I can’t believe I am finally eating a cheese made in America. Ironically, I was certain that this was a Danish cheese! If I have learned one thing in this blog-besides the fact that goat cheese is good and not horrid-it’s that it’s really hard to figure out where some cheese comes from. I mean really hard! It’s Havarti, for God’s sakes, it’s Denmark’s most popular cheese! It’s sold by Arla, a large company from Denmark. But no, this one is made in the good old USA. Sigh. Honestly, I give up.
Creamy Havarti or Fløde Havarti-as it’s called in Danish-was created by Hanne Nielsen, a farmer who operated an experimental farm called Havarthigaard north of Copernhagen in the 1800’s. Hanne was the wife of a New Zealand farmer who traveled the world exploring the art of cheese making. Upon her return, she decided to experiment and named her finest creation after her farm- Havarthi.
Today’s Havarti is factory-made and widely distributed throughout the world, but it is still a direct descendent of Nielsen’s original cheese. It doesn’t look to me as though Nielsen or her family, or the Danish government for that matter- have control over the name or recipe for Havarti. Cheese calling itself “Havarti’ can and is made just about everywhere, which is a shame. There is no quality control. It would be interesting to know how some folks keep a strangle-hold on their cheese recipe and name, and others-like Neilsen-just seem to give it away.
Havarti’s main distributor/creator, and the creator of my cheese today is Arla foods, a new fangled merge of two cheese giants, MD foods-the first Danish co-operative and Arla foods, a Swedish co-operative. Arla Foods is a major supplier of specialty cheese, sourced in Europe and brought to North America for sale.
The Arla website states that its Havarti cheese is actually made by one of its companies, Dofino. Dofino makes its Havarti in Wisconsin. I find all of this baffling. Why would a Danish and Swedish cheese company use an Italian sounding subsidiary to make a Danish cheese in Wisconsin? Maybe the milk is cheaper there? Who knows. Despite this geographic confusion (at least on my part), Dofino’s creamy Havarti is a succesful cheese in its own right, taking silver at the 2006 Champion Cheese Contest.
All Havarti is made by introducing rennet to pasteurized cow’s milk to cause curdling. The curds are put into moulds and then drained, and then the cheese goes into affinage for a short aging. Havarti is an interior-ripened cheese, meaning it ripens inside first, and the rind is left alone. My sample of Havarti today is the creamy version. Original Havarti is different from from this one in that creamy Havarti has extra cream added to it during production- similar to triple cream brie. Creamy havarti usually ripens very little. Havarti cheese retains more whey in it than most cheeses which can cause problems during prolonged ripening, so it’s a young cheese best eaten fresh.
My little slice of creamy Havarti looks a trifle floppy and wan beside me this early in the morning. I know that it is supposed to be speckled with small eyes-that’s a defining characteristic of Havarti, but mine doesn’t really appear to have any. That’s weird. It’s a light yellow semi-soft cheese with no rind. I know in the past that I have said cheese doesn’t smell, but this one actually doesn’t smell at all, no hyperbole. I can’t catch the slightest whiff of it.
Well, what did I expect? It’s boring and safe, just like all the other popular cheeses I have sampled. It’s extremely mild, barely salty, barely astringent, no hint of sweet, no hint of mushroom, no uric acid, no nothing. It’s just safe and blah. You could feed this to children. You could feed this to people who say “I hate weird cheese” and they would be so happy because this is the least weird cheese I have ever tasted. The texture is rather nice though, it is creamier than I was expecting, it forms an enjoyable cheese paste on the tongue and is quite chewy, but so what?
Here’s the thing though, not all cheese needs to be a star on its own. Many cheeses are here in a supporting role. Bland cheeses like Monterey Jack and Havarti play that role admirably, they are that pasty mildly cheese-flavoured stuff in the background of some great meals. So there is a place for them-I get it, but as for me, it’s just not my slice of cheese.