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Finding Minnesota: The Taste Of Lutefisk

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- If you've never tried it, at the very least, you've probably smelled it.

Lutefisk season is upon us, as many Minnesotans celebrate their Scandinavian heritage. Dining halls and churches draw crowds in the thousands who want to wolf down this fish delicacy.

And the majority of that re-hydrated ling cod comes from one Minneapolis business unwilling to change a long-standing tradition.

The holiday meal brings us together, but sometimes the main dish isn't for everyone.

"I love the way it tastes. I grew up eating it," Laurie MacLean said.

If there's one thing Scandinavians know about lutefisk, it's that success is in the preparation.

"I don't think it's easy to make it well," MacLean said.

Long before they add the butter or cream sauce, Justin Reese and David Weston take on the task of careful preparation.

"It's easy to work with and it doesn't smell too bad," said Weston, an employee at Olsen Fish Company, one of the largest lutefisk producers in North America.

Inside a north Minneapolis warehouse, they carry on an ancient Nordic tradition.

"We've been making lutefisk since 1910 in Minneapolis," said Chris Dorff, president of Olsen Fish Company.

In the busy season, 10,000 pounds of lutefisk will go to church dinners and grocery stores each week.

But even with a spike in demand, there's no way to rush the preparation process.

"Basically, it's a two-week process of soaking," Dorff said.

Even with modern conveniences, he makes sure lutefisk preparation is rooted in its history.

"We still make lutefisk the same way it was," Dorff said. "It's basically taking dried fish and soaking it in water to get it soft."

Tradition also comes with a pungent reputation.

"You've got gloves and aprons and uniforms," Dorff said. "Funny thing is, still, if you're going anywhere you better bring some spare clothes."

While the process remains the same, in business, time has a way of bringing change.

"I've seen sales drop every year, part of it is the aging population, part of it is the melting pot we live in," Dorff said.

With the taste for lutefisk falling, Olsen Fish Company found a new market.

"Right now, our growth all comes from the herring business," Dorff said.

Pickled herring sales have now surpassed two million pounds a year.

"It's always been recognized as one of those things of prosperity and good luck," Dorff said.

Business evolves, but those with Scandinavian roots think lutefisk will always be at the table.

"So far, I've had it five times and I'll probably have it this weekend," Reese said.

A good meal will always bring people together, even when the taste is an acquired one.

"If you put melted butter on anything, it's going to taste good," MacLean said.

The Olsen fish Company only offers bulk sale. If you want to pick up some lutefisk and try it at home, it's sold at many area grocery stores.

For more on the Olsen Fish products, go to

And if you have a Finding Minnesota idea we should check out, click here.

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