22.09.2013 - Oslo

150-Year-Old Brown Norwegian Cheese: Brunost

150 years ago, milkmaid Anne Hov has changed whole Norwegian cuisine by inventing today’s Gudbrandsdalsost or brunost (brown cheese.
150-Year-Old Brown Norwegian Cheese: Brunost
Photo : Robyn Lee

If you see a Norwegian eating an open-faced sandwich with a slice of something reddish-brown, ’It’s Brunost - brown cheese.’ It doesn’t look like cheese, you think, but you take a bite anyway.

’No way is this cheese!’, you exclaim.

And you would be perfectly correct. Strictly speaking it isn’t, but next to cross country skiing and trolls there are few things more Norwegian than an open-faced sandwich of Brunost, regarded as one of Norway’s national prides.

There are actually few other foods that are included in your luggage when Norwegians traveling abroad. Brown cheese is some of what makes Norwegians Norwegians.

Brown cheese is, in this sense, quintessentially Norwegian, and imbued with all the romantic notions of national identity in this oil-rich country. It is really only eaten in Norway (apart from a few plucky Swedes who eat something similar called mesost).

No Sugar, No Additives

Brunost is made by boiling a mixture of milk, cream and whey carefully for several hours so that the water evaporates. The heat turns the milk sugar into caramel which gives the cheese its characteristic taste. It is ready for consumption as soon as it is packed in suitable sized blocks. A low-fat variant is made by increasing the proportion of whey to milk and cream.

The original Brunost is made with goat whey only, using the same technique.

If boiled for a shorter time than usual, one gets the spreadable version called prim in Norwegian (or messmör in Swedish and ’mysingur’ in Icelandic). Prim had been made in Norway for a long time when Anne Hov, a farmer’s wife got the idea of putting cream into the cheese. She got a good price for her new fatty cheese, and this merchandise is said to have saved the Gudbrands valley financially in the 1880s.

A Norwegian Classic in Kitchen and School Food

Primarily a Norwegian product, the cheeses are also produced and sold in Sweden. They are also sold in the Upper Midwest, and by specialty cheesemongers and some larger supermarkets all over Europe,North America and Australia. Today several types of brunost are offered in most shops in Norway and Sweden.

TINE meierier produce most of the brunost in Norway, while Fjällbrynt is the biggest producer in Sweden. In Iceland, the company Mjólkursamsalan produces brunost. Several local dairies in Norway produce their own versions. Experimental versions with nuts and honey or chocolate have been tried, without very much success.

Like any intensely flavoured ingredient, brown cheese is endlessly versatile. A typical Norwegian dish is finnbiff or venison stew: brown cheese is the secret ingredient that adds both depth of flavour and richness to the sauce. It can also be used in a sauce for meatballs with its savoury autumnal and winter flavours.

But the best way to enjoy brown cheese is to eat it with real bread (the good stuff, full of grains). Washed down with a cup of tea or coffee this makes the perfect breakfast. As Nordic Nibbler rightly suggests, It is a perfect accompany for waffles.

In 150th anniversary of its invention in a Norwegian farm, Brunost today remains a very popular dairy product. Annual production is approximately 12 million kilograms, or almost 4kg per Norwegian.

Waffle wih Brunost

5 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. ground cardamom

1 cup flour

1 tsp. baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup melted butter

One of the best accompany for brunost is waffle (vaffel).  The vafler in Norway are served for dessert at any time of day. The most important feature of the Norwegian vafler is its unique sweetness and softness.

To have this special form, mix eggs, sugar, and cardamom together in a big bowl. Add in flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix these ingredients and beat in sour cream and butter until the batter is smooth. Let the batter sit for about 20 minutes before making the waffles. Heat up the iron and brush some of the butter of the surface, you are now ready to make waffles. Pour 1/4 cup of the batter in the iron and wait for the waffle to become light brown.

Now it is time for serving in Norwegian way: put a slice of brunnost and jam.

TAGS: Brunost
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