Food & Drink
Cheesemaking is spreading all over Norway
Farm hand Tore Nordbø from Tingvoll was said to have possessed supernatural strength and to have been so big that he had to walk through doors sideways. Now he has an equally powerful cheese named after him, Tingvollost’s “Kraftkar” (which means “Strongman”). It’s a blue cheese made at Saghaug farm in Tingvoll municipality in Møre og Romsdal. Kraftkar has won several awards, including a Gold Medal at the World Cheese Awards, where it took on the best cheeses from around the world. “There are several ingredients that go into producing its flavor,” Tingvollost’s Head Cheesemaker, Solvor Waagen, tells Scandinavian Traveler.
“The first is to have good-quality milk. It has to have the right balance of fat and protein, for example. Poor-quality milk is not something you can disguise. The quality of the milk is influenced at a very early stage, and it depends on the kind of grass the cows eat. We have hectares of timothy, lady’s mantle, and wild grass where our cows graze. It also has something to do with the climate. If our farm were in Eastern Norway, there’s no guarantee it would taste the same. We also use cream in our cheese, which improves the taste. It’s like when you use cream in a sauce. It just makes it better.”
Cheesemaking on the farm
Cheesemaking is a craft that requires a lot of skill.
“You have to be meticulously precise,” Waagen says. “Experience is also important. Theoretical training is all very well, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can make cheese; you have to have the knack. I think you have to enjoy making food.”
Even if you do the same things every time, the cheese is never exactly the same.
“There can be a difference between making cheese in the summer, when the cows go out, and in winter, when the cows stay inside. It’s like baking bread. Even if you use the same recipe again and again, it still comes out different.”
The cheese is also stored on the farm, where they don’t use any advanced technology. It’s all about paying careful attention.
“We do have ventilation, but there will always be seasonal variations in the temperature. For example, we can have hot summer days and cold nights. So, we have to take that into account.”
Their work has certainly paid off in the form of coveted awards. As well as taking two golds at major cheese shows, Kraftkar also won gold at the Nordic Cheese Festival in Denmark and was named dairy product of the year at the Norwegian Food Awards in 2015. All of Tingvollost’s other cheeses, including Edel frue, have also won medals at the World Cheese Awards.
“I can’t understand it. But I don’t go around thinking about it. I just roll up my sleeves and get on with my work. Just like Petter Northug. Although he’s won World Championship Gold, he still keeps on training and improving.”
Waagen recommends eating Kraftkar with something sweet like blackcurrant jam or nut honey.
Chef Ørjan Johannessen, who won Bocuse d’Or in 2015 is also pleased with this recent development.
“Ten years ago there were no Norwegian cheeses at all, but now we have a lot of really good ones that can compete with the likes of French and Italian cheeses,” Johannessen tells Scandinavian Traveler. “A good example is Munkeby from Trøndelag. It’s nice not having to import cheese.”
He also uses Kraftkar at the Bekkjarvik Gjestgiveri restaurant he runs just outside Bergen.
“And I can eat it for breakfast too.”
Cheese from Eiker in Buskerud
Eiker Gårdsysteri in Hokksund outside Drammen was one of the first farms in Norway to start making quality cheese on its own farm. Anne Marie Sando went on a course in 2002 to learn the art of cheesemaking. Once home, she applied for funding from Innovation Norway to launch a pilot project. On her kitchen table.
“Until then, we had been producing milk for the cooperatives, but from then on we were able to set aside some milk to make our own products,” Sando tells Scandinavian Traveler. “I took the techniques I had learned and developed them. It’s been a case of trial and error.”
Trial and error that has reaped rewards. Their golden hard cheese Holtefjell XO won bronze at the World Cheese Awards. It can be used in the same way you use Parmesan, or in soups and pies, ideally with a glass of Nebbiolo or pale ale. Another specialty cheese made by Eiker Gårdsysteri is their semi-hard Gruveost.
“It’s stored in the Modum mine and is matured for up to a year. The temperature is what gives it that special quality.”
Altogether, Eiker Gårdsysteri has nine types of cheese in its repertoire and produces 12 tonnes of it every year. The cheese is available to buy from the farm’s own shop – and online.
Lofoten in Nordland county is also home to some top-class cheeses. At Lofoten Gårdsysteri they turn the milk from the farm’s goats into a delicious goat’s cheese. Lofoten Gårdsysteri’s Steinsfjord cheese, which is named after the fjord near the farm, won gold at the Norwegian Farm Cheese Awards. And on top of that, it has gained entry to the Quatrehomme cheese shop in Paris. This specialty cheese was developed by Dutch pair Marielle de Roos and Hugo Vink. Their reason for doing it was quite simply that there were not very many good Norwegian cheeses in the stores when they came to Norway from the Netherlands in 1997.
“We had learned to make cheese through a number of projects I had been involved in and we wanted to give it a try, because Norway should have all the right ingredients,” organic farmer and cheesemaker de Roos tells Scandinavian Traveler. “So we started out when we eventually got our own farm in Lofoten.”
They’ve been working to develop their cheeses for several years.
“It’s a long process. We’ve put a lot of work into how the milk should taste. The best cheese is made using fresh milk. The big manufacturers can’t get milk as fresh as ours, because we milk in the morning and then make the cheese straight away. Goat’s milk that’s a few days’ old tastes different than ours. We also wanted a cheese with a good consistency that you can cut without it falling apart. Proper storage is also important.” While developing the slightly sour Steinsfjord, they listened to what restaurants and chefs wanted. Their efforts have paid off – both for them and for cheese-lovers.
“I took a sample to Quatrehomme in Paris and all the staff there loved the cheese and wanted it in their shop. Selling to them has taught us a lot because they know so much about cheese and they had a long list of quality requirements and definitions of taste in cheese. Now we don’t need to do any marketing anymore, because people call us up wanting to buy from us.”
The cheesemakers are now working hard so that more people can taste their cheese made from the milk of frisky Lofoten goats.
“We’re working as hard as we can so that more people have the chance to buy our cheese.”
Text: Inga Ragnhild Holst
Published: November 21, 2016