For those of you who have been following my blog, I am happy to report that my neck is much improved. A day at home with hot pads, Advil and mindless television seems to have worked. Oh, and lots of cheese, of course. I have to admit to a little cheese binge yesterday. But it has calcium, right? It must be good for bones, and thus necks as well, as they contain bones, right?
Today is dedicated to Jarlsberg, my first Norwegian cheese. Actually, it’s my first Norwegian cheese to be reviewed here. I did sample another Norwegian cheese whilst in Iceland called Gjetost, which looks like peanut butter, is often served with whale (I wish I was kidding), and tastes like a combination of all things horrible-but I digress, no Gjetost today!
Norway has a long history of farming. Norwegian farmers first started to keep cattle more than 6,000 years ago. Their chief dairy product was butter, which was actually used as a kind of currency. Modern dairy production was established in the early 1800’s, when Norwegian farmers decided to branch out from butter and approached some experienced Swiss cheese makers to teach them how to maximize their cheese production. Thus, in many ways, Norwegian cheese is a direct descendent from Swiss cheese.
Jarlsberg is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and is aged from 1-15 months. A version of this cheese was first produced in the 1860’s in Jarlsberg by a Anders Larsen Bakke, a farmer and pioneer in Norway’s dairy industry. Bakke’s cheese shared similarities with Emmenthal and other mountain cheeses except that it was sweet! It was the first Norwegian re-imagining of Swiss cheese. Bakke’s cheese had some popularity, but eventually all but disappeared.
The Jarlsberg cheese known today is kind of a revival of that cheese. It was the result of intensive research and development by the Dairy Institute at the the Agricultural University of Norway. This group of top-secret dairy scientists were dedicated to locating the best Norwegian cheese recipe and putting it to work. The current Jarlsberg cheese-making process was developed by professor Ola Martin Ystgaard and his cheese minions in 1956. Ystgaard’s team started experimenting with old cheese recipes, including Bakke’s original Jarlsberg. They succeeded in combining old cheese-making traditions such as Bakke’s with modern technologies. The team called their new cheese creation Jarlsberg . Hence, Jarlsberg is a relatively modern formation. The recipe as well as the name are trademarked, it is technically Jarlsberg® . The recipe for Jarlsberg currently in use is also top-secret! Production of this top-secret well-researched university-based cheese began in the 1960s.
The largest producer of Jarlsberg today is the TINE factory in western Norway. TINE is one of the twelve agricultural cooperatives in Norway and the largest Norwegian dairy cooperative. Jarlsberg accounts for 80% of TINE’s total export. Jarlsberg is also produced in the United States on license at Alpine Cheese in Ohio, and by Dairygold in Ireland, also under license. Jarlsberg is actually a very successful cheese. It is the 3rd largest export product from Norway. Jarlsberg comes in original, lite, special reserve (aged) and smoked.
My little slice of Jarlsberg original is certainly taking its cues from “Swiss Cheese.” It is almost a caricature of Swiss cheese, in fact, there should be a mouse posing beside it leering suggestively. It’s a semi-hard looking cheese with no discernible natural rind, although there is a thin orange plastic coating which says “Jarlsberg” on it. It has one massive eye winking at me, so I think we can safely assume that during the processing of this cheese, bacterial gasses are released, forming eyes. As everything about Jarlsberg is really top-secret, I’m not sure how it is made, or even how old my little slice is. As it is rather supple and not all that gnarly smelling, it is probably a couple of months old: not too young, and not too aged. The smell is mild, but reminds me of Emmenthal. It’s piquant but not repugnant in any way.
Not so crazy about this one. God, I’m difficult. But really, it’s just weird to me. I know I bitch all the time about cheese not being sweet enough, but this one is too sweet. It’s like Emmenthal that someone stirred a bunch of sugar into. It’s like cheese-flavoured candy. It has that mountain cheese alcohol-taste, but then it’s so sugary, almost everything else is lost. The texture is cool, it’s chewy and nicely elastic, and melts on the palate, but the taste is so sweet I find it utterly distracting.