The Scandinavian tradition is for salty, full-fat, firm or hard cheeses, often matured, some as long as two years.
The last few decades have seen production of a vast number of new soft cheeses, inspired by southern Europe, but even these are eaten in the traditional way – namely thinly sliced on bread.
Most cheeses are made from cow’s milk as milking ewes and goats is rare in southern Scandinavia. In Norway, goats and cows used to be kept inside in the long snowy winters and driven to the high mountains in summer. The milk was treated and made into cheese on the spot, and brought back to the valleys in autumn.
Cow’s milk was skimmed and made into Gammalost (‘old cheese’), a grainy, slightly crumbling, matured cheese, with a strong blue-cheese flavor. This is still a favorite cheese in Norway but virtually unobtainable outside the country. It is not necessarily very old, but it has extremely good keeping qualities without refrigeration.
The whey from the summer milk was sweetened with cream and boiled in cauldrons for hours to evaporate. The resulting cheese is known as Geitost (‘Goat’s Cheese’), Mysost or Mesost after myse, meaning whey in Norwegian; even today, it makes up to 30 percent of the cheese eaten in Norway.
It is a true Scandinavian specialty, a brown, velvety, sweet cheese with a nutty, almost chocolate flavor as the milk sugars caramelize during cooking. It is somehow like peanut butter and tastes very good with jam. It’s eaten thinly sliced on crispbread, and used in cooking to add sweetness and body to sauce for game and venison. You can have a dark brown Mysost made solely from goat’s milk, and a lighter version made with both cow’s and goat’s milk. The pure goat’s milk version is much better, and much more expensive.
Sweden has a vast number of beautiful hard cheeses. The most spectacular is the Västerbottenost, the Scandinavian equivalent of Parmesan cheese, but quite Sweden’s own.
Denmark has a great variety of both firm and blue cheeses, all worth a try, as well as specialty unique to Denmark, a smoked fresh cheese called Rygeost, made from drained junket.
Kaffeost (‘coffee cheese’), is a round flat, mild cow’s milk cheese and a specialty of Norrland in northern Sweden. The unusual name has resulted from the cheese being added in cubes to sweetened, hot coffee, and eaten after the coffee is drunk.
Buying and storing
With all these beautiful cheeses, you must choose a specialty cheese store to buy from, and a small producer rather than the huge dairy chains.
Scandinavians’ love for extremely old, matured cheeses is mostly incomprehensible to foreigners. Old cheese is eaten in very thin slices, on bread, often with meat jelly, sliced onion and a dripping of brown rum. Another sensational way with cheese is an open sandwich consisting of blue cheese topped with a raw egg yolk and onion rings.
Besides these specialties, we love open cheese sandwiches, which are eaten around the clock; on rye bread, which is best for matured cheeses; on white bread, preferred with yellow cheeses; or on crispbread, which is good for Mysost and hard cheeses.
And we absolutely love to eat open sandwiches topped with jam – one with some nerve, e.e. blackcurrant, blackberry, rosehip, cloudberry or raspberry, or orange marmalade.
A Northern specialty is a sandwich made with Swedish Västerbottenost melted between slices of toast with cloudberry jam. It is absolutely delicious!
Potkäse (‘pot cheese’) is an extremely old-fashioned but quie delicious way to use up odds and ends of cheese. The cheese is grated or cubed, then added to a clay pot with a dash of rum or schnapps. This is blended onto a potkäse. If it is too dry, you can add cream, and season with salt and even sugar. It’s long-lasting, pungent, but quite mellow if it’s made right. Eat it as a spread on rye bread, with beer and schnapps.
Feature image (on top) Norwegian mountain farm
Scandinavian Cheese, written by Tor Kjolberg