Soft, sweet and sharp – all at once.
The Norwegian brown cheese comes in many different flavours, each with a taste of local traditions.
And it is a must-try when you come to Norway!
For centuries, the Norwegian brown cheese – or “brunost” as the locals say – has been made with the help from cute goats and cows.
Some say it’s a cultural treasure, with the taste of mountains, fjords and farm traditions.
The taste of brown cheese is difficult to describe, but tourists that visit Norway say that both the colour and the flavour reminds them of dulce de leche. It’s unique – and you either hate it or you love it.
Still, this caramel-looking cheese is eaten daily by many Norwegians, for example on a slice of bread for breakfast or as a snack. It is also known outside the country’s borders, as the brown cheese from Stordalen Gardsbruk won a silver medal in the World Cheese Awards 2018.
So you can’t come all this way and not try it for yourself. But be careful. If you fall in love, it can become a lifelong relationship. You might even end up like Norwegians living abroad, finding ways to get their precious slice of brown cheese even if they reside on the other side of the planet.
Norway’s brown cheese traditions hark back to the days when the country was poor. People wanted to make the most of the resources they had available, even the left-over whey from regular cheese production, which is used in brown cheese. You see, the name “brown cheese” is a common Norwegian name for “whey cheese.” It is made with whey, milk, and cream.
The cheese was first produced at mountain farms across the nation, and the different local recipes gave the products unique flavours. It was not uncommon for farms to have their own creamery, where they would supply themselves with as much product as needed. They also made cheese to trade for other goods at the local markets.
… that the cheese slicer was invented by the Norwegian carpenter Thor Bjørklund in 1925?
“The taste still differs from place to place in Norway, depending on what kind of milk is used, the animals’ diet, and boiling time”, says Hege Krukhaug.
She is the owner of the cheese factory Heidal Ysteri, located north in the Gudbrandsdalen valley. For almost one hundred years, they’ve made the famous Heidal cheese.
Their creamery combines traditional handcraft and modern production systems to give the cheese the taste it is known for.
“We use both cow’s and goat’s milk, as combining the two gives it a nice balance”, Krukhaug says.
Every year thousands of tourists come by to see how the cheese is made and to taste creations made of brown cheese, like ice cream. A few years ago, Hege and her staff put up a new building in the yard to convey the cultural heritage of brown cheese in Norway.
And they’re not alone. You can visit mountain farms around the country during the summer, and learn about traditions. Taste local delicacies, and, if there is a farm shop, buy something to bring home with you. Other fun farm activities include petting cute animals.
And sometimes the goats can’t get enough of you!
“Brown cheese is a vital part of our cultural identity, as well as an important source of income for many smaller societies, like here in Heidal”, Krukhaug says.
The secret is to separate the curd used to make traditional cheese, and save the whey. When the whey is boiled with cream, the heat caramelises the mass. This gives the cheese its recognisable taste and colour. Boiling time determines how dark and rich the cheese will be.
“When it has cooled down, we put it into moulds and let them rest in the fridge until the next morning. Then we take them out and prepare them for sale”, Gunhild Borlaug tells.
She works as a brown cheese producer at Undredal Stølsysteri and explains that, unlike traditional cheese, brown cheese doesn't need to age. It’s actually best served fresh. The creamery where Borlaug works is the first Norwegian goat’s cheese factory to gain full authorisation to offer their white and brown cheese for sale throughout Europe.
Some brown cheeses are made only with goat’s milk, and they have the sharpest kick of them all. The mildest flavours are found in brown cheese made with cow’s milk. A combination of the two gives you a perfect balance.
“Before tourists taste it, we tell them it’s almost like a caramel. The taste differs so much from regular cheese, so we have to prepare them”, Borlaug says.
When Norwegians want to serve brown cheese, they use the unique cheese slicer invented by the Norwegian carpenter Thor Bjørklund. It makes it easy to slice off a sliver from the cheese, so you can eat it atop toast or on a crispbread. If you want a proper treat, brown cheese tastes heavenly on warm waffles as well.
This is the way it has been served for centuries, but lately, brown cheese has had a renaissance. Author Ane Nordvik released a cookbook where all the dishes include – you guessed it – brown cheese!
“This traditional product deserved to be explored even more”, Nordvik says.
She explains that she and her sister know that people use brown cheese as an ingredient for baking and cooking, but they couldn’t find many recorded recipes.
“From brown cheese burgers and panna cotta to different kinds of pastry, sweets, and candy. Some of the recipes did not work out well, but we gathered about a hundred of the successful ones in our book – and it is quite popular”, she says.
Following the release of the book, Nordvik has observed great interest for brown cheese – and not just in Norway.
“To my surprise, I found a lot of interest in brown cheese in South Korea. They even have several breakfast restaurants that serve brown cheese in various ways. It’s very exciting”, she says.
… that brown cheese contains high amounts of calcium, proteins, and vitamin B, as well as iodine, which is beneficial for your health?
Carrying the rural history of Norway, brown cheese has become famous among hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the country each year. With the regional variations, your tastebuds can literally experience the different regions.
HANEN is a Norwegian organization that promotes local food, nature activities and freshwater fishing. Several of HANEN’s members offer a place to stay, activities, cafés and farm shops where you can see, taste, and buy local food and drinks to bring home.
See our selection of companies that work hard to make you happy all through your trip.
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