hotel, he fell in love at first sight. The farm buildings had been left untended for many years, but Olav saw the potential. He saw how cows and sheep maintained the fine cultural landscape around the farm, he imagined a storehouse with wonderful hams and a garden filled with flowers and berries. He bought it and started a total renovation. It would make good business sense for the hotel to be self-sufficient with meat, he thought, and besides, he would finally be able to live his old farming dream.
For the love of food
Today the hotel restaurant has a unique opportunity to rethink local food and food culture completely. In a world where most people have lost contact with the food they eat, Olav has seen an opportunity to restore that connection for the guests at Thorbjørnrud. Øvre Kjekshus has cows, sheep, pigs, geese and chickens that provide the meat and ham for the hotel. The chef is particularly proud of the cured meats; they make 80 exclusive hams and store them for 18 months before they are served to the hotel’s guests. The vegetable garden supplies courgettes, kale, artichokes, beetroot and sugar snap peas, as well as flowers like marigolds and poppies. Olav’s grandmother taught him to always have flowers in the vegetable garden.
Kjetil, the hotel manager, is responsible for the hotel’s own beer, for if a hotel wants to be self-sufficient, it obviously needs its own beer!
Good meals and unique local food experiences are undoubtedly the main focus of any development at Thorbjørnrud Hotell. The lunch buffet is famous, and they often fire up the pizza oven and serve Italian pizza as well. Not to mention the Christmas dinner, which is legendary for its traditional ribbe – oven cooked pork ribs so tender that they practically melt under the crackling.
Making cheese in the hotel pool
In 2015 they made a cheese factory in the old hotel pool. Why not, it made perfect sense, thought Olav and hotel manager Kjetil, since they are more passionate about food than chlorinated water. It was just what they needed to start cheese production, and is now the starting point for unique cheeses for the kitchen at Thorbjørnrud. The milk comes from sheep and cows at Øvre Kjekshus, and Swiss cheese maker Chris Leuthold has laid the foundation for a flavoursome and varied range of products. So far they have made two blue cheeses – Blue Sheep and Blue Cow – which the hotel and guests are very pleased with, and a Hadeland cheddar, so mild and soft that it melts on the tongue. They are the first to make cheddar in Norway.
The farm where Thorbjørnrud hotel is today, can trace its history back to the 1300s.
The elegant main building in the old romantic style used to be the director’s mansion belonging to glass factory Hadeland Glassverk for many years and is today used as restaurant and function room. The hotel wing, added on in the 1980s, is an architectural gem with lots of glass and great views to the hotel’s historical garden and the Randsfjord. The garden has a traditional design with heritage plants and greenery, and has become a lovely place for guests to relax. Thorbjørnrud is a meeting, conference and events hotel, and closes over the summer. But in the summer of 2016 something new arrived in the beautiful gardens: a few glamorous tents with a total of nine beds, a small service house with toilet, bathroom and a small communal room with a kitchenette. Glamping had arrived at Thorbjørnrud, and the tents are beautifully situated near the water, with views over the fjord.
The hotel itself has 82 guest rooms, 18 meeting rooms and a large and airy auditorium which can accommodate up to 130 people. The communal rooms have plenty of space for group work and mingling, to stretch your legs, get a cup of coffee, look at all the great contemporary art on the walls or go for a stroll in the garden. Many also choose the hotel as their wedding venue or for a celebration, or how about a picnic in the garden or a French garden party with a barbecue?
The possibilities are endless at Thorbjørnrud, but you can always count on culinary fireworks and locally sourced delicacies.