Many of us have memories of sitting in a field on a summer’s day eating crusty French bread and sharing a kilo of creamy brie. In fact, some of us would like to spend most of our days doing just that, if it was not for the eventual need to be moved around by a pick-up truck.
Less people have such glorious thoughts when thinking about Scandinavian cheese – in fact, most people associate Scandinavian cheese with Eurovision. Except those of us who know just how many amazing cheeses actually come from our northern corner of the world.
Even back in the days when old Harold Bluetooth was a nipper and busy taking over the world, the Scandinavians made cheese. In fact, the old Vikings had a diet rich in milk, butter and cheese and are even said to have found cheese to be a sexual stimulant.
Here’s a guide to some of the top Scandinavian cheeses
1. Gammelost (Old cheese)
A recipe dating back to the Viking times, ‘Old cheese’ needed very little help to mature. Most people say both taste and smell resembles something that has spent a few months inside a sweaty old sock. As you know, nothing pleases a true tyrophile more than a slice of stinky old sock. Admittedly, perhaps due to the taste, younger Norwegians are falling out of love with it, even if it is does have the nickname of Norwegian Viagra.
2. Danablu (Danish Blue)
We had to include this as it is the most popular export and it is a darn fine cheese. Invented originally to emulate Roquefort, and quickly making its own mark on the cheese scene, Danablu has a sharp, salty note and is excellent served on just about any kind of bread. Mash it with a bit of syrup to change its character and use it to spread on crisp bread, topped with some sunflower seeds – it really works. Swedes tend to love blue cheese on ginger biscuits (we say don’t argue with anyone who invented Billy bookcases, Volvos and the zipper).
3. Brunost (Brown cheese)
Comes in many different varieties: the two best known are the Gudbrandsdalen (cow and goat) and Ekte Gjeitost (pure goat); the latter is the connoisseur’s choice
Okay, so it’s an acquired taste, but, on average, Norwegians eat about 4 kilos each of this stuff a year so there must be something to it. It’s as Norwegian as trolls and fjords. It looks a bit like a block of plasticine, tastes a bit like caramel and is enjoyed on its own, on open sandwiches or with freshly baked waffles: all you need then is a patterned jumper and people will soon start calling you Håkon.
4. Rygeost (smoked cheese)
A very Danish invention that is never exported due to its very short shelf life. Unmatured, smoked cheese made from buttermilk and milk and turned in less than 24 hours, after which it is smoked very quickly over a mixture of straw and nettle and topped with caraway seeds. This cheese is simply amazing, light and divine eaten on a piece of rye bread. Resembles a firm ricotta in texture.
If ABBA is the queen of cheese, Västerbotten is the king. A firm, crumbly, aged Swedish cheese not unlike parmesan in smell but with immense flavour and character. This cheese is a welcome addition to any cheeseboard and is also a partner to any crayfish party. Can also be used to make the excellent Västerbotten pie.
A cheese that has a name that translates as “household cheese” sounds like it belongs on a value shelf in a corner shop in Hackney, but it is actually an excellent cheese. Mild, creamy, full of holes, this cheese is usually a big hit with the younger generation. Hushållsost is one of six Swedish food products with a so-called TSG protection (one other cheese, Svecia, also holds this distinction). Taste-wise it is a bit like the Danish Havarti cheese in texture (the Danes’ favourite and widely available in the UK), although less creamy. Produced by Arla, Havarti is called Aseda Graddost in Sweden. In Finland, the Turunmaa cheese is what is closest to Havarti in taste.
7. Gamle Ole (Old Ole)
A sliceable mature Danish cheese, this baby stinks. Don’t touch it too much or your fingers will honk all day. The taste, however, is really lush. Also known in Denmark as Danbo 45, there are many varieties in the same vein: ‘Sorte Sara’ is a good version too. A superb finish to any smörgåsbord, eat a slice or two on sourdough bread topped with some lingonberry jam. Other excellent strong Danes include Esrom 45 as well as Viggo Mortensen (he’s not a cheese, but he sure looks very strong).
8. Präst ost (Priest cheese)
Sweden’s most popular cheese. It was given its name because the farmers at the time it was invented could pay their church taxes in dairy products. Präst ost comes in many varieties, from the mild to the mature and flavoured with anything from vodka to whisky.
9. Leipäjuusto (also known as “squeaky cheese”)
This is a fresh young cheese from Finland. The milk is curdled and set into a flat round shape, then baked. In the olden days it was dried for months and people put it on the fire to re-activate it. The name comes from the sound it makes when you bite into it. The taste is not unlike feta.
10. Rejeost (Prawn cheese)
For some reason, spreadable prawn cheese is immensely popular across all of Scandinavia. Not really a great cheese from a connoisseur’s point of view, but surely any product that manages to combine cheese and prawns and make it taste good needs a mention. If cheese and prawn can be coupled in peaceful harmony, then there’s hope for world peace.