Brunost

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.

Brunost Tasting in the Aurland.
First Brunost tasting in the Aurland.

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, Norway.
The “capital” of Brunost: Undredal, Norway.

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.

Never imagined I would have to solo kayak my way to Norway's largest brown cheese festival.
Never imagined I would have to solo kayak my way to Norway’s largest brown cheese festival. (Up until 1988, Undredal was inaccessible by road. Today, public transportation remains spotty.)

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.

Goat Bingo was a popular game at the Geitostfestival.
Goat bingo was a popular game at the Geitostfestival.

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.

Meeting Pascale Baudonnel,
Meeting Pascale Baudonnel, “the Godmother of modern Norwegian cheese,” in Undredal, Norway.
Anne Karin Hatling makes Kvitost and Brunost at her mountain farm in Aurland, Norway.
Anne Karin Hatling makes Kvitost and Brunost at her mountain farm in Aurland, Norway.

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,

Linnea

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5 thoughts on “Brunost

  1. Hi Linnea,

    I went out with a Norwegian fellow for awhile. He proudly brought back Jetost – if that is the correct spelling – each time he came from home. Is Jetost the same as Brunost?

    Claire

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    1. Hi Claire,
      So wonderful to hear that you are familiar with Norwegian cheese!
      I believe you are referring to Geitost and, yes, it can be the same as Brunost. I say “can” because Geitost (goat cheese) and Brunost (brown cheese) have traditionally been one and the same. When, for example, Norwegians refer to Geitost, they are referring to brown cheese. Today, however, a lot of Brunost is made with cow milk (cow milk is cheaper to produce than goat milk) and so Brunost is no longer necessarily the same as Geitost. A bit confusing, isn’t it?
      Some Geitost producers I spoke with expressed interest in creating national guidelines (similar to the French A.O.C.) for authentic Geitost. There are currently so many variations on Norwegian brown cheese, however, that a nation-wide accord would be quite difficult to achieve at the moment.
      Have you ever found Brunost in Switzerland?
      All my best,
      Linnea

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  2. All of the brown cheeses are yummy, but the ones made from a combination of whey and cream are, by far, my favourite. I call them “caramel candy”, but I eat it in quantities that would not be wise if it were the sugar-caramel candy they gave me in the states when I was a kid.

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    1. Hi, I know and love Undredal geitost ! Thanks for writing. I spent several weeks there, arriving for the geitostfestivalen in Undredal and staying to make it at one of the nearby mountain farms. Locals claim Undredal geitost has been made continuously for thousands of years in the village but I was most impressed to meet the cheesemakers who move 3-4 times throughout the summer so that their goats have enough pasture. Even if this means loading goats into boats to cross the fjord !

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