Cheese 130 Valdeon (Queso de Valdeon) DOP

 

I recognize that blue cheese isn’t for everyone. First, it looks kind of vile: it’s mouldy and blue and we humans generally don’t eat blue things because blue things are usually moldy, and moldy things usually make us sick. We are actually hard-wired to avoid blue foods (I’m sure I read that in a magazine somewhere.) Also, blue cheese kind of tastes like vomit, and I mean this in the very best way. As mentioned previously, the enzymes found in some blue cheeses are actually identical to those found in vomit, so it’s not JUST a coincidence! However, if one can get beyond these simple facts, there is a sumptuous world of blue cheese out there. Alas, my own immediate family cannot seem to move beyond the facts of blue mould and vomit, so I often eat blue cheeses all on my own. Don’t feel sorry for me though, I don’t want to share my blue cheese. After I review it, it spends the rest of the week crumbled in the daily salad, if you must know, and that blue and I really do enjoy the week together.

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I’ve been looking for a good Spanish blue to review for a while, Spain being renowned for their Blues.  I happily stumbled across today’s cheese, Valdeon at a local cheese shop-at long last.Valdeon is a traditional Spanish blue cheese produced in the valley of Valdeon in the province of Leon, Spain. The climate is less humid here than other regions of Spain and this results in (according to web sources)  a “less virulent mold” and hence a less intense tasting blue than some other Spanish blues, specifically the infamously raunchy tasting close cousin of Valdeon, Cabrales. Can we just perseverate for a moment on the phrase “less virulent mold?” That’s the kind of thing that makes cheese newbies run for the hills, so perhaps you might want to keep that little morsel of information to yourself when presenting a Spanish blue on your cheese board.

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The rind of a Valdeon is wrapped in the leaves of the sycamore tree, which allows certain bacteria to penetrate the cheese adding a unique and complex taste profile. If there are no leaves, it’s not a Valdeon.  Valdeon has DOP (PGI) or Protected Geographical Status. That means that all Valdeon is really Valdeon or someone’s in trouble. Valdeon can be made seasonally from cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or a mixture, so it’s hard to tell what kind of Valdeon I have, as I ‘m not about to run a DNA test on it. The mold used in this cheese is our old friend, penicillium roqueforti, and the milk used may be raw or pasteurized. Maturation takes place in real mountain caves for 2-4 months. And who doesn’t love a cheese matured in a real bona fide mountain cave, I certainly do. Usually.

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My little sticky wedge of Valdeon DOP is quite fascinating to behold. It looks a little like a Stilton, the creamy grey paste is shot through with a healthy (might one almost say virulent) looking blue mold. There is black leaf wrapping around the cheese. As I peel back this sycamore wrapping it’s kind of sticky and mouldy and somewhat grim, honestly, it feels like an autopsy. The wrapping does not wish to be separate from the cheese, but off it goes. Once it’s removed, the cheese awaits me. It smells divine, kind of like a mushroomy, reek, sordid, naughty, dark. It almost seems wrong to eat it in the morning, this is a mysterious nighttime cheese.

Here goes…Raunchy! Salty! Spicey! Mouldy! Holy hannah, if this is the milder version Cabrales how do people eat that cheese? Wow, Valdeon is kicking ass and taking numbers. Definitely NOT a starter blue. It’s burning my throat, and making my tongue go numb-incidentally this throat and tongue numbing is caused by  mycotoxins (fungal toxins) in the decomposing penicillium roqueforti, don’t worry, it’s not an allergy!  (I hope). OK, honestly, I admire this Valdeon, but it scares me. I want to drizzle it with honey and eat it with a pear or a chocolate bar, or something, but just off the plate it’s even a little virulent for my palate.

Wow. I’ve met my match.

Cheese 129 Roaring Forties-King Island Dairy

Last year I attempted to visit Keso Cheese Shop in Whiterock, BC (a city outside of Vancouver.) I was stopped at the door by the police! Alas, the store had just been robbed a minute earlier. As I stood outside, peering at the cheese between the boys (and girls) in blue, I promised Keso I would be back. Yesterday, was that day, and what a great road trip. Proprietor and fellow turophile Mauricio Kremer was happy to chat cheese with me, extolling the virtues of cheeses he and I have loved, and imploring me to give my cheese nemeses, Tete du Moine and Stinking Bishop another go. Nice try, Mauricio.

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I was only in the shop for a minute when this little beauty caught my eye.  Roaring 40′s has actually been on my “must try” list for over a year, but this is the first time I have seen the real thing. Did you think I made a mistake and meant “Roaring 20’s?” OK, I actually thought that was an error too, but no,  Roaring 40’s refers to the strong westerly winds that hit the fromagerie on King Island, found in the Bass Straight south of Melbourne, Australia on the 40 degrees latitude. This wicked wind, called the “Roaring 40’s”  is responsible for many shipwrecks, but also for the terroir that eventually makes its way into the cheese. According to cheese legend, (I love me a cheese legend) the King Island grasses were actually seeded from straw mattresses washed up from these same shipwrecks. So truly, this cheese does belong to the Roaring 40’s! The cattle of King Island nibble shipwrecked straw and kelp all day, but that’s about it, truly shipwrecked terroir!
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Roaring forties is made by the eponymous  King Island Dairy  from cow’s milk. It’s aged 10-12 weeks and is inoculated with blue pencillium roqueforti. Basically it’s a Roquefort, but made with cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk, and with an Australian shipwrecked mattress twist. A thick coating of blue-black wax covers the cheese, and this acts to limit which bacteria can enter the cheese and also keeps the cheese sweet and fruity. It also keeps it quite moist and protected inside, which is a good thing as Australia is a long, long way from Vancouver. Despite the challenges I have had tracking it down,Roaring 40’s is pretty well-known in the world of cheese, it’s won a ton of awards, but most recently  the 2012 Champion Trophy in the Australian Grand Dairy Awards

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Roaring 40’s is an extremely sexy looking cheese. Blue/black thick wax covers the exterior with a creamy paste shot through with mould, what’s not to like? As I peel back that thick wax (don’t eat it , silly, it’s not a rind) I’m kind of drooling. It’s a handsome cheese, it looks like Stilton to me with that lovely creamy cow’s milk yellow. It really is moist for a blue, that wax did a good job. This cheese smells fabulous, pungent and cheesy, it’s a little sticky to the touch. Enough, I must taste.

Mmmmmm. Wow. Oh yah! It’s really smooth and unctuous, yet slightly crumbly in the mouth. There’s a tiny little crunch in the paste, is it salt? Is it calcium? Who cares, it’s great. It’s salty and fruity, almost caramel sweet but with that unmistakable spicy blue mould hit. It’s really a terrific blue, and not overly terrifying. It’s actually pretty mellow for a blue, I MIGHT be able to talk to blue-phobic husband into this one…nah, I’m keeping it for myself.

Cheese 128 Isle of Mull Cheddar

I recently asked one of my favourite cheese sellers to name his favourite cheese. I realize that this is a cruel question. People ask me this cruel question all the time, and you might as well ask me who my favourite child is, it’s just wrong. Instead, ask me what my favourite washed rind cheese is, or my favourite mountain cheese, or perhaps, my most beloved cheddar.Still challenging, but much more realistic.

However, my cheese seller, when pressed (that’s a cheese pun) admitted to one favourite and that favourite is today’s cheese, “Isle of Mull Cheddar.” It’s taken me quite a while to track some down, as this is a very rare and precious cheese, but for you, readers, and for cheese, I will do just about anything.

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Isle of Mull cheddar is made by one family only, the Reades. They are the only family with a dairy herd on the Scottish Isle of Mull, which lies along the coastline of west Scotland. The island is quite “wee” with a population of no more than 3000. Proprietors Jeff and Chris Reade have been making cheese here since 1979. Their cheese is made from the milk of their own herd of cows, and due to the small area of the island, this milk is very affected by terroir-limited grain, and limited grass. To supplement the available food, these cows are fed the “spent grain husks” from the nearby whisky distillery, which is added to their feed (lucky cows). Apparently, this adds a slightly yeasty and perhaps alcoholic tang to this cheese. Wow! I mean, most of us have heard of wine and cheese, but this is the first whiskey IN cheese I have run across.

This is a relatively young cheddar, aged about 18 months, and it’s wrapped in cloth. Can I just say here  how mad I am for a cloth-wrapped cheese? I believe this is only my third cloth-wrapped cheese in the over 130 I have reviewed. Maybe I’m sentimental for the days of yore when more cheeses were wrapped, or maybe it’s that  funky smell the cloth gets when the bacteria move in, but I really give extra bonus points for this. More cloth please, cheese-makers of the world!

OK enough waxing on, now a word of warning. This is not a cheap cheese. Do you see this slice? Yes, it’s a tall slice, but it cost $8.00 here in Canada. That’s kind of crazy. It is a raw milk cheese (I’m not sure if it’s organic, it doesn’t say) and yes, it comes all the way from a wee Scottish Island where the cows drank spent grain husks all day, but this is one of the priciest cheeses I have sampled to date. Don’t grate this cheddar into your mac and cheese!  SAVE  IT FOR A RAINY DAY AND A GOOD FRIEND.

 

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First, this is a handsome cheese, that’s the best way to describe it. It’s an old-fashioned cheddar, with a creamy coloured paste but it’s very pale-much more pale than most other cheddars, and darker as it approaches the rind which I am thrilled to say is wrapped in cloth (don’t eat that part, for heaven’s sake.) You can see the texture of the cheddaring in the paste, a little pattern of pressed curds with tiny cracks. It’s a firm cheese, but a little moist, it’s not crumbling like some cheddars. The smell is crazy! I can actually smell whiskey in this cheese, I kid you not, these cows must have been truly “lit” as we say here in Canada. I know human moms who are breast-feeding aren’t supposed to drink as the alcohol passes on through the milk…that’s what has happened here folks. I can absolutely smell booze in this cheese, it’s so interesting!  Talk about terroir.

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Now the tasting-it’s so complex! It’s actually really hard to explain. The texture is a nice cheddary chew, yes, no crunch, but the taste. It’s meaty, salty, boozy. There’s no tang that I sometimes taste in cheddar, that tang is replaced by an alcohol note. It’s not sweet either, despite it being a raw cheddar. It’s fruity, but without any sweet, like a savoury fruit. It’s completely unlike any cheddar I have ever tasted.It’s funky and yeasty and aggressive. It’s boozy and sexy and weird. I don’t even know that this is cheddar, I don’t even know what it is, it’s kind of out of this world.

Wow, Isle of Mull Cheddar, I think, for once, I’m kind of speechless, or maybe I’m just drunk from eating you. Crazy!

Cheese 122-Shropshire Blue


First, an apology. For those of you who are regular readers of this blog you may have noticed that I neglected to write a post last Saturday.  After nearly a year of daily and then weekly posts, this was a first, and I am deeply chagrined.  In truth, it was a confluence of family events so wretched that cheese could not be made a priority-yes that bad!  Thus, today’s post-a Thursday post-is a make up for last week. I promise another in two day’s time barring no new family type emergencies. Forgive me.

The more cheese I taste and review, the more I realize that there really are only 5 types of cheese: washed rind, bloomy rind, blues, mountain, and fresh.  All cheeses are some combination or permutation of the above with a tweak on the milk used, the affinage, the addition of a particular mould or salt or wash, but really…that’s it!  Yes, this small number of cheese types produces an almost infinite number of actual cheeses…just like humans, I suppose.  We are all a combination of egg and sperm, but what a sumptuous variety.

I mention this because today’s cheese, Shropshire Blue, is referred to as the “love child” of Cheshire and Stilton.  Well, no one actually uses the phrase “love child,” but I shall here today, on My Blog of Cheese!  Cheshire and Stilton had a lovely little orange baby.  Both of these British cheeses have been reviewed here, Cheshire-an ancient British crumbly and salty cow’s milk cheese, and Stilton, the famous cow’s milk British Blue…but, their child, Shropshire Blue came out orange!  Sometimes kids come out funny in the wash.

Interestingly, I really haven’t been able to pin down the origins of this cheese to my satisfaction.  Numerous sources on the web give quite different inception dates, and these are all great sources, so it’s quite the mystery.   One excellent source says it came to be in 1970 at the Castle Stuart dairy in Scotland by Andy Williamson, a cheesemaker who had trained in the making of Stilton, while another trustworthy source claims it was created in the 1930’s by a Cheshire Cheese dealer Dennis Biggins. This troubles me.  Was it Biggins, or was it Williamson?  Was it the 1970’s or the 1930’s?  Everyone seems to agree that it was first made in Scotland and the name Shropshire was used fictitiously to cash in on the cache of British cheese names, but who and when?  It’s a freaking mystery.

What I do know for certain, is that Shropshire Blue is now made in Britain, not Scotland, and although the cheese is not protected it is only made by three cheese makers.  I also know that Shropshire Blue is a blue cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk which gets its funky Halloween colour from our good friend, annatto. The mould used to produce this beauty is our old friend, penicillium roqueforti.  Shropshire Blue has a natural rind and ages about 2-3 months before sale. It is usually made by Stilton makers using the same technique as Stilton, the only real difference being the annatto which does  interact in the aging giving this cheese and ever so slightly sour but sharper and spicier taste than Stilton.  But really, Shropshire Blue  is Stilton with a spray tan.

 


My little wedge of mysterious Shropshire Blue, and I say mysterious as I actually don’t even know who the maker is of this specific cheese-a huge shame- cheese mongers, don’t deny this knowledge to me-it’s like a foundling at the hospital door, yes, it’s a child, I can see that, but what about the parentage? I digress, my little wedge of mysterious Shropshire Blue is truly hideous, yet lovely.  It’s a deep russet orange flecked through with blue veining.  I showed it to my husband, who recoiled visibly, it’s really not what most people think of when they think of cheese.  The rind is natural and thin and brown, and the colour becomes darker towards the rind. When I sliced the cheese it crumbled a little, it’s just begging to be eaten. The cheese smells mild, and here I mean mild in a blue cheese sort of way.  It actually just made my mouth water sniffing it…oh, I can’t wait!

Here goes…

Salty! Spicy! Creamy!  It’s a Stilton, no-it’s not as sweet as Stilton, this Shropshire Blue burns my throat, it’s really peppery and spicy…what is that?  Is that the annatto?  No orange cheddar has ever done that. Seriously, my throat is on fire, this is weird. Could it be an allergy?  Who cares. The texture is amazing, smooth with little crystal flecks, I wish I could smear this on something, it’s begging for smearing and a slice of pear, but I am a purist-I resist.  There’s a real ammonia kicker to this cheese, more so than in most blues-it makes my eyes water, it’s so foul and fabulous, how can I explain myself?  This cheese is heinously delightful!  If you are looking for something that looks shocking on your cheese board and sets your throat on spicy fire, look no further.  Shropshire Blue, I dig you, but I’m weird, you my friend, are my slice of cheese.

Cheese 109- Danish Blue Cheese AKA Danablu-Castello Rosenborg

This blog has been threatened by a number of factors over the last several months: travel, a broken fridge, cost,and  a head cold, but nothing has truly put it to the test like this week’s foible: a cleanse.  A cleanse is a sort of masochistic eating regime hypothetically created to cleanse the body of toxins.  In reality, I suspect many folks-along with myself, indulge in a cleanse in order to shed some excess weight.  The rules of this cleanse are easy-peasy: if it’s something that’s yummy, you can’t have it, if it’s something that’s gross, go for it!  Luckily it’s only 7 days and I am half way through, but let me be clear: cheese is absolutely not permitted on this cleanse.  So what’s a turophile with a weekly cheese blog to do?  Here it is, I’m breaking the cleanse just for you, gentle reader-that’s how much I care.  Hopefully my cleansed body won’t go into shock.

What better way to break a cheese fast than with a blue cheese!  I do adore me some blue, and have thus far  sampled the big three, Stilton (yum) Gorgonzola (a little less yum) and Roquefort (not really that much yum at all) and it has come to my attention that there is another big player in the Blue cheese scene, and that is “Danish Blue” aka Danablu.  There are several cheese makers claiming to make a “Danish Blue” but the largest and most established by far is the Danish Arla cheese company and its so-called House of Castello Rosenborg.  Castello (Arla) actually makes several blue cheeses, but their big player is Danish Blue Cheese.  Chances are you have already tasted this cheese, it’s that blue on the cheese plate at all those art gallery openings you attend.  This little darling can be purchased just about anywhere in Canada and is truly the most ubiquitous blue on our shores-despite being Danish.

Castello has been making cheese in Denmark since 1893, when Rasmus Tholstrup, decided to dedicate his life to cheese making-and who can blame him for that!  His son Henrik, grew up to share his passion for cheese, a clear sign of good parenting.  Henrik Tholstrup took the family dairy from a small producer to a big player on the cheese scene. In 1958 Henrik bought several dairies in Denmark and production skyrocketed.  Castello was acquired by Danish cheese giant Arla in 2006, and is now the biggest maker of imported blue cheese in North America. Go Denmark!  The name Rosenborg actually has nothing to do with the cheese.  It refers to the Royal Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, built in the 17th century by King Christian IV.  A picture of this castle is on the label for the cheese, but alas, this cheese did not spend any time in the castle, or its dungeons, it’s just a pretty picture. Sigh.  Castello-Rosenborg Danish Blue Cheese is really a big player in Blue cheese scene, have I mentioned this?  It is the winner of 33 International cheese awards.  That’s right, 33.

So why in the world is the top selling Blue cheese in North America from Denmark and not from France, the home of Blue cheese?  Good question.  In the 1920s, a Dane named Marius Boel discovered an innovation to improve the taste of classic French sheep’s milk blue cheese Roquefort, by substituting cow milk for sheep’s milk. The result was a creamier, richer, and fuller flavored cheese- Danish Blue, basically a Roquefort made from cow’s milk.  It’s also easier to make, cows produce a lot more milk than sheep do.   Danish Blue cheese was first manufactured in 1927.  This blue cheese is inoculated with Penicillum Roqueforti, and is made from whole pasteurized cow’s milk.  the Blue culture is added right into the cheese milk. Like other blues the culture requires a lot of oxygen to develop correctly, thus the cheeses are pierced with stainless steel needles, which leave a large number of air ducts.When you cut open this cheese you can see the blue lines running through the paste where it was pierced.   The culture develops from the inside towards the surface of the cheese. After approximately one month, the cheese is ripe and ready to go.

My Danish Blue Castello Rosenborg came in a sealed plastic triangle container. It’s a very white cheese shot through with blue lines as well as little blue clusters in the interior paste where the mould developed on its own.  There is no discernible rind to my eyes.  The cheese is piquant in odour and smells somewhat of vomit.  Now, don’t be upset by that, as I have discussed in a previous post this cheese does contain the same enzyme as vomit so the similarity is no coincidence.  I am reminded that shepherds used to pack infected wounds with Roquefort as the penicillium mould actually works to prevent infection. I just think that’s such a helpful fact,  I am repeating it here, in case the apocalypse occurs and you haven’t stocked up on penicillium but you do have some Roquefort of Danish Blue around.  I digress.

Here goes…

Mmmmm.  Damn, this really is a good cheese.  Maybe it’s because it’s so familiar, it really is “that blue” that you have had a million times on a million cheese plates.  It’s really creamy and a perfect balance of salt, umami, vomit and sweet.  It’s raunchy and sexy and I like that in a cheese!  The paste is even throughout, as there is no rind you just eat it all.  I would like to smear this cheese on something, but as I am forbidden grains on this cleanse I will pass.  OK, this cheese rocks, it’s also available almost everywhere and relatively cheap, so go for it, it’s a great starter blue and to my taste buds, an improvement over the original Roquefort which I just couldn’t get behind.

Danablu, Danish Blue, Castello Rosenborg, Arla, whatever you are called, you are welcome back anytime you little raunchy darling, you are definitely my slice of cheese!

Cheese 108-Mountaineer-and a trip to Cowgirl Creamery DC



I recently returned from an epic journey to New York and DC, and while there had many adventures in cheese.  In fact, I think cheese tourism is the next big thing!  Why not?  People travel to drink wine all the time and that’s just grapes and vats of juice and stuff.  Cheese is much more exciting! While you are travelling, do try the cheese. I highly recommend it.

While I was in DC I planned to visit Cowgirl Creamery.  Any turophile trolling the internet for cheese info will run across this cheese shop time and again as leaders in the world of cheese.  They have a couple of locations across the USA and were definitely on my hit list.  After my somewhat discouraging visit to Murray’s cheese shop in NYC my expectations were lower, but I am happy to report that Cowgirl Creamery far exceeded my cheese love expectations.  Although they actually had a paltry number of cheeses on site-likely under 50- these folks were true turophiles and were more than happy to geek out over cheese with me.  And really, that’s all I am asking for-is it so much? Please people, if you own a cheese shop: hire cheese lovers.  The fellow who served me at Cowgirl Creamery not only sported a funky hat,  but gave me numerous free samples and extolled the virtues of all the cheese. I felt he was a kindred cheese spirit.  We had a long discussion about the joys of raw milk, the virtues of fresh cheese, and cheese in Canada versus the USA.  Alas, the day was hot and my hotel had to fridge, so I had to limit myself to a cheese that could stand a little mistreatment, which led me to a Mountain cheese called Mountaineer.

Mountaineer, from the Meadowcreek Dairy in Virginia, is a cow’s milk cheese made from raw milk.  The Meadowcreek Dairy, a family farm, has a herd of Jerseys from which all their milk derives.  Owners Rick and Helen Feete have been farming here since 1980.  Over the years they have perfected the genetics of their herd of cows, and it’s a real cow to cheese plate production. Like all real farms, Meadow Creek’s  production is seasonal, so grab the cheese when it’s for sale, something else is just around the corner.  The cows here seem to live a great life, they are never confined and are born and raised on pasture, happy cows! According to their website their farm “sits perched in the misty, cool emerald reaches of the Appalachian Mountains at an elevation of 2,800 feet, where the water is pure, the air is bright and clean, and the soils are rich and untainted.” Nice terroir, Meadowcreek, it kind of sounds like Canada! Meadowcreek has been making Mountaineer for a while, but they feel it “truly came into its own” after they made a trip to Europe in 2004. They got into the Mountain cheeses of Valle d’Aosta and the Savoie, and brought their inspiration home to make this dense aged cheese.  Mountaineer has a natural brushed rind and is aged in their cellars a minimum of six months. Nice!

This cheese is, well a typical looking Mountain cheese, strong and broad and handsome.  The soft interior is a relatively dark yellow, those cows must have been getting into some strong grass.  It has a thick natural rind which I shall decline to eat having some cheese PTSD associated with gnarly rinds. This cheese really stinks, I mean, it really does, especially for a Mountain cheese, but it’s also a washed rind cheese, interesting combination.  It’s actually stunk up our entire hotel room!  I accused my poor daughter of having stinky feet and insisted she bathe, but even then smell persisted.  I had forgotten the cheese!  It perfumes the entire room with a strong odor of teenager toe, but I mean this in the best possible way.

Yikes, here goes…

Hmm, well it tastes like toes too!  Actually, I don’t really know what toes taste like, but I imagine it can’t be far off this flavor.  It’s a strong, unctuous taste, slightly sexy, slightly carnal.  There’s something woodsy and naughty about this cheese, likes it’s just taken a tumble with a certain someone in the underbrush.  I wish they had used a little more salt with Mountaineer, but this is a common complaint with me and Mountain cheese, I just don’t get the lack of salt.  Was there no salt available traditionally in the mountains?  What gives?  The lack of salt fails to bring this cheese to a finish on my palate, but that’s ok, because the party was good up front. The texture is delightful, chewy, dense, yet yielding, it’s pleasing to the tongue and to the teeth.

Mountaineer, I doubt we will ever meet again: you being a raw milk cheese from Virginia, and me being a cheese lover from Vancouver.  It was fun while it lasted, and you-you little stinky thing, are certainly my slice of cheese!

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.