Stockfish and codfish are produced with ancient processing and preservation techniques to ensure that they get unique taste and texture if compared with fresh fish.
Stockfish production has been always the same throughout centuries, drying codfish on the racks with the help of sun and wind, while codfish production has gone from drying under the sun on the rocks to more advanced drying techniques, even if preservation principles have always been the same since 1600.
These ancient preservation processes are under strict quality control by the government to ensure the complete conformity to the law, moreover producers constantly make quality control during all production phases.
Stockfish production in the Lofoten islands starts at the end of February and ends in April, that is the skrei fishing season and the period in which the climate is perfect for the drying process. In the northern regions it is possible going on with the production until May, because the temperature remains cold longer.
Codfish production, instead, is made all year round because it doesn't depend on atmospheric conditions and the raw material is available throughout the year.
Stockfish and codfish processing
The first phases of processing are the same for both the stockfish and the codfish. The fish is bled dry while it is still on the fishing boat. The elimination of the blood from the cod is fundamental to guarantee white meat to the end product. As soon as they land, processing starts with the cut of fish's belly and head, which are other two critical moments in cod processing so, for getting the best quality, it is important to use the fittest technique so that not to damage cod meat or entrails.
Then cod is washed in clean, running water to guarantee the maximum hygiene. But from this moment on, processing for getting stockfish and codfish is different.
Stockfish processing process
The tying process starts between specimens of similar size. Two cods are tied together at caudal fin level using a net, hemp or synthetic thread.
After tying, cod is washed in water again and transferred to the place where racks have been set up. Tied cod are hanged on racks at a certain distance one from the other so that there's an optimal air circulation.
For producing a high quality stockfish it is necessary that the whole process is made the same day as cods are fished.
The perfect balance between sun, rain and Arctic wind has a fundamental role during cod drying period, because fish must dry equally (inside and outside in the same time). In the Lofoten islands drying process takes about three months, depending on atmospheric conditions and cod dimensions.
During this period cods are constantly checked to ensure the best stockfish; for examples they check the distance on racks between a cod and the other and they eliminate any remains, for example liver remains.
Normally stockfish is ready to be picked at the end of May or at the beginning of June, when it is taken to the warehouse for a further drying process.
Drying process is one of the most ancient methods for the preservation of fish. From the archaeological finds result that stockfish, that is cod dried in the air, is the fish eaten by Vikings during their incursions and used as swap goods to get other essential food. First testimony of the exportation of stockfish to England goes back to 875 AD.
So it is sure that dry fish is the most ancient Norwegian exported product. This is because of the advantages of this fish: its long preservation time, its high protein content and its particularly low weight. All these reasons made of stockfish a highly appreciate food provision for boat crews. Vikings started to use it but then it appeared on fishing fleets all around Europe.
So cod reached the most disparate corners of the continent.
In Italy the history of stockfish goes back to 1400 when, thanks to the active trade between Flanders and the Northern Italy, it was exported from the Lofoten islands and Bergen through Holland and Flanders. As stockfish was transported by Dutch ships, at the beginning it was called "Dutch stockfish".
Throughout the course of centuries commercial relationships continued to develop and Italy became one of the most important markets for Norwegian stockfish.
Stockfish opened the door to Italian market also for other products coming from Norwegian Seas, in particular codfish. Norway started to produce codfish around 1640, but the preservation method had already been discovered in 1400 in the Iberian Peninsula and spread by Basque fishermen. Forced in the sea for long time, fishermen studied a preservation technique for the fish: the preservation with salt, of which they were rich.
But if people who lived near the sea didn't have any problem with the fish, for people living just few miles from the coast it was very difficult to find it. So all around Europe the trade of preserved fish spread, importing it by sea from big trade centers of the North Atlantic. As a matter of fact, cods abundantly filled ship's holds sailing from Norwegian fjords.