Dear Friends and Family,
It is not everyday that you meet a journalist who shares your passion for Norwegian cheese. I met Ragna Kronstad, head of communications for the organic food organization, Oikos, while looking for Brunost in the Aurland. I admire her writing and the curiosity that drove her to work at small dairies to better document local cheese production. I was thrilled when she asked to do a story together and am proud to share it with you now.
Check out the following link or read the version below if you would like to hear my thoughts on Norwegian cheese and the people behind it.
Norsk gardsost bergtar
Ragna Kronstad. 7 oktober 2016. Blogg.
Hvordan oppfatter en som har reist verden rundt for å studere all verdens ystepraksis, norsk ost og norske ystetradisjoner? Endelig har jeg fått intervjue en som virkelig kan se norsk gardsost i et internasjonalt perspektiv. Men først litt bakgrunn.
Linnea Burnham en er utrolig smart, kvikk og sjarmerende ung student fra USA, som gjennom ett svært raust Watson-stipend, har fått reise fritt i Italia, England, Brasil, Mongologia, Sør- Afrika og altså Norge, for å studere ost. Hun hadde fra før studert fransk ostehistorie og ostens betydning for den franske nasjonalidentiteten. Virkelig interessant: Franskmennene brukte ost for å bygge opp en fransk identitet.
I Norge har vi nærmest skammet oss over de nasjonale tradisjonene. (Forbud og mistenkligjøring av generasjoners erfaring og praksis, osv) Det var prisen for at den norsk tradisjonen for stor del var budeiehistorie, i motsetning til tradisjonen i andre land hvor det er menn som yster.(De store ostehjulene…) Her til lands har budeier blitt skviset ut av støler på grunn av effektivisering av landbruket og den mannelige ensrettende meieriteknolog – for å beskrive historien veldig enkelt.
Heldigvis har vi revitalisert og til dels holdt i live de norske tradisjonene. Smakene fra samspillet mellom dyra, naturen og håndverket blir i dag utviklet av bønder og ystere som jeg oppfatter som norsk landbruk fremste.
Vi er et grasland. Ost og meieri er en bærebjelke i kulturen vår.
Jeg møtte Linnea Burham i ostemekkaet i Aurland i Norge og Italia (Cheese Bra) og brant selvfølgelig inne med en rekke spørsmål. Heldigvis husket hun meg godt etter våre korte møter sommeren og høsten 2015 og svarte svært entusiastisk på hendvendelsen: Norge var et av hennes favorittland når det kommer til ost og ysting.
(Intervjuet er på engelsk, jeg er litt lei meg for å ikke å kunne ta meg tid til å oversette. Det er en hektisk tid og bloggen er et prosjekt jeg har ved siden av jobb.)
You have studied the history of french cheese and its cultural importance. What was your main thesis?
My thesis: “Vive le Comté!: Cheese and the Making of the French National Identity, 1880-1900,” analyzed French terroir, agricultural reforms, industrialization and imperialism between 1880-1900. Specifically, I examined the Franche-Comté, a rural, predominantly agricultural region located in Eastern France to demonstrate that agriculture and, in particular, agricultural products played a key role in the formation of the French national identity. Comté, the Franche-Comté’s traditional cheese, was central to my narrative because its evolution was closely intertwined with the rise of French nationalism. When the French government prioritized agricultural reforms to “re-attach” citizens to the soil, Comté came to embody the French national spirit and Republican principles. As the cheese transformed from a “lowly” product into an icon of French grandeur, France too emerged as a prosperous, world-class nation. Moreover, when France rallied against Swiss dairy production, Comté became a symbol of national unity and social cohesion. By describing the shifts in Comté production that parallel French nation-building, I traced the emergence of Comté as an icon of the French identity to the end of the 19th century. With respect to French citizens who claim that Comté is a “timeless tradition,” I argued that Comté is a modern, constructed identity. More broadly, I hoped to provide a new lens for understanding French history, cultural traditions and food as a form of national self-identity.
What was your overall impression of Norwegian cheesemakers ?
I found Norwegian cheesemakers to be incredibly kind, hardworking, talented and creative people. While many names come to mind, I continue to be impressed by Kathrin Aslaksby’s warmth and hospitality. She was the first Norwegian to respond to my emails, welcome me into her home and teach me about her craft. I will not forget the generosity with which she connected me to dozens of other cheesemakers nor the long days we spent working and making cheese together at Olestølen farm.
Do you think there are copycats or have they found their own taste ?
Norwegians are definitely not copycats. Either they are upholding traditional Norwegian cheeses, blending tradition with innovation or borrowing ideas from abroad but making them their own to get the best of both worlds. The Avdem gardsysteri, for example, does it all: traditional pultost, brunost with juniper berries and aquavit, and an excellent Swiss-inspired cheese called, Fjelldronning.
In what way does the Norwegian tradition differentiate in a positive/negative manner ?
Two words come to mind: Resourcefulness and Overshadowed. Of the seven countries where I studied cheese-making over the past 14-months, Norwegians stand out for their ability to make fantastic cheese out of a harsh climate and terrain. I fell in love with Norwegian cheese, the farmers who make it and their stories about seeking out a living in times past. And yet, as I experienced first hand, few people outside of Scandinavia have ever heard of Norwegian cheese. Even fewer know of brunost, pultost, gammelost, trygost, nokkelost or unsalted kvitost. Other European countries such as Holland, France, Switzerland and Italy, may have international recognition for their cheese, but the rest of the world does not know what they are missing.
Did you easily find the true tradition ?
As a Watson Fellow, I visited and worked alongside a range of cheesemakers from those who uphold totally traditional methods to those who combine old techniques with modern technologies. In Norway, where I focused on brunost, I found a similar range. Some make brunost only in the summer at the setre, stirring by hand and working over a wood fire. Others follow a family recipe but allow modern equipment to boost efficiency and alleviate hand labor. I did not focus specifically on finding the “true tradition” because all of cheese-making history has been continually shaped by large forces such as industrialization, the introduction of new technologies, national and international markets, agricultural policies, etc.
Is Norway in front of or behind the struggle on raw milk ?
I did not focus my research on raw-milk legislation but I was surprised to learn that the Norwegian government banned raw-milk cheese until 2006.
What was your most interesting experience as an American ?
Reindeer hunting was, and still is, one of my favorite memories from Norway. I will never forget running through the Lesja mountains and hauling out a heavy backpack of reindeer meat with Sigurd Avdem.
Are there a lot of different tastes or could the producers get more variety ?
The Norwegian landscape lends itself to a myriad of different cheeses. I traveled over 4,000 kilometers across the country and found everything from fresh, cream cheeses to bloomy rinds to blues to hard, alpine-styles. Even among brunost producers, I was struck by the variety in flavor, texture and appearance. If, however, Norwegian artisan cheesemakers are looking for new venues, I want to see greater usage of native culture instead of the industrial, freeze-dried culture in cheese-making.
What kind of role can cheese play in local community ?
I believe that local food production is necessary to sustain our health, our economy, and our planet long-term, and that cheese-making supports sustainable dairy farming and the preservation of our agricultural landscapes. While cheese alone may be no different from another local product, community-based cheese-making can create awareness around cultural food traditions, reconnect more people with their dairy source, emphasize the quality of milk over the quantity produced and enable farmers to have greater control over their milk prices.
Les mer om Linnea Burnham på nettsiden her.