Meet the expat spicing up Danes’ dinner tables

In the latest instalment of My Danish Career, The Local spoke with Terri Galappathie about turning her passion for traditional food into a growing business.

Meet the expat spicing up Danes' dinner tables
Spice Mamma founder Terri Galappathie. Photo: Submitted
Like many expat women, Terri Galappathie left a career behind to move from the UK to Copenhagen with her husband and children. She grew up in Wakefield in the north of England but was living in London when she and her Swedish husband decided to move to the Danish capital. They wanted their children to have a similar childhood to her husband’s but decided to move somewhere that was new to both of them.
When Galappathie was at home with her then six-month-old twins, her mind turned to what to do once the younger two joined her daughter in daycare.
“I knew I wanted to do something new and the opportunities for inexpensive, excellent daycare in Denmark meant that I was able to be a working mum much more easily,” she said. 
While her twins were still babies, Galappathie was struck with a business idea. Very early in her new life in Copenhagen she noticed how hard it was to make the curries she loved to prepare for her family, which now includes a fourth child. 
Having grown up eating traditional Sri Lankan food, she wanted to make kits that would allow for easy preparation of delicious curries at home. The idea of Spice Mamma was born, although not without some concerns from her Swedish in-laws. 
“Traditionally Scandinavians think of curry as something served with meatballs and not very spicy. When I told my father-in-law about my idea to produce and sell a variety of curry kits, that’s when I first encountered something of a cultural barrier when he asked if there was more than one kind of curry!”
Although Denmark doesn’t have strong culture of eating traditional curries the one thing that made Galappathie think her idea would work was how Danes have a culture of cooking at home rather than regularly eating takeaways. 
“I noticed how Danish people love to have their friends and family to their homes to enjoy hygge and a big part of that was the preparation and consumption of home-cooked foods. People value the time they share eating and enjoying food. They also care about where the food comes from,” she said.
Spice Mamma opened in 2015 with a website selling a selection of curry packs that allow customers to simply their meat or vegetables and a few fresh ingredients, follow the simple instructions to then enjoy an authentic curry experience. They are the curries Galappathie enjoys eating herself and her mum helped her to ensure the spice mixes were as good as they could be. But the product was just one part of the journey.
“I don’t speak Danish fluently so the paperwork to start a business, especially a food-based one, was time consuming. But I found everyone I had to deal with incredibly helpful,” she said. “If they couldn’t speak to me in English they found someone who could. I found the whole system very supportive and there were no barriers in starting my business.” 
Living in city much smaller than London helped Galappathie take her business one step further this year. 
“I was in [department store chain] Magasin and I thought how great it would be if they stocked the Spice Mamma range. I asked a staff member for the name of the right person to approach and simply called him. We had a positive meeting and he took some of the packs home to try. Shortly after he came back to me and agreed to stock the whole range in the store. I can’t imagine how long a similar process would have taken the UK.”
Spice Mamma packs are now available in Magasin and on the launch day at the end of August, Galappathie was there handing out samples of korma curry for people to try. 
“I cooked and gave out taster samples of chicken korma.  The reception was very good. People seemed to like the taste and the concept. I was surprised again how little exposure and knowledge Danes have of Indian food, a lot of people had never even heard of korma curry. But the packs completely sold out that day, so I guess that was a good sign for the future of Spice Mamma.”  
Galappathie's twins showing support for their (spice) mamma's business. Photo: Submitted
Galappathie's twins showing support for their (spice) mamma's business. Photo: Submitted

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Why does Denmark produce so much cheese?

From Danbo to Danablu and the Danish feta that can't be called feta - Denmark produces over four hundred thousand tonnes of cheese each year and exports it across the world. So why is Danish cheese so popular, and what are the country's best-loved cheeses?

Why does Denmark produce so much cheese?

Cheese-making is a serious business in Denmark. In 2021, the country produced a total of 454,500 tonnes of cheese and Danish cheese has won awards at the World Championship Cheese Contest.

The tradition goes back to the Viking era and today, the country’s climate and pastoral land make it ideal for producing cheese (ost). About three quarters of the country’s milk production is turned into cheese, butter and milk powder.

Not only is cheese popular in Denmark, where it’s eaten with pretty much any meal and snack (can you even have a bolle [bread roll] without ost?), it is also eaten around the world in countries including South Korea, New Zealand, Canada, Nigeria and even France.

In 2021, Denmark exported a total of 401,845 tonnes of cheese, making it one of the top cheese exporters in the world. The biggest importer of Danish cheese was Germany (94,419 tonnes), followed by Sweden (52.924 tonnes) and the UK (42,905 tonnes). 18,097 tonnes of cheese was exported to Japan and 5,657 to the United States.

What types of cheese does Denmark make?

The different types of cheese in Denmark can be hard to distinguish and there are a lot of them. You can quite easily end up with a fridge full of strong smells that you weren’t expecting. 

Danbo, often called ‘Denmark’s national cheese’, is the most produced and consumed cheese in Denmark. It has Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, meaning it can only be made in Denmark to specific Danish standards.

Danbo is sold under various trade and brand names, including LillebrorGamle Ole, and Riberhus. Lillebror (meaning Little brother) is very mild and often sold in childrens’ packs, whereas Gamle Ole (meaning Old Ole) is matured for a long time, which means it’s strong and smelly. Caraway seeds are sometimes added to this cheese.

Esrom also has Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status and is made from pasteurised cow’s milk. It is semi-soft with small holes and is pretty pungent.

Havarti is one of the most famous Danish cheeses. It’s a bit like a cheddar in that the taste can be mild, but the longer the cheese is stored, the stronger it gets. 

Danablu is a Danish Blue soft blue cheese, similar to Roquefort. It has a strong aroma and a sharp and a little salty taste. Danablu is often used in America to make blue cheese dressing for salads and blue cheese dip for chicken wings. 

A dairy farm in Klemensker, Bornholm has twice been named world champion in cheese making. Photo: Morten Juhl/Ritzau Scanpix

Mycella is a veined blue cheese made from pasteurised cow’s milk on the island of Bornholm and is similar to Gorgonzola. It goes well in a salad or cheese platter or even crumbled on top of an open sandwich.

Blå kornblomst, meaning ‘blue cornflower’, is a creamy blue cheese with a mild, slightly salty taste. The cheese is white to yellowish with blue tinges and is made from pasteurised cow’s milk on North Jutland.

Danish rygeost, meaning ‘smoked cheese’ is mild, light and smokey. It originates from 19th century Funen, with some believing it dates back to the Viking Age. 

A dish of potato, monkfish and smoked cheese.

A dish of potato, monkfish and smoked cheese. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

Vesterhavsost, meaning ‘North Sea Cheese’, is a semi-hard cheese with a slightly salty taste as it is ripened in the sea air of North Jutland. It’s referred to as the Danish version of Gouda. 

Fyrmester or Fyrtårnsost, meaning ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’ or ‘Lighthouse Cheese’, is an extra-mature version of the vesterhavsost, aged for at least 52 weeks.

Samsø cheese is similar to Emmentale and made on the island of Samsø in Kattegat.

Hvid ost, meaning ‘white cheese’, is Denmark’s equivalent to feta cheese but uses cow’s milk rather than the goat or sheep’s milk used in Greek feta cheese. It’s milder and doesn’t crumble like Greek feta cheese because it’s made differently, using something called ultrafiltration.

There have been debates as to whether this actually makes it feta cheese. Earlier this year, Denmark lost a case at the European Court of Justice over its farmers exporting cheese outside the EU labelled feta, something only Greece can do. The cheese is sometimes labelled in supermarkets as ‘salad cubes’ (salat-tern).

There is, perhaps, one thing that unites almost all Danish cheeses: they are sliced using the characteristic ostehøvl (cheese slicer), the quintessential Danish kitchen utensil.

There are two types of ostehøvl: a wire-based type and a version that looks a bit like a trowel, with a raised edge and a gap in the middle for the sliced cheese to pass through.

Cheese vocab:

Blød ost: Soft cheese

Halvfast ost: Semi-soft cheese 

Fast ost: Semi-hard cheese 

Hård ost: Hard cheese

Ekstra hård ost: Extra hard cheese

Frisk ost: Fresh cheese

Ostehøvl: cheese slicer