Cheese 101-Gjetost

Welcome back, turophiles!

It’s been 10 days off.  As promised, the cheese and I have returned.

I have been wanting to review today’s cheese, Gjetost since the beginning of the blog, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Imagine my surprise to run into it at my local IGA store, of all places.  It just goes to show that you really have to look carefully at your local store’s cheese. You might find something special hiding!

I first had Gjetost three years ago while traveling in Iceland, and there’s a bit of a story here.  I was in a tourist store called “the Viking.” The proprietor was chiding me for being a tacky tourist.  Feeling injured I informed him that I actually was an Icelander, by heritage.  To this he responded, “oh, so you think you are Viking?  Then come with me.”  and he led me through the back of his store and onto a small deck in the alley.  Yes, this was stupid of me. When we were alone on the deck he pulled a massive knife out of some hidden place in his body and pointed up.  A large, toddler sized hunk of dark purple meat hanged from a hook, swaying in the breeze above my head.  It smelled a little fishy. Literally.  The man reached up and cut a slice of this hideous looking meat and handed it to me, “if you are Viking, you need to eat this, it’s in your blood.” He menaced.  Yes, it was whale.  Minke whale.  Shudder! What could I do?  He had a knife.  But more importantly, he was questioning my legitimacy!  I ate the slice, it was chewy and kind of raw.  It was hideous and my stomach roiled with guilt.  But I had to, you understand?  It was cultural.

Where is the cheese in this story?  Well, the next day I returned to the store.  The same man was eating a large plate of crackers.  On each cracker was a slice of brown stuff that looked like peanut butter, and on top of this was a slice of whale.  “You have to try it this way”  He proclaimed” “Everyone loves this cheese in Iceland.”  The food gauntlet being thrown down again I had no choice and tried this concoction.  I don’t know if it was the whale or the cheese-(which I later discovered was Gjetost) but it was truly hideous, one of the most horrifying taste combinations of my life. Think of sweet, fishy peanut butter cheese cracker, with an extra serving of bad karma.

Thus, of course, I have been searching for this cheese ever since. Gjetost is Norwegian for goat’s cheese, pronounced “yay-toast.” It was customary throughout Norway to boil whey to “prim” – a soft, sweet, brown cheese made from goat or cow’s milk. Anne Hov, a farmer’s wife, was the first person add cream into the kettle of prim making a full “fat cheese” she called Gjetost, Apparently by adding the cream Anne got a higher price than her regular prim and she is reputed to have saved the Gudbrandsdal valley from financial ruin in the 1880’s through the invention of this cheese.

Gjetost is actually not technically a cheese per se, as it is made from whey, not curds.  This puts it into the same category as ricotta and mizithra and other whey “cheeses.” Gjetost is sold in Canada under the name of “Ski Queen” and is made by the Norwegian giant, TINE, which I recently discussed in my review of Jarlsberg cheese.

Gjetost is extremely popular in Scandinavia and is typically eaten cut into thin wafers and on toast with different sides, fruit, vegetables, or-apparently-whale. Gjetost is also used in fondue. Gjetost’s unique colour and taste are the product of the natural caramelization of the sugar in milk (lactose) that occurs during the cheese’s production process. Gjetost is made by boiling a mixture of milk, cream and whey carefully for several hours so that the water evaporates. The heat turns the milk sugar into caramel. Once evaporated to the proper consistency, Gjetost is molded into blocks. As Gjetost isn’t really cheese, it doesn’t need any aging, it’s ready to eat when it’s made, although it will keep for up to a year.

My chunk of Gjetost looks more like maple fudge than peanut butter.  It’s a caramel brown and well, fudgey looking cheese.  The colour is uniform through the paste, and there is no rind.  The smell is quite mild, if there’s goat there I can’t tell, and that’s a first.  It smells faintly of barn but you really have to get up close for that.

Here goes…

OMG this is weird! It’s basically candy fudge in a goat cheese form.  It doesn’t just look like fudge, it IS fudge.  I know I have said that some cheeses are sweet before-but this one is actually SWEET, like as sweet as candy sweet.  No kidding. Then there’s that chewy fudgey texture, and yes, a little kick of goat at the end. It’s like eating goat candy. I actually don’t know what in the world this is. It’s totally fascinating and repugnant, yet appealing simultaneously.  I definitely recommend it without the whale-this one seems much more palatable.  Wow, I’m really blown away by this cheese, I can see how it could become a strange little habit.

Gjetost, you are freaking me out-you might just be my slice of cheese, after all.