Brunost—A Norwegian Cheese Delicacy
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN NORWAY
COME with me to a simple Norwegian home. The breakfast table is laid with butter, coarse bread, and various other items. But wait a moment! Something is missing. It does not take long before someone asks: ‘Where is the brunost?’
Of all the sorts of sandwich fillings, including hundreds of different cheeses, brunost, or brown cheese, is in a class by itself. It is found in most Norwegian homes and represents nearly one fourth of all cheese consumed in this country. Every year, Norwegians eat 12,000 tons of brunost, which means an average of more than 6 pounds [almost 3 kg] per person. At the same time, about 450 tons of brunost are exported to such countries as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, and the United States.
Many foreigners get their first taste of brunost at a Norwegian hotel. This cheese, round-shaped or quadrangular, is nearly always on the breakfast table—invariably with a handy little cutting tool called an ostehøvel. It is used to cut thin slices from the top of the cheese.
But what actually is brunost? To find out, we visited a real seter, or mountain summer pasture farm, where brunost is still made in the traditional way.
Producing Brunost the Traditional Way
When we arrived, the goats had just been milked. We were allowed to join the milkmaid as she transformed the goat’s milk into tasty cheese.
The goats are milked twice a day, and the milk is poured into a big kettle. There it is heated to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit [30°C.] and rennin, an enzyme that makes milk curdle, is added. The white curd starts separating from the rest of the milk, which is called the whey. Most of the whey is laboriously worked out of the curd, and the curd is gathered in separate wooden tubs to become white Norwegian goat cheese. Since the white cheese is “live,” it has to ripen for about three weeks before it is ready for use.
What, then, about the brown cheese, or brunost? Well, milk and cream are now added to the pure whey, and this mixture is brought to a boil. It must be stirred constantly. As the mixture boils, much of the moisture evaporates and the whey changes color. After about three hours, it turns into a brown paste. Then, it is taken out of the kettle and the stirring continues while the paste cools. Eventually, it is kneaded and then stuffed into molds. Unlike the white cheese, the brunost does not need ripening. The next day, as soon as the brown cheese is taken out of the mold, it is ready to please every lover of brown Norwegian goat cheese.
While the principles of the process are still the same, this outmoded method of cheese making has long been replaced by a large-scale machine production. The mountain dairy farm is displaced by dairies that use vacuum-concentrating equipment and pressure cookers instead of the old open iron kettles.
A Norwegian Invention
How did brunost originate? In the summer of 1863, the milkmaid Anne Haav, who lived in Gudbrandsdalen Valley, tried an experiment that became a breakthrough. She made cheese from pure cow’s milk and thought of adding cream to the whey before boiling it down. The result was a tasty brown cheese, with full fat content. Later, people also started using goat’s milk and a mixture of goat’s milk and cow’s milk as a basis for the production. In 1933, at a ripe old age, Anne Haav was given the Norwegian king’s special medal of merit for her invention.
Today, there are four major types of brunost: Ekte Geitost, real goat cheese, is made of pure goat’s milk. Gudbrandsdalsost, the most common, is named after the valley and contains 10 to 12 percent goat’s milk and the rest cow’s milk. Fløtemysost, cream whey cheese, is made of pure cow’s milk. Prim, a soft, brown whey cheese, is made of cow’s milk, but sugar is added. It is boiled down less than the other types. Fat content, firmness, and color—how light or dark the cheese is to be—depend on the ratio of whey, cream, and milk and on the boiling time. What makes the brunost so special is actually that it is made from the whey, not from the casein, of the milk. Thus, it contains much milk sugar, which gives it a sweet, caramellike taste.
For thousands of Norwegians, brunost is not just a delicacy but a necessary part of their daily diet.
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Making Your Own Brunost
Making tasty brunost is an art that requires much experience. The details in the manufacturing of the various types of brunost are, of course, trade secrets. But perhaps you want to do some experimenting and make your own brunost? This recipe, with a total of two gallons [7 L] of milk and cream as a basis, will give about one and a half pounds [0.7 kg] of brunost and one pound [0.5 kg] of white cheese as a by-product.
1. Heat five quarts of milk to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit [30°C.], add rennin, and wait for about half an hour. Now the milk will start coagulating.
2. Cut the separating curd into cubes, and stir cautiously. This is to release the whey from the curd. It might be an advantage to heat the milk further.
3. Take away the curd by straining the whey. The curd might be used as cottage cheese or pressed and molded into white cheese.
4. The whey mixture that is boiled down usually consists of about two thirds whey and one third milk and cream. That means that you now have to add some two quarts of cream and/or milk. Use one pint [4-5 dl] of cream to get an ordinary cheese with full fat content. A smaller proportion of cream will give a leaner cheese.
5. Let the mixture boil steadily while you keep stirring. It takes several hours before the whey is sufficiently boiled down. Then it will be quite firm. A measure of this might be that you can see the bottom of the kettle when stirring. The more the whey is boiled, the firmer and darker the cheese will become.
6. Take the brown paste out of the kettle, and stir it thoroughly while it cools. This is important, to avoid a grainy cheese.
7. When nearly cold, the paste is so firm that it can be kneaded and stuffed into a mold. Let it stand overnight.
As an accompaniment, the brunost tastes best in thin slices and is preferred on fresh bread or waffles.
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With kind courtesy of TINE Norwegian Dairies