Tag Archives: norwegian cheese

Is that cheese?

4th April 2016

Audhumbla (one of our cows) had her first calf at the end of February. (For the post about the birth see here: Audhumbla’s first calf) Now she gives us around 12 liters of milk per day,  and Hornfagr gives us about 3 liters so it’s been alot of work processing it all! I’ve started making hard cheese again, and have finally succeeded in making brunost! For those of you who still don’t know what that is, I will explain. When you make cheese, you have to coagulate milk in one way or another. For a hard cheese with fresh milk I use rennet, which is an enzyme that naturally occurs in the stomach of a calf. We haven’t tried making our own yet, so we buy it.

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Here you can see the the curds in the whey after stirring to break it up with a “tvare” a traditional norwegian stirring implement!

After the milk has set it forms a soft jelly-like curd, which you either cut or stir to break it up, and allow the whey to be released. The whey is the liquid, and accounts for most of the mass of milk. Thus from 15 liters of milk i got around 1.5 kilos of cheese, and about 13 liters of whey! Often, whey is seen as a waste product, but the norwegians discovered a clever way to utilise it. Whey is full of lactose, which is milk sugar, so still contains quite alot of energy. The problem is all that water! So what they did (and what i do) is to boil the whey down to evaporate the water, until it is thick and brown at which point the sugars are concentrated and caramelised to create a sweet and delicious bread topping! Usually it is eaten in the form of a solid block which you can slice with a cheese slicer. But if you take it off the heat a bit earlier you get “prim” which is a spreadable version. We make brown cheese in a huge iron pot, and we have to boil it for at least 6 hours, depending on how much whey we have.

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When it is near the end, we have to stir it all the time to stop it burning, and we add a whole lot of fresh cream too, which makes it more creamy and mild (and fatty). After we take it off the heat, we continue stirring until it is cool as this stops it from becoming hard and sandy. Our homemade brown cheese is somewhat saltier and more sour than the shop-bought variety, but in a way it is sweeter too.

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8th April

The other crazy norwegian cheese we are trying to make is Gamalost. It is a very old type of cheese, and dates back to the viking age. It looks like a block of orange-brown coloured crumbs, and tastes a bit sour and bitter and the texture is more like a stale cookie than cheese. But of corse it’s nothing like a stale cookie either. It is made from sour milk, which means we sour the milk every day and save it up in big containers where it matures until we have enough to make cheese. It’s great because sour milk keeps forever really and doesn’t need to be kept cool (due to the lactic acid which is what makes it sour). This means we can save up a lot more milk than if we were making a cheese from fresh milk. When we have enough, we transfer the sour milk into a huge iron pot, and heat it slowly until it boils. Then we scoop out the curds into a cheese mold and leave them to drain. The next day we take the cheese out of the mold and paint on a gamalost solution (just gamalost mixed with water) as this contains the mould nessecary for the cheese. The primary mould is called mucor, and grows visibly on the cheese after a few days in a humid environment.

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The fur-like mold has to be stroked down after about two days, and a couple of times after that until it no longer grows back. It then grows into the cheese, imparting a whole new colour and flavour. The mold turns the cheese orange/brown, and after a month or two it is ready to eat. I think the cool thing about this cheese it that it is essentially half cheese, half mushroom! Gamalost is special in that it is 50% protein, and it’s meant to be extremely healthy.

12 April

Asides cheese, the house is also filling up with seedlings of all kinds. This year I made my own potting compost, which is extremely satisfying, and the plants are thriving just as well as if i had sown them into specially formulated nutrient balanced expensive shop-bought compost! I mean, it is essentially just soil, right? All I did was mix roughly 50% well rotted garden compost, which had a good deal of manure in it, with some spent compost from previous years, and a bit of garden soil. I sifted everything to get the rocks and lumps out, and to make a nice fine textured soil for the seeds to start off in.  I also pasteurised the compost by heating it to 70-80 degrees celcius for roughly an hour. I had it in a large basin over a huge pot of water on a wood fired stove. I had it only 2-3 inches thick to make sure the heat was even throughout, and measured the temperature with a thermometer. Once it reached 70 on the bottom I would stir it and leave it for another half hour before taking it off, and putting the next lot on. It does take some time to pasteurise it all, but I use ALOT of compost every spring, to raise a years worth of cabbage, brussels srpouts, lettuce, leeks etc. The good thing about making your own compost is that it means your plants are already used to the kind of soil you have in your garden, which means they should adapt quicker and easier when you plant them out.

This year I am trying outdoor tomatoes for the first time, so I got my hands on some early varieties. I’m going to have them against the south facing wall of the house where it’s very warm in the summer, so I hope they will like it there. I have my doubts after last summer, but I have to try! This year I am trying out five varieties of cabbage! One early cabbage which I have grown before which we eat up in the summer, and im trying out some others for autumn and winter storage, and for making sauerkraut! I also got some seeds of an old norwegian variety, just to see what it’s like. Oh, and I’m trying out perrenial kale.

Outside, the snow is melting fast, and my garden is rapidly emerging from it’s winter sleep. Already the first flowers are starting to bloom by the wall of the house and everywhere buds are getting ready to burst. The animals doze in the renewed warmth of spring, and the ewes prepare for motherhood once again. This year they are expecting 10 lambs, so it’s not long before the farm is filled with mischievious little ones! I look forward to their high-energy antics!

-Insert cheesy title here-

31st January 2015

The lengthening days bring new light to our lives, the promise that winter won’t last forever. It’s clearly impacted the chickens too, as they’ve gone from 3 to 11 eggs per day, just in the last week! Mama rabbit decided her youngsters were old enough to look after themselves, and jumped the fence for a booty call. Found her with Papa this morning…we didn’t really want to have any more babies until spring, but what can you do, they’re rabbits after all!

Our lovely sheep have become incredibly tame! When we got them in the autumn you couldn’t really get closer than 5 meters, and now they come right up to us, one or two have even started jumping up like a dog, to see if I have food! The trick was to make them realise that there was food in the universe that was FAR tastier than dried grass. At first they weren’t interested in anything, they didn’t even know what grain was, they just sniffed at it and walked away. But we corrupted them, oh yes. Once they got a taste of the magical crunchy stuff, there was no going back. I can even touch them now, without them doing a runner. (Cuddling is just a small step away…)

With the birth of our first calf just six months away, our attention once again turns to milk and her cheesy children. Dan has begun his second attempt at gamalost, that strange, brown stuff that seems to be made of breadcrumbs. At the moment though it is just 20 litres of cultured milk!  It has to mature for two weeks before the cheese can be made. And from all that milk we skimmed 3 liters of cream, which means I’ve spent quite alot of time making butter in the past  few days. We only have a small hand churn so I had to do several batches. Some of it I salted to use fresh, and some I made into ghee, for cooking. Ghee is a brilliant way to preserve homemade butter, as it can keep for several months and it makes a wonderful cooking oil, with a much higher smoke point than butter. It is basically just unsalted butter that has been heated to remove water and to separate the milk solids. It is an indian tradition, I haven’t heard of it being made in the traditional cultures of europe, though it may well have existed. I know that at least in Norway all the butter was made in the summer and they would salt it very heavily to preserve it until the cows would calve again in the spring.

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freshly churned butter

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the washed butter on it’s way to becoming ghee

And from all that butter I’ve finally had enough buttermilk to make a small amount of spreadable cheese. Because the cream I used was soured, the buttermilk was also sour so it made a good mild tasting slightly sour white cheese. To make it I heated the buttermilk up to around 40c and kept it there for about half an hour, to make it curdle. Then I just poured it into a cheesecloth and hung it up to drain overnight. So simple, so tasty, so satisfying. Next week I will embark on my own hard cheese adventure! I will try to make a kind of traditional norwegian hard cheese, made from fresh milk. It’s a good cheese for us to make because it doesn’t require a starter culture and you don’t have to wax it. So it’s great because we can just use things which we already have, which makes it HIGHLY self-sufficient. And of corse, it was made traditionally in conditions very similar to how we live, so we know at least that it’s POSSIBLE and doesn’t require some kind of transcendental sterilised environment.

16th February

First a small obituary for pappa rabbit, who passed away recently. Cause of death unknown. He lived a relatively short but comfortable life, and fathered many children. Strangely, it was just after his wife paid him a visit, and she behaved oddly for several days before his death. She has now outlived all of her children and her husband, and may or may not be pregnant with his babies. If she isn’t, the time of the rabbits may come to an end.

Dan made his gamalost recently, and the initial ‘bresting’ went well, but the mold that is supposed to grow on the cheese (mucor) is not winning against various blue and white molds. We are not really sure why, as last time it grew a coat of the finest fur!

Yesterday was cheesemaking day! In one frantic effort, I spent the whole of the previous day manically cleaning the house and thinking about evil mould spores and bacteria and where I would hide if I was a micro-organism. I clearly spent far too much time on the internet reading about cheesemaking and how you need a super clean sterile kitchen and even a single bacteria can RUIN your cheese…obviously I blew the whole thing out of proportion and fortunately came to my senses BEFORE I started throwing the entire contents of the room out of the window. I had to remind myself that people made cheese for thousands of years before sterile environments even existed. (I briefly researched this just now and the first evidence of cheesemaking is from 5,500BCE in Poland!) Nonetheless, it was a good excuse to clean the kitchen. (I even cleaned the dirty patch of wall behind the sink) (And, as hard as it was, I even brifely banned cats from the house.) I almost had a fit when Dan came home and immediately brought out his cheese, and started scraping mold off it. I could SEE the billions of spores rise in clouds, to contaminate my cheesemaking room. I think that was when I finally let go of the idea of zero contamination. In any case, the cheese I wanted to make was a traditional norwegian cheese, and though the dairy-maids of yore did have a good sense of hygiene, I don’t think they had a word for sterilisation. This is one of the things that makes me feel very positive about my cheesemaking endeavours- that people have been making this kind of cheese for a very long time in less than perfect conditions and without the aid of scientific knowledge of the inner workings of cheese, or factory produced cultures, or cheese wax, or even a cheese press. So it’s perfect for us who just want to be able to use what we have, and for it to be another step towards self-sufficiency, rather than an expensive hobby.

Ok, now to the cheesemaking. The cheese in norwegian is called “hvit søtost” which just means white sweet cheese, and encompasses all ‘normal’ cheeses- those made from fresh, rather than soured cows milk, and use rennet. The methods varied quite alot from region to region and farm to farm, so no two cheeses would have been the same. Which is quite nice because in a way, that means I can’t get it wrong! The problem is that I don’t really know what it should be like, or which method to follow. BUT, that’s great because that means I can just choose how I want to do it, and do lots of experiments to see what works. (And taste lots of cheese!) It’s terribly exciting. So one of the main ways this cheese differs from modern cheeses is that they didn’t add any bacterial culture. That’s because they knew how to do magic. They used only wooden utensils, so their bacterial culture actually lived in the wood, and was reactivated everytime they made cheese! Now I don’t have any such inocculated utensils, but I read that you can use buttermilk as a mesophilic culture. I used REAL buttermilk, the liquid that is a by-product of making butter. For it to be bacterially active, it has to be churned from sour cream- this is cream that has been soured with a bacterial culture, (otherwise known as cultured cream). I think it’s practically non-existent in England, but its still common in Norway (rømme) and the rest of scandinavia, and in Poland (smetana) and other eastern european countries.  We always sour our cream, as it keeps longer that way, and is a tasty condiment.  To sour it I just added a little bit of sour cream from our perpetual culture, and kept it by the stove overnight. By the morning it is thick and quite gloopy- the bacteria have done their job. Sour cream can keep for weeks if kept cool and that means anything below around 12 degrees centigrade. It’s very useful for us, especially in the summer when even the cellar gets as warm as that. (We don’t use a refrigerator). But back to cheese! I decided to try with a small amount of milk to start off with, 15 litres. And for that I needed about 750ml of buttermilk. I actually only had 500ml so we shall see how that turns out. The point of adding a culture is to start the acidification process- the bacteria convert the lactose into lactic acid thus making the cheese acidic which is what helps to preserve it. It also helps the rennet to coagulate the milk. I warmed the milk in a really big iron pot, which just about fit into our kitchen stove. I added the buttermilk a little before I added the rennet, then waited for it to coagulate. After half an hour I stirred the curd to break it up, until it sunk under the whey. In modern cheesemaking, they cut it rather than stirring it, as that means less of the butterfat is lost in the whey. But I used the whey to make ‘brunost’ anyway, so it doesn’t matter to me. Before scooping out the curd, I used my hands to feel for any larger chunks, and break them up. After they are broken they become more springy and firm. I lifted the curds out into my cheesecloth lined mould, which sat over the big pot. When I had retrieved most of the curd from the warm whey I took it away from the pot to start pressing out the whey with my hands. Meanwhile, Dan Halvard and Matt (our wwoofer) strained all the whey to get out the last of the curds. Then they tipped it all back into the pot to start heating it to make brunost. I pressed the cheese in the mould for over half an hour until no more whey would come out, and then put in the follower (a small wooden plate) and set it in the alcove behind the stove with several large books on top to press it.  I left it like that until about midnight when I turned the cheese and put it back in the press. The following morning I removed it, and unwrapped it from the cheesecloth. Then I just grinned and talked to it a little bit, and told it what a lovely cheese it was. And I rubbed the surface with dry salt, covered it and left it to sleep.

The whey was boiled down for around two hours, and I added cream when it started to thicken. When it was very thick and brown, I took it off the heat and stirred it until warm, then kneaded it with my hands until cool. It turned out very light in colour, and much more hard and crumbly than it should be. I think this is because I only had about 10 litres of whey, which meant that it boiled down too fast and didn’t caramelise enough. I plan to make cheese again this weekend, with more milk this time so hopefully the brunost will be better. In the future, when I consistently make good cheese, I will write more about the process and how to do it…but right now I’m still figuring it out.

The source of my cheesemaking knowledge is mainly the book “Kinning, Bresting og Ysting i Valdres” by Helge Gudheim, which is an amazing work all about traditional cheesemaking and dairying in Norway. He gathered information from hundreds of sources in Valdres, both old dairymaids and modern cheesemakers, and presents it in a comprehensive way.

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yellow cheese and brown cheese…the children of milk

Last week we ate the first porridge from our own oats! I spent a whole day with our hand mill, trying different ways of removing the husk without grinding the grains too small. I had to put it through the mill several times, to free most of the grains from their husk. Then I put them through our big old grain cleaning machine, to try to separate it out. It worked! The hand-powered machine has a fan which blew away most of the husk, while collecting the oats at the bottom. The problem is alot of them still had husk attached, so I had to run them through the mill again, and then clean them once more. It turns out it isn’t possible to remove ALL of the husk, because some of the oats are too small and just fall through the mill. But it is possible to get some of those out by tipping it all into water- the smaller whole grains float, making it easy to just scoop them off the surface with a sieve! So we managed to remove most of the husk, and the rest we just put up with. It’s good to have some fibre in the diet anyway. 😛 We soaked the oats overnight in milk, to soften them and reduce the cooking time in the morning. The porridge was wonderful, so much more flavourful than store bought oats and had more texture too. Goodbye oat flakes! We have started drying all the grain now, in our drying room which is just a big rack in a room with a woodstove burning all day. We need to dry ALL the grain before the weather starts to warm up in the spring, as they won’t keep long then. Our woofer is working on removing the awn from the barley grain. It’s quite important to get rid of it, as they have tiny little barbs on them and I can imagine it would be quite nasty to get one of those things stuck in your throat! At the moment, the method is to shuffle over the grain with some very clean boots, and then rub it through the hands to loosen the stubborn ones. We put that through the cleaning machine too, which blows away the hairs. The next step with the barely is to remove as much of the husk as possible, and then mill it into flour so we can bake some more flatbread!

Oh by the way, the chickens wanted me to write that they have broken their previous personal best of 11 eggs with 18 eggs in one day! Thats almost one egg per hen now, and we already have far more than we can eat!

Thanks for reading, more soon.