It may be Triple Cake Day, as the Norwegian media have been on about – that incredibly rare conjunction of Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Shrovetide Bun Day – but the big occasion in the news is the 30th anniversary of the Grandiosa.
Norwegians may love their cake, but the relationship they have with frozen pizza, and especially their own Grandiosa, is something every immigrant here needs to try and understand. Italians may not consider it food, and according to recent research, it is the only meal that Norwegians feel they have to explain or apologize for, but it is now an integral part of daily life.
The official 30th anniversary of the original Grandiosa – or Grandis as it is affectionately called – was February 11th, but the stories about the big day keep coming. The combination of thick, crisp bready disc topped by grated Jarlsberg, ‘pizza meat’, shavings of red pepper and secret tomato sauce has grown in popularity with each passing year in frozen pizza hungry Norway, though the Grandis’ grip on the market is now shared by a wider choice of toppings.
“Pizza was a relatively exotic phenomenon in Norway in 1980*. There were a few types in the freezer section already, but frozen pizza was often seen as a food for special enthusiasts. The idea behind the Grandiosa was to launch a pizza everyone could like and which had a steady quality that people could depend upon. Also, it had to be large enough that several people could share it,” says Magnus Tollefsen, product group manager at food monolith Stabburet, which makes the national dish.
According to a feature article in web news site Side2, total Grandiosa sales are nearly 370 million ‘pies’. About 48 million frozen pizzas now go down the Norwegian hatch per year, and half of these are Grandiosas. They may offer an excuse for having them, like not having time to cook on the day, or say they taste like cardboard – both common responses in a study cited on NRK radio – but the truth is, they have become part of the Norwegian soul.
In an earlier blog about the most popular domestic foods purchased by Norwegians abroad, I was asked how the Grandiosa did not figure in the top ten – my only guess is that they must not have any left to export to the few specialists that provide such a service.
In an interview with TV2’s web site, the ‘mother of the Grandiosa’, Ruth Romskaug, reveals that three years of research went into the original pizza sauce. Stabburet bosses traveled to Canada to sample the real thing and had frozen varieties flown in from Canada and Italy to dissect in their test kitchen.
“We didn’t know what pizza was, we here in Brumunddal had never tasted it before,” Ruth says. “We thought it tasted foreign, but it was very good. We ate a lot of pizza then,” she remembers.
The team realized they had to adapt the formula to the untutored Norwegian palate. “It couldn’t taste too foreign, not too strong, not too much tomato flavor, and it had to have minced meat or ham, which we were used to eating,” says Ruth, and admits with a smile that the aim was – a boring product.
A few gazillion pizzas later though, she is still not about to give the secret sauce recipe away.
* Another example, the bagel has not been long in Norway at all. It is hard to imagine how isolated the country was from outside food influences until relatively recently.
Video clips of classic Grandiosa TV commercials: http://www.nrk.no/nyheter/distrikt/more_og_romsdal/1.6988517 (scroll down)