Dear Family and Friends,
It would be wrong to leave Norway without introducing you to Norway’s most iconic cheese. Brunost, or brown cheese, is a traditional goat cheese made from leftover whey (the byproduct of white cheese) that is boiled slowly for many hours until the lactose sugar caramelizes and the whey thickens considerably.
If the idea of eating cooked leftovers from white cheese does not sound appetizing, imagine eating Brunost outside a Norwegian mountain farm. Goats graze the steep hillsides surrounding you and you are wrapped in a cozy sweater. As you taste Brunost, your mouth fills with brown sugar and caramel flavors. Like me, you too might develop a sweet spot for this Norwegian specialty.
Brown cheese is made by both large and small farmers all across Norway but the heart of Brunost country is western Norway, where the Sognefjord cuts steeply through the land, creating a dramatic landscape. You can still find some dairy farms nestled against the steep mountainsides and wonder, as I have, how these farms survived through the ages. As locals I spoke with jokingly said, “If you wanted to be a farmer, you should have looked for land somewhere else.”
Brown cheese, it turns out, was crucial to the preservation of local agriculture. Survival depended upon using all available resources which meant that farmers saved leftover whey. If Brunost did not generate much additional income, at least it provided them with a nutritionally dense food that conserved better than white cheese over long periods of time.
Undredal, a tiny fjordside village of 61 year-round residents, remains particularly indebted to Brunost. Locals claim hundreds of years of continuous production and have honored their ties to brown cheese by erecting a prominent goat statue in the center of town. Every two years, the youth organization of Undredal throws a Geitostfestival (a.k.a. Norway’s largest brown cheese festival) to celebrate Brunost with cheese tastings, activities, live music, and a farmer’s market.
In July, I made a special trip to Undredal to experience first-hand the festival. I spent the three-day weekend meeting producers, attending educational events, and talking with locals about the challenges of agriculture in their region.
I was most surprised to learn that some farmers still migrate with their goats and cheese equipment to not one but three different mountain farms over the course of one summer to ensure their animals have enough forage.
While strolling through the market, I connected with Anne Karin Hatling and spent the following week at her farm where I learned to make both Kvitost and Brunost the traditional way: twice a day, by hand, in a copper vat, and over a wood fire. The best part of the Geitostfestival, however, was meeting Pascale Baudonnel. Pascale is a champion for Norwegian cheesemakers and is also known as the “godmother of modern Norwegian cheese.” Not only did she found Norsk Gardsost but she has built a career rejuvenating the artisanal Brunost industry, teaching cheesemaking courses, advising small producers, and bridging the gap between farmers and Norwegian food safety authorities.
As always, there is much more I could tell you about Brunost (how, for example, I discovered it is a delicious substitute for maple syrup or how one of my favorite’s is made with aquavit and juniper berries)… But for now, I must pack my bags and bring my stash of brown cheese to England.
I will miss Norway but I am as excited as ever to keep following my passion and to immerse myself into the world of Cheddar, Stilton, and Wensleydale.
Much love to you all,