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Wheys Less Traveled: Jærosten And The Great Norwegian Cheese Reawakening

Photographed by Paola Westbeek

Mostly known for its majestic fjords and rugged landscapes, Norway may not be one of the first destinations to come to mind when pondering your next cheese adventure. Yet during the last two decades, a curd revolution has been sweeping through the country, with old cheesemaking traditions being revived and the love for artisan raw-milk cheeses rekindled.

The roots of this great cheese reawakening can be traced to Voll Ysteri, a small family dairy farm situated amidst the sprawling plains of Jæren, one of Norway’s largest agricultural regions. Raw-milk cheese has been made at Voll Ysteri since 1901, and despite the traditional practice having been ruled unsafe in 1952, fourth-generation farmer Hans Voll was determined to bring it back when he took over in 2001. In 2002, after a long battle with the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, Voll was the first dairy farmer granted permission to make cheese from unpasteurized milk, putting an end to the decades-long ban and becoming a mentor to many artisan cheesemakers who followed in his footsteps.

Today, his daughter, Hanna Voll Kjøllesdal, and son-in-law, Ingvar Kjøllesdal, continue to make Jærosten, a semi-hard, Alpine-style cheese similar to Gruyère, which is made from the creamy milk of 50 Brown Swiss cows that freely graze from April through October. Lauded numerous times (it won Bronze at the 2021 World Cheese Awards), Jærosten remains a favorite among some of the country’s top chefs and delicatessens—and rightfully so.

While Hanna is hand-cutting curds in her copper cauldron, Ingvar explains that keeping up with the huge demand has become increasingly difficult. “The vat holds 400 liters of milk, meaning we can only produce 40 kilos (88 pounds or 10 cheeses) per day,” he says. “We might have to buy a larger vat and add extra storage space.” From start to finish, the entire process demonstrates care and craftsmanship. Each 8-pound wheel is washed in saltwater and turned every three days, which results in a beautiful natural rind. Jærosten is typically aged on fir planks between four to 12 months.

I join Ingvar at the farm’s reception room, where a handsome cheese board awaits. We sample the youngest, aged 4 months. “This one was made on June 1st, my wife’s birthday,” Ingvar proudly announces. The cheese has a dense, pale-yellow paste and delicate aromas reminiscent of freshly churned butter. The 12-month-old cheese has subtle citrusy notes balanced by a lovely sweet finish that lingers on the palate.

Norwegian cheesemakers currently produce about 180 artisan cheeses, which are fast becoming one of the Nordic wonderland’s top culinary lures. And Voll Ysteri is the farm where it all started.

How to enjoy: The rounded, supple flavors of a young Jærosten work well with full-bodied white wines that have buttery notes such as the sherry-like vin jaune or an oak-aged chardonnay. As the cheese ages and takes on a fruitier complexity, opt for an intensely aromatic riesling with a crisp, lively acidity. Jærosten is great on a cheese board but also has excellent melting properties, making it perfect for raclette or fondue.

Paola Westbeek

Paola Westbeek is a journalist who focuses on French food, wine, and travel. Her work has led her to every delicious corner of the French hexagon, and she is a regular contributor to FRANCE Magazine and culinary columnist for French publications En Route and French Property News.

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