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Finding Minnesota: Norsland Lefse Factory

By Mike Binkley, WCCO-TV

RUSHFORD, Minn. (WCCO) -- If you know any Norwegians, you've almost certainly been offered lefse.  It's a Scandinavian treat made from potatoes that's especially popular around the holidays. But a business in southeastern Minnesota has helped create a year-round demand for it.

Norsland Lefse in Rushford produces about a half million rounds of lefse each year.

"We're open 12 months out of the year," said co-owner Mark Johnson, "and we make lefse 12 months out of the year."

It's a treat usually made by Norwegian grandmothers with their rolling pins, around Thanksgiving and Christmas time.  But when you're producing for the masses, you need some help.

"Probably the most labor intensified (part) is the rolling pin, rolling it out," said Johnson. "And if you were to do it at home, that would be the work to the whole process. So the person that started this business developed these machines. And these machines are unique. They were built right here in Rushford."

He was referring to machines that rotate as they roll the dough flat, to the perfect level of thinness.

It takes just four ingredients -- potatoes, salt, flour and vegetable oil, flattened into a thin layer, and warmed just enough on a 500-degree griddle.

"If it's too cold, they'll dry out on you, if it's too hot they'll burn," said Johnson. "So it is kind of particular to have the right temperature."

Norsland Lefse ships to customers in all 50 states. You see packages addressed to the Andersons and the Petersons in places like Texas and North Carolina - which don't exactly have lefse factories of their own.

"The lefse factories would be up here in Minnesota or the Dakotas or Wisconsin," Johnson said, "because that's where the Scandinavians are."

For those who haven't tried it, Johnson likens it to a tortilla or a pastry, filled with tasty ingredients of your choice.

"Anything you can wrap up in a tortilla or anything, you can put in here," he said.

The company has grown over the years, to the point that it now goes through a thousand pounds of potatoes a day.  And this is obviously the busiest time of year.

"It's full blast right now," Johnson said. "I mean we've been working basically seven days a week."

By the way, another Minnesota town with a large Norwegian population holds the record for largest lefse.  People in Starbuck made a 70-pound, 10-foot diameter lefse in 1983, to celebrate the town's centennial.

WCCO-TV's Mike Binkley Reports


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