Despite the difficult terrain and challenges of traversing the rough seas, people in the Faroe Islands have made their homes on all but one of their eighteen islands. Not included in that count are the numerous islets, sea stacks, and separated cliffs; landforms distinct enough to garner their own names and identities but treacherous enough to resist inhabitation — by people anyway. Because of their isolation these remote areas can be perfect grazing grounds for the plentiful population of sheep.
No animal is more synonymous with the Faroe Islands than sheep. The name Føroyar comes from an old Norse translation that literally means “sheep islands,” so they’ve probably always outnumbered humans. It certainly seems like they own the place, roaming the archipelago with abandon, their fleece often allowed to grow long and wild. Sheep have always been a vital part of the Faroese culture: their wool a source of warmth, their fermented meat a staple of Faroese cuisine.
I could fly to the Faroe Islands right now. It would take a few connections from Pittsburgh, but soon I’d be looking out the window of an Atlantic Airways flight and trying to name the islands, if I could make them out through the fog. But that accessibility is a modern phenomena, and for most of its history the tiny archipelago was a distant place, a significant sea journey from anywhere. Isolation required self sufficiency, which led to a unique food culture, distinct even from its Scandinavian neighbors. Fermented lamb, boiled pilot whale, braised guillemot, puffin stuffed with cake. These dishes bear the imprint of the landscape itself. Faroese food is the creative output of natural constraints, defined by both what was missing (fertile soil, salt) and what was plentiful (steep bird cliffs, grassy mountains, deep ocean inlets).