nøkkelost

Norwegian Cheese 101

There’s more to Norwegian cheese than Jarlsberg and brunost.  Some of you may have recalled my blog post a couple of weeks ago about the infamous Norwegian caramelized goat cheese, also called “gjetost” or “brown cheese”.  Today, I was inspired to write about other Norwegian cheeses after having come across the following news article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/23/world/europe/norway-cheese-fire-shuts-tunnel.html?_r=0

Funnily, this story made news all around the world, hopefully people will not associate brunost with burning tunnels from now on!

norskost2

Back to our cheeses…Years ago, most cheeses were made on individual farms during the summer, at special dairy cabins high up in the mountains. The most common types of cheeses were a firm, mild, white cheese, as well as a pressed, granular large-curd cheese called gamalost (“old cheese” – see further down for more details). There was also a fermented cottage cheese, and another made with beer.  The white cheese was made with sweet or sour milk – typically the sweet milk was heated, then the sour milk added afterwards. The mixture was placed in a bag or container with small holes for the whey to escape, and the whey was reserved to make other types of cheeses (brunost, for example).  Not a drop of  milk gathered on these farms were wasted, and the entire process was overseen by the women, who were responsible for the animals on the farm.  The dairy industry has always been extremely important to Norway and while we may not see a lot of products represented in this country, we have a tremendously interesting selection and a rich, culinary history tied to cheese making.

I’ve always found dairy products in Norway (on average) to be richer and more flavorful than many other countries’ dairy products. The yogurts are smoother, the milk creamier and the cheeses have a nice, velvety texture that brings out every layer of flavor. I truly believe this has to do with our unspoiled nature our animals are fortunate enough to roam around in, but the Norwegian government also supports our agricultural industry in a way where it’s possible to make wholesome products without compromising too much of the quality.

I would like to focus on a few of our more well known cheeses in this post. However, while doing research I happened to come across a myriad of small dairy farms now producing incredibly exciting cheeses of the highest quality,  so I most definitely will come back and focus on individual producers in future posts!   For now, you should know about the following:

Nøkkelost

This cheese is also sometimes called “cumin cheese”, as it’s flavored with cumin, cloves and caraway spices. A semi-hard cheese, its name translates into “key cheese” (nøkkel = Norwegian for cheese) and has been made since the 17th century. The cheese is modeled after the Leyden cheese from Holland. The name comes from the symbol on the gates of the city Leiden. In the late 1860s, Leyden cheese used to be accepted as payment when trade was done between the two countries, and when the trade stopped, the Norwegians began making their own version of this cheese.

Nøkkelost is available in the U.S. either through Scanspecialties.com,  igourmet.com or at various gourmet stores around the country.  You can also try to make your own if you are being adventurous! Below is a recipe:

Homemade Nøkkelost

10 quarts kefir or buttermilk

2 sticks + 1 tbsp (250 grams) butter

1 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp cloves, crushed

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp salt

You can substitute cloves w/caraway if you prefer, but just know that the cheese will have quite a different flavor profile.

Heat up the milk and cook until the milk separates. Add in the other ingredients and heat up, but not hot enough so that the butter separates. Stir the mixture until it thickens, becomes smooth and releases from the bottom. Press the cheese into a container and let sit until cool.

Have this cheese with one of your favorite craft beers (Norwegian is best, of course:)), a very tasty combination!

nøkkelost

Gamalost

With roots going back to viking times, it’s not for nothing that the name of this cheese is Norwegian for “Old cheese”.  Most famously, this cheese was known for enhancing sexual prowess, and is dubbed the “Viking Viagra”.   This cheese is not for the faint of heart, as it is very smelly and requires an open mind. There is an old “recipe” for how it is made, which made me laugh:

“Take some cheese, stuff it in an old sock, bury it in manure under the barn, and when it is ready, it will crawl out.”

So for all those who can’t get their cheeses stinky enough – here’s a perfect one for you!!

This cheese is one of our oldest, most traditional food products, and is now protected by law, in an effort to preserve our food culture.

According to an article in the Norway Post, in the old days “skimmed cow’s milk was left to sour, heated, and then the curds were placed in cloth-lined wooden boxes, wrapped in dried marsh grass, and the aging process would begin. Every other day, for many months, the dairy maids would pull the boxes out from under their beds, where the cheese was stored, and rub the cheese by hand to help spread the bacteria evenly. By Christmas the cheese had fermented to a brownish gold color and was ready to eat.”

Gamalost is a hard cheese made from low fat buttermilk or kefir. It is sharp, somewhat bitter in flavor, with a granular consistency. It is quite low in fat, and sometimes dipped in aquavit. Because of its low fat content, it can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration.

gamalost

Namdalsgomme

One of many local varieties of ‘gomme’ (“gomme” being the cheese that is created from cooking down the milk)  – this cheese has a round, sweet whey flavor, with hints of cardamom and cinnamon.  It is easy to cut, without being as smooth as cream cheese.  Namdalsgomme has an even, light brown color with a layer of cinnamon on top.
Not the most widely available cheese out there, it is still popular.  Namdalsgomme is perfect to spread on Norwegian lefser, lomper, and vafler as an accompaniment to your afternoon coffee.

gamalost2

Ridderost

Ridderost was developed in Norway in 1969, and has developed quite a reputation ever since, scoring high in taste tests and winning medals all over Europe. A semi-hard cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk, it is light yellow in color with a bright yellow-orange rind, and has a buttery, soft texture with 60% fat content. Ridderost has a unique, rich aroma because of the coating of the bacteria culture on the outside. The cheese is putty aged, which is also very popular in Denmark, Germany and France. When the cheese is removed from its containers, it’s placed in a salt solution for about 4 hours, followed by a wash in the putty culture which gives it its individuality.  The cheese is usually sold in a wheel shape of about 4 lbs.

ridderost

This is a great cheese to add into salads, as an interesting addition to your cheese platter and even for dessert with some dried fruit. Dredged in a flour and egg mixture,  this cheese can also be fried and served with fruits and nuts.

Norvegia

A classic in Norwegian households, and probably Norway’s most popular cheese.  Made from cow’s milk, it has been made in Norway since the mid 19th century. With a mild flavor and creamy texture, it’s suitable for pretty much any dish; topped on open face sandwiches, shredded on pizza or mixed into sauces or made into a delicious grilled cheese sandwich. I’ve seen this cheese in a lot of U.S. stores, so should not be difficult to get a hold of for most.

norvegia1

norvegia

Try this recipe for a delicious grilled cheese, courtesy of Tine (the largest dairy producer in Norway):

Grilled Cheese w/Caramelized Onions

Serves 4

8 slices sourdough bread

2 tbsp butter

1 onion, halved and sliced thinly

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp vinegar

8 slices Norvegia cheese

8 slices of bacon

1 pear, sliced

2 tsp Dijon mustard

In a large saute pan over medium-low heat, add the butter, onion, sugar and vinegar, and caramelize the onion, this will take about 35-40 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.  Saute the bacon until crisp and reserve.

Heat up a saute pan or a sandwich /panini maker on medium heat.  Spread dijon mustard on the bread slices, add the Norvegia cheese, bacon and pears, and finish with another slice of Norvegia. Spread a bit of butter on the outside/top of the sandwich before placing it in pan or sandwich maker.  Cook until golden on the outside and the cheese is melted on the inside. Slice in half and serve with a salad or soup.

norvegiasandwich

Recipe and image courtesy of TINE

Pultost

Originally from Hedmark, this has a sharp, slightly fermented flavor.  Low fat and high in protein, it was, like gamalost, traditionally made from the remnants of butter production (butter was the most important dairy product in the old days in Norway, regarded as a luxury it was often used as payment for other goods). Both gamalost and pultost are made from sour milk, or buttermilk, and a cultured yeast is added to the milk. After being stored in a warm spot for a few days, the fermentation is stopped by adding salt to the milk and cooling it down. The cheese is then aged for several weeks, at which point caraway is added and the cheese is packaged and sent out for sale.  The traditional pultost is a loose, lumpy /crumbled cheese with a unique taste.

The origin of the name ‘pultost’ is unclear, but may come from the Danish word for lump, which is “pult”.  Other theories insist that it comes from the latin word “pulta” which means porridge. Today, three versions of pultost are made; from Hedmark (the original), from Løiten (this one is spreadable) and from Lillehammer (similar to Hedmark, but a bit milder in taste).

Try pultost on slices of rye or whole wheat bread, rolled in a lompe (or tortilla),  or with boiled or baked potatoes, sour cream and flatbrød. Cured meats and aquavit are also great partners.

pultost

Snøfrisk

Made from 80% goat milk and 20% cow’ milk, this cheese was introduced in 1994 in time for the Olympics in Lillehammer. It’s a soft, creamy, spreadable cheese with a fresh, but tangy flavor.  Milder than chevre, it is probably more closely related to the fromage fraiche family. Snøfrisk happens to be made close to the area where I’m from, in a town called Ørsta in north-western Norway.  The great thing about this cheese is that the only additive used here is salt, no stabilizers or preservatives are utilized. This is a source of pride for the cheese makers in Ørsta.

Other flavors are available too, such as juniper berry, dill, horseradish, thyme and forest mushrooms among others. There is now a firm cheese under the Snøfrisk label as well.

Try Snøfrisk in your cheesecakes or other creamy desserts,  as a nice creamy cheese addition to your cheese plate, in sauces or as a spread in your sandwiches. Snøfrisk is readily available in grocery stores across the country.

snofrisk

Clearly, there is a LOT more to say about Norwegian cheese, but hopefully this post helped introduce you to a few interesting items. As always, you can get many great Norwegian food items through online shops such as  Scandinavia Specialties, Ingebretsens, Vaersaagod and Scandinavian Food Store, among others.

 

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