The Faroe Islands is among the last places in the world where pilot whales can be legally slaughtered for meat. And while the centuries-old practice can be controversial, the traditional Faroese dish known as tvøst og spik depends on it.
This distinctly Faroese meal consists of dried whale meat (tvøst) and blubber (spik), sometimes paired with potatoes. In the past, the dish was an important part of the local diet, which lacked fresh produce and protein. (Due to the remote islands’ cold, foggy climate, farmers are unable to cultivate a variety of crops or raise large mammals.) But the whale meat’s reputation as a nutritional staple has taken a hit in recent years, due to elevated levels of mercury. Despite some public health warnings against consuming it, the tradition of tvøst og spik carries on.
Meat on the Faroe Islands is often wind-dried, in a process called ræst, which means fermentation and can take up to eight weeks. Pilot whale meat is naturally black in color, just like the cetacean’s thick outer layer. Even when dried, pilot whale meat retains its dark hue. Translucent whale blubber is typically preserved in salt, and it also retains its natural color, which is relatively clear, sometimes with a slightly pink or yellow tint.
When dried, whale meat has a strong, salty flavor and is cut into jerky-style hunks. The blubber, which has a fishy, briny flavor much like the meat, is often cut into thin, chewy squares. Both are almost always served together.