From forests to fjords, the lush landscapes of Norway are a well-known haven for outdoor enthusiasts, photographers, and adventure-seekers. Turns out, the diverse countryside is also pretty great for cheesemaking.
Once primarily known for its brunost, or “brown cheese”—a fatty, firm block of boiled whey and cream with a distinctly nutty, caramel flavor—Norway’s cheese scene has made remarkable strides with the international crowd in recent years. At the 2016 World Cheese Awards in San Sebastián, Spain, it was Kraftkar, a Norwegian blue, that was crowned World Champion Cheese. Walking away with top honors at this prestigious competition certainly put producer Tingvollost on the map, and the cheese community at large began to look at Norway with new curiosity.
Despite the late recognition for their cheesemaking prowess, artisan food production has been a mainstay of Norwegian culture for centuries. Utilizing the land (that glorious, pure land!) and making the most of nature’s offerings is a necessity in an Arctic climate where preservation is essential to surviving the dark, lengthy winters. While technology and modern innovation have lessened the need to rely as heavily on the land, traditions remain strong in Norway. Many of the country’s dairies are family-run operations with a modest herd of cattle sheep, or goats (often depending on which animal is best-suited to the available terrain) who produce the sweet, grassy, floral milk that one would imagine comes from happy Scandinavian livestock. The yield that is destined for cheesemaking may be turned into anything from a hunk of blue to an aged farmhouse wheel or something entirely new, with producers growing increasingly keen to experiment with technique and flavor.
Today, Norway has more than 150 small-scale cheese producers, and as food tourism is on the rise, so is the country’s reputation as a cheese destination. While the capital city of Oslo and the surrounding countryside is a logical starting point, cheesemaker Bo Jensen is garnering attention in the southwestern coastal reaches of Norway with his award-winning goat cheeses from Jæren. The geographically central county of Trøndelag is home not only to Trondheim—a splendid fjord-based city known for its Gothic cathedral and quaint old town architecture—but also to cheesemakers like Gangstad Gårdsysteri and the aforementioned Tingvollost, both known for their robust blue cheeses. In the far north, where the Norwegian wilderness is still truly wild, cheese-producing farms like Lofoten Gårdsysteri and Aalan Gård blend tradition with innovation. Goat cheese spiced with local seaweed, anyone?