NORWEGIAN CHEESE HISTORY
The art of making cheese is very old. We know that cheese was made from milk from both cows and goats in today's Middle East 5,000 years ago, but there are many indications that cheese already existed 7,000 years ago BC.
Cheese types that are still produced today were described surprisingly far back in time. Julius Cæsar took an interest in business and diet in the countries he conquered, and is said to have noted which cheeses were eaten and how they were made. Gradually, knowledge of, among other things, Italian Gorgonzola and Parmesan, and French Roquefort, spread throughout the great Roman Empire. In other words, these are cheese traditions that stretch back more than 2,000 years!
The history of cheese in Norway probably started much later. But in the Viking Age, from around the year 800, several sources show the important role livestock farming, and not least milk and milk products, had in the Norwegian food supply. At this time, butter was the most important dairy product and a common means of payment. The traditional Norwegian cheeses gamalost, pultost and skjørost, in addition to boiled whey and milk in various forms, were important foodstuffs in households.
Anders Oterholm - Norwegian Cheese: from cheese vat to cheese table (2008).
Norwegian traditional cheeses
Until the dairies came in the last half of the 19th century, it was common to produce cheese for self-sufficiency on Norwegian farms. During the summer months, the milk was preserved as butter, cheese and soured whey that could be stored over the winter. Butter was a common means of payment and was considered the most important dairy product. Norwegian cheeses have therefore traditionally been based on the residual product from butter production, namely skimmed milk.
Soft cheese, for example, is made by acidifying skimmed milk. The protein-rich fresh cheese is reminiscent of cottage cheese and was the starting point for the mature traditional cheeses Gamalost and Pultost.
Gamalosten has roots from the Viking Age, and is perhaps the only Norwegian cheese that is not known from other countries. It is made from sour skimmed milk, and only that. Not even salt is added! This gives a low-salt cheese with approx. 0.5% fat and 50% protein. The ripening itself takes place with a special mold called Mucor mucedo. The mold grows quickly, and gives the gama cheese a furry appearance after a few days. The "hairs" are then ironed against the cheese, which matures from the outside in.
"No cheese can be as fine, and none as ugly as the old cheese", wrote Hulda Gardborg in the book Heimstell in 1922. A good example could be better than Gorgonzola and Roquefort, she thought. Today, unfortunately, we have lost much of the great variety of flavors that existed. Thanks to enthusiasts, and Tine's production in Vik, the craft still lives on.
Pultost is another traditional cheese made from strongly acidified skimmed milk. It has a sharp and rich taste, is often seasoned with caraway and often has a loose, grainy curd. However, this has varied, and still varies, depending on who is making the cheese and the tradition in the area. This is also reflected at Tine, who sells varieties inspired by the tradition from both Løiten, Lillehammer and Hedmark.
In some places, the table cheese has traditionally been processed further into knaost, also called trøgost or coconut cheese. This is a spreadable version, where the table cheese is melted in water, milk or cream. Fatosten, which Hulda Garborg describes in her books, is another relative of desk cheese. It was produced on the farms at Jæren, but is almost extinct today. Enthusiasts are now trying to recreate the barrel cheese. If we're lucky, maybe it will be resurrected?
Among the traditional cheeses, there are also products made from cooked curds and whey, with a round and sweet taste. You may be familiar with gomme, dravle, songraut, mylse, søst or gubbost? The varieties are many, and often contain various additives such as cinnamon and cardamom, raisins, syrup, sugar, wheat flour, rice grains or semolina.
The use of whey for brown cheese also goes back a long way. But it was not until the 1860s that the farm owner Anne Hov added cream to the whey, making the brown cheese something more than everyday food for the farm people. The innovation was the start of Gudbrandsdal cheese - one of Norway's biggest cheese successes, and earned her the King's Medal of Merit at the age of 87.
The entry of the dairies
The arrival of dairies characterized the last half of the 19th century, and started with the establishment of Northern Europe's first cooperative dairy, Rausjødalen setermeieri on Tolga, in 1856. A Swiss was put in charge of production, which mainly consisted of Swiss cheese made according to Swiss principles. The Setermeiriet was only operated for two summers, but became very important for further dairy operations in Norway.
Norway's first urban dairy, Skiens Ysteri, came seven years later. However, without the right technology, the milk often turned sour before processing. Cooling technology came in the years that followed, and brought with it an increase in the number of Norwegian dairies. The peak was reached around the turn of the century, with approximately 780 dairies.
The separation technology also came in the last half of the 19th century. The dairies, which had initially focused on feto cheeses such as Swiss cheese and edam, could now also produce butter and stomach cheese efficiently. This, in combination with increased production, meant that Norway went from being an importer of butter to becoming an exporter. In 1928 Norske Meierier (now Tine) established a separate export team with the aim of organizing exports, regulating market supply, stabilizing prices and improving quality.
In the 1990s, it was opened up to several larger players in cheese production in Norway. Synnøve Finden saw the light of day in 1996 after taking over the dairy at Alvdal. Kavli, which had produced processed cheeses throughout the 20th century, established the Q dairies and started production of drinking milk.
Parallel to the industrialization processes, Norwegian food culture was in a trough where traditional food did not appeal to us simply because it was tradition. At the same time, a ban on selling cheese from Norwegian farms was introduced. This ban was not reversed until 1995, and thus gained great importance for the maintenance of the Norwegian cheese tradition.
Modern "Norwegian" industrial cheeses
A country's food and drink traditions are often inspired by the fact that people have traveled, brought new ideas home and made them their own. The Royal Society for the Welfare of Norway once gave financial support to study cheese production in Switzerland, Germany and Holland, among others. Our modern "Norwegian" cheeses are therefore strongly influenced by the tradition in these countries.
It was actually the Dutch who taught us the knowledge of the craftsmanship behind Norvegia. The cheese was then called Norsk Gouda, and production was started at Nittedal Dairy in 1859. The method later spread to various dairies around the country, resulting in cheeses that varied both in appearance and quality. In 1925, a regulation was introduced to standardize the cheese. Norges Eksportlag was started a few years later, and eventually exported what they called "Norwegian Gauda". However, the cheese did not meet the Dutch standards for fat content, and after an extensive conflict had to change its name to what we know today, namely Norvegia.
Norges Vel also brought in a large number of Swiss livestock workers and oystermen to assist Norwegian farmers and train Norwegian dairy farmers. At most, there must have been over 100 Swiss advisers on Norwegian farms and cheeseries! This has of course also influenced the kind of cheeses we have on the breakfast table.
The inspiration for the name "Jarlsberg" comes from a type of Swiss cheese that was made at cheese factories in Vestfold in the 19th century. Until the First World War, however, these cheese factories were closed down or transferred to other productions. Modern Jarlsberg was only developed later, in the 1950s, at Norway's Agricultural College in Ås. This is cheesed like a Gouda cheese, and matured like the Swiss Emmentaler.
Today, Jarlsberg is one of Norway's best-known brands. Increasing international demand, as well as the removal of export support, has led to the establishment of production for the foreign market both in the USA and in Ireland. All production for the Norwegian market takes place in Norway.
Anders Oterholm - Norwegian Cheese: from cheese vat to cheese table (2008)