I do not visit the huge hypermarket at our shopping mall very often. Most of the produce comes either from my organic store or my CSS box, while cheese, meat and other items on my grocery list are picked up at a smaller grocery store. However, recently I have been making regular trips to the hypermarket to get my hands on a very fine delicacy I first discovered on my travels to Norway last summer.
I chanced upon it quite by fluke and very unexpectedly here in Weimar. In need of a few specific items for our Christmas dinner, I made my way to the hypermarket. It was not packed as it usually is so I decided to take my time and ambled over to the cheesemonger. Usually they have a nice variety of cheese from all over the world and Tom and I always like to enjoy a selection of cheese with crackers as an after dinner treat on the weekend with a bottle of Tom’s latest wine discovery.
My heart skipped a beat as I looked into the vitrine. It certainly stood out from the rest of the cheeses on display, with its deep caramel color. There was no doubt in my head, it had to be the delightful brown cheese from Norway.
Feeling extremely elated at having found Brunost in Weimar, I dropped all my shopping bags on the kitchen floor. Unwrapping the waxed paper carefully as if the contents were treasured jewels, I sliced a piece from the small block and savored the melting moment.
Brunost, which literally means brown cheese, is a Norwegian phenomenon and I am not exaggerating the truth one bit. The cheese is very much an icon in Norway and belongs to the country's rich heritage. And finally, it seems that the rest of the world has discovered a taste for this slightly unusual brown cheese.
What is Brunost exactly?
Although labeled a “cheese”, technically speaking it is not a cheese. While cheesemaking all over the world consists of separating the curds from the whey, and making some type of cheese from the curds, in Norway the whey is used to make Brunost. Traditionally, the whey of goat milk was used to make Brunost, however nowadays you will find a mixture of goat or cow milk and cream added to the whey.
The mixture is simmered and stirred for hours and as water begins to evaporate, the milk mixture thickens. The long hours of simmering and stirring also causes one of the most vital processes to take place, which is responsible for the distinct flavor and color of Brunost. The lactose sugars in the milk caramelize and turn the whey slightly brown. Eventually the mixture becomes a light brown paste, which is then removed from the heat and stirred continuously until the paste has cooled. Finally it is poured into rectangular or round moulds, allowed to set and then unmolded. Brunost needs absolutely no aging and is ready to be enjoyed as soon as it is unmolded.
A bit of Brunost History
For centuries, Norwegian farmers have made a variety of cheeses from cow and goat milk, using the leftover whey to produce several other food products. It is said that the initial creation of Brunost cheese is attributed to an Anne Haav, who worked in a creamery in the Gudbrands valley in Norway. In the summer of 1863, she experimented by adding cream to cow milk whey before bringing the whey to a boil. She ended up with a brown cheese, which was the most basic type of brown cheese and simply called Mysost, “whey cheese”. As this product won in popularity, farmers used the same method using goat milk instead, as rearing goats was easier in the mountainous regions of Norway.
How does Brunost taste?
The distinct flavor of Brunost comes from the caramelizing of the lactose sugars. If you are expecting the typical cheese-y flavor you’re in for a surprise. It has a wonderful sweet, slightly salty note to it, with an exceptional hint of caramel. The goat milk adds another incomparable taste level, which might take a little getting used to. Think of salted dulche de leche fudge made with goat milk. True, to some this idea might distort the entire conception of cheese, but remember, technically we’re not talking about cheese.
Although the texture of Brunost is cheese-like, it is much stickier than most other real cheeses due to the high sugar content. That is probably why using a cheese plane is always recommended when slicing Brunost, as one would only get large chunky slices if a knife was used (this mind you does not bother me in the slightest).
Brunost offers a complex layers of flavors and provides a fantastic basis for several experiments. In Norway it is enjoyed with the famous sour cream waffles called Rømmevafler, or simply on a slice of buttered bread. A magnificent tip from Nordic Nibbler was to add slices of Brunost to the gravy for my roast beef - explosive! My favorite way is to enjoy it on simple spelt and sesame crackers with a few crunchy grapes.
There are many variations of Brunost, which is the generic name for the different of types of products available on the market today. Some of the main types are:
Ekte Geitost: is made with the whey, milk and cream of goats. It has the most distinct and pronounced flavor compared to other Brunost varieties. Ekte Geitost literally means Real Goat Cheese.
Fløtemysost: is milder in taste than both the Ekte Geitost and Gudbrandsdalsost. It is made from the whey, milk and cream of cows.
Gudbrandsdalsost: is named after the valley in Norway where it was first produced. It mainly uses whey, milk and cream from cows, with the addition of goat milk.
In North America one can find Brunost under the name Gjetost and I am told is quite readily available in the supermarkets. In the UK Ski Queen is the well known brand selling the cheese, whereas in Germany you will find the brands, Norgold and Gudbrandsdalen available at the larger supermarkets.
I would not be inquisitive me if I did not take this cheese and use it for a special experiment. The results of the experiment will be revealed soon!
Next week I’ll take you on a lovely virtual trip through Vienna with me. Hope you’ll join me then. Have a great week and weekend.
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