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Culture’s Believe It or Not: Moose, Reindeer, and Deer Cheese

a reindeer in the snowy woods; these animals are surprisingly good milk producers

Cheese innovators since time immemorial have pushed the limits of the curd, and some of their innovations are as bizarre as they are delicious. In Culture’s Believe It or Not, sit back, forget everything you know about cheese, and take a bite out of the weirdest wheels the world has to offer. Missed the last post on cheese made with horses, donkeys, and camels? Check it out!

In case you missed it, last week on Culture’s Believe It or Not we talked about the cheese you can make from animals that are usually only used to ride about on—the theme being that basically any mammal of large enough proportions to milk can and will be milked, and milk being milk (and people being people), someone is going to try to turn it into cheese. Well, this week we’re back and going to prove even more definitively that you can do whatever you want with any kind of milk, and the weirder the better!

First on our list of delicacies is a mammal found only at higher latitudes, in the colder temperature range. It can be seen primarily eating anything it gets nea, and hanging out with its pal, Rocky. Yes, you can make cheese out of Bullwinkle—or Bullwinkle’s moose-lady friend, I guess. That’s right: moose cheese is here!

"I find your moose cheese plan amoosing."
“I find your moose cheese plan amoosing.”

Before you go charging off into the woods of northern Europe and North America in search of a moose to milk, there are some things you should know: First, as anyone who as ever seen a moose in real life will tell you, moose are scary as hell. They’re giant, and they have huge antlers with which to gore you. Also, a lot of the ones in the US are crazy because of brainworm and other nasty ailments the big guys are susceptible to. Second, there are only three commercially lactating moose in the world that have their milk turned into cheese. Third, all three of them are in Sweden, and their names are Gullan, Haelga, and Juna.

The trio live in The Elk Haus, a farm in Bjurholm, Sweden, and they produce roughly 300 kilograms of cheese a year. This might seem like a disappointingly small amount of cheese for something as giant as a moose, but the milking process is long, arduous, and low-yeilding. However, The Elk Haus manages to turn their time and effort in moose-rearing into a profit—one pound of moose cheese sells for around $450, and is highly sought after. They make three kinds, according to our very own, culture-authored Cheese for Dummies: a bloomy rind (like Camembert), a blue cheese, and feta-like cheese. So the next time you find yourself in Sweden with an extra $500, head up there and grab a fresh pound of moose curd!

Next we have reindeer, another northern-dwelling herbivore that apparently lets people near its nipples. Reindeer were being used for their milk long before that poser Santa came to town and commandeered them for his suspicious magical purposes and reckless chimney hopping.

Plus, he's done nothing to curb the rampant reindeer-on-reindeer crime.   Photo Credit: Wonders of Europe Munier/NPL | BBC
Plus, he’s done nothing to curb rampant reindeer-on-reindeer crime.
Photo Credit: Wonders of Europe Munier/NPL | BBC

In Scandinavia the tradition of reindeer cheesemaking is as rich as the reindeer’s milk, and some continue to make Juustoleipä with reindeer milk even today. Juustoleipä means “cheese bread” in Finnish, and the cheese itself is made in a unique way: After the curds have been separated, they’re practically flambéd until the cheese gains its signature crunchiness and charred marks. It’s also known as “squeaky cheese” because of the sounds it makes when you bite into a fresh slice of it.

If you’re inspired and decide to go out hunting for the squeaky stuff, be warned! Not all juustoleipä is made from reindeer’a milk, and an increasing majority is made with cow’s milk, because milking cows makes far more milk than the average 1.5 cups you can get out of a reindeer. It’s probably still prohibitively expensive, but luckily I doubt it’ll set you back as much as moose cheese will.

Lastly, we come to regular plain old deer AKA reindeer’s boring cousin. As you might expect, if you can get reindeer to stand still long enough to get milked, you can probably do it regular deer, the pests of the hooved world. The good thing about deer is that they’re everywhere, because in many places, especially in the US, their natural predators like wolves and coyotes have been hunted out because they couldn’t stop eating people’s cows or dogs or legs or what-have-you. So, the deer got a free pass to bambi around, much to the dismay of motorists everywhere.

"Excuse me sir, do you have moment to talk about Jesus?"  Photo Credit: Haynes Johnson
“Excuse me sir, do you have moment to talk about Jesus?”
Photo Credit: Haynes Johnson

Someone down in New Zealand took these four-legged lemons and squeezed the lemonade out of them, and then thought, “Huh, I could probably make some cheese out of this.” It started when Dr. Alaa El-Din Ahmed Bekhit saw that Novak Djokovic paid an insane amount for all the donkey cheese in the world and decided to make a go of it on a different, if equally annoying animal. He did some tests, found that deer milk was pretty nutritious, and then did some more tests and found he could sell deer milk for $84 a liter. After his eyes had returned from dollar signs to normal pupils, he took his findings to local cheesemaker Whitestone Cheese, and after they’d done the money dance for a bit they settled down and made some.

This all happened in 2013, and unfortunately, looking at Whitestone’s current offerings, deer cheese seems to be off the menu. But hey, if they could do it New Zealand, you bet you can do it in New Jersey, where there are 100,000 of them running around in 2012.

Brook O'Meara-Sayen

Brook O’Meara-Sayen is a journalism student at Emerson College forever on the hunt for that last ten minutes of sleep. In his spare time he enjoys reading, Merle Haggard, and spending Friday evenings trying to break his personal record for most cheddar eaten in one sitting.