Christmas at Häckeberga Castle

We visit with Chef Tomas Gustavsson and get a special take on a locally inspired glögg. 

  • Häckeberga Slott, a renaissance castle located by Romelåsen, the Romele Ridge in Sweden’s southernmost province, is also home to a gourmet restaurant. Photo: Creative Commons/Rutger Blom
  • Sweden's southern region Skane has a long tradition of putting emphasis on food through an abundance of local quality natural ingredients. Häckeberga Castle is situated on one of the seven hills of the Häckeberga lake, in Genarp in southern Sweden. It is a fairly young castle, built in French Renaissance style in 1873-1875 by Tönnes Wrangel von Brehmer. Today Häckeberga is a popular hotel and conference spot, and one beautiful Indian summer day we came by to talk to executive chef Tomas Gustavsson and to get his recipe for apple glögg. Gustavsson has been the chef at Häckeberga the past three and a half years.
    “It’s all about making a good product better,” he says. “You can always make things better.”
    Gustavsson is inspired by the New Nordic Cuisine, and its motto of staying local and staying clean.
    “My thought when I first came here was to serve what we sit on, to use what’s already here,” says Gustavsson. “We never use zucchinis, we never use aubergines as they don’t grow here. My food philosophy is to have locally grown produce served according to season. We also go out of our way when it comes to the meat we cook: We use a local butcher whose philosophy is that his animals have as good a life as possible.”
    It’s important that food tastes the way “it used to.” A carrot should taste like a carrot, with its typical earthy sweet flavor. Gustavsson is inspired by chefs like Swede Mathias Dahlgren (owner of the restaurant “Mathias Dahlgren” in Stockholm) and Dane Rene Redzepi (co-owner and chef of Noma in Copenhagen, twice in a row voted best restaurant in the world by the magazine “Restaurant”), and he believes the reason the prestigious Bocuse d’Or is usually topped by Scandinavian chefs is simply because they are so good.
    “When it comes to cooking, Scandinavians are the best,” he says. “We cook good food with clean flavors. We don’t add stuff that doesn’t need to be added. I always say: ‘Why marinate? Is the meat so bad you have to cover up the flavors?’ Keep it simple, yet creative. When you’re limited with the amount of products you can use, it takes a super creativity to keep things moving along.”

  • Executive Chef Tomas Gustavsson photographed on the Häckeberga Castle terrace by Eva Stenskär.
  • Christmas at Häckeberga
    Winter at Häckeberga must look like an old-fashioned Christmas card, pretty and romantic with snow and ice everywhere.
    “We hold on to traditions, of course we do,” says Gustavsson. “But we no longer have ‘julbord’ (the Smorgasboard-style Christmas buffet, which usually means an excess in foods). We’re trying to get away from that kind of gormandizing. We have a Christmas-styled menu with pork, wild duck or pheasant and heavier desserts with dark berries, chocolate and caramel. Christmas usually means a return to heavier tastes, and I will never take away chocolate and vanilla from my cooking!”
    Reluctantly, Gustavsson admits that he does use saffron in cooking, but only for the lussekatter (saffron buns) at Christmas.
    “You have to be traditional, yet introduce new things by way of changing the flavor of a dish a little or the consistency of a particular food.”

  • Häckeberga Castle, the lake and the surrounding forest is a popular area for day tours and hikes and a much photographed spot winter or summer. This photo is from HCarlberg's wordpress blog and was taken with an Ericsson cell phone during a visit!
  • Favorite food
    "To make? I love to make desserts. My favorite dessert right now is one with sea buckthorn berries (havtorn), with their sour orangey taste."
    Favorite spice: "I like lemon, but I also like anise, fennel and cumin."
    Inspired by: “Chefs like Mathias Dahlgren and Rene Redzepi, but also cookbooks. I always read cookbooks."
    Junk food? “Sure! But I’d much rather have a hot dog at Sibylla than a burger at McDonald's!”
    Any dont's? "Don't eat cucumber or tomatoes if they don't taste good. If a cucumber tastes like old water, why eat it? Better then to pickle cucumbers and tomatoes when they are at their peak, and serve when they are out of season."
    by Eva Stenskär

  • Old-fashioned glögg. All glögg is in Sweden usually served with spoonfuls of almonds and raisin.
  • Tomas apple glögg
    4 cups of freshly squeezed apple juice (use organic apples)
    2 oz muscovado sugar
    1 cinnamon stick (about 1.5” long)
    2 star anise seed
    2 cloves
    1 bitter orange peel
    1 cup + 2 oz white wine
    4 oz of Calvados brandy (optional)
    Heat half the apple juice with the sugar and spices. Remove from heat and stir in the rest of the juice, let it sit over night then run it through a sieve. Heat the glögg with the white wine and brandy (leave out the wine and brandy for an alcohol-free glögg).
    For an old-fashioned glögg recipe, see Glögg recipes

  • For more info, see Häckeberga Slott