Cheeses from Ukraine

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of cheese makers from Ukraine on a study tour to Norway to learn about our cheese traditions in general, but more specifically learn about brown cheese. This previously very Norwegian “cheese” regarded as a curiosity by the rest of the world is about to gain world wide reputation. There are two aspects to that, how great a Norwegian product has caught the interest of the cheese world meaning a lot of cheese makers both see the value of the product but not least see the economy of utilising the whey. On the other hand, the Norwegians need to hold on to the tradition that this is originally a Norwegian product. Some see this interest from abroad as a danger. I don’t. We just have to focus on our wide array of traditional brown cheeses. The thing is brown cheese is not one thing, there are many of them using various combinations of cow’s and goat’s whey added milk and cream in any combination you may think of. Brown cheese is a generic designation of a cheese that is as different as the areas they come from and the cheese makers making them. So can we deny the rest of the world to boil whey until it thickens and turns brown? Think not. But we can of course deny the world to call it Brunost.

The thing is, I have checked and there is hardly any of the brown cheeses in Norway that have any mention of brunost on their packaging. Heidalsost does, though, but rather discreet. They are branded with their individual names, such as for instance Gudbrandsdalsost. So brunost is something we use colloquially but not something producers use to identify their product.

Cheesemaking in Ukraine

What kind of cheese do they make in Ukraine? All sorts actually, just like anywhere else. From cow’s, goat’s and ewe’s milk with the two former being dominant. And as might be obvious from the above, brown cheese. And, look at the top image, they make beautiful cheese art. Made from pasta filata style cheese.

The reason though, why this delegation came all the way from Ukraine to Norway was of course to learn more about brown cheese, but also to learn how to organise the cheese makers, how we sell our cheese and so on. Just as important. After our day at Avdem they sat up till 3 am to discuss organisational matters. So when they have been to Aurland, Undredal, Hol and also as far as I know met with the leader of the board of Norsk Gardsost, I think they have a pretty good view of how we are doing things, and hopefully can utilise this knowledge to develop their trade. I am sure someone is willing to go there to do some consulting as well. Could bring back home some valuable know-how as well as a bonus.

Big and small

Of those attending there were small cheesemakers with a few goats or buying milk from neighbours, and there were big players with 1700 milking goats and 500 cows, describing themselves as small, making 600 tonnes of cheese a year. Ukraine is a huge farming country as we have learned through the news regarding export of grain. But obviously not just grain. They are undoubtedly a major global food supplier. It’s a big country and more than half of the area is arable land. Farming gives employment to about 14 per cent of the country’s population and farm products are by far the biggest export commodity. The current situation is particularly strainfull for the small farmers, the type of farmer that just visited Norway to learn more. It’s impressive in this situation how they travel to learn how to develop their trade to secure incomes and employment. These farmers and cheese makees are true stayers. They deserve our support.

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17th of May – cheese and champagne?

Cheese and champagne

Just another day, you may say. Well, this year it is a Friday, so it’s something. But not so if you are Norwegian. 17th of May is our national day where we celebrate our constitution that was completed and duly signed on May 17th 1814 at Eidsvoll, a good half hour’s drive north of Oslo.

So how does the cheese and champagne combo fit in to this day. Well for many, but by far all the day starts with a champagne breakfast. Friends and family gather to kick off the day before they all disappear into the day full of brassband music, parades, ice cream, hotdogs, lunches, national costumes, the King greeting the children’s parade from the balcony of the Royal Palace (it lasts for about two and a half hours). No military parades of any kind, just a lot of jolly people.

The breakfast

Back to the breakfast, because that’s where the cheese and champagne come in. There will of course be scrambled eggs and cured ham, there will be cheese, bread, salads of many types, smoked salmon and all other sorts of bread spread. Coffee and tea and chapgna for those who wish. it must be aditted this is also a day for transporting the kids to and fro different activities so the champagne part does not fit in for everyone. And of course do not have that tradition at all. It must be admitted that even though the day is celebrated all over the country, it’s a public holiday of course, the champagne breakfast is very much an urban thing. In the countryside, which makes up the biggest part of Norway there is hardly any such thing as champagne breakfast.

The cheese and champagne

I am not sure everyone will follow my advice but this day calls for Norwegian cheese. And we have a lot of good artisan cheese. The industrial gouda style cheese that floods the market we have for breakfast any other day of the year, so make it small scale artisan on this day at least.

If you are having champagne I will leave the selection to you, choos whatever you fancy. For the cheese I have a suggestions. The spring time is high season for chèvre, and we have a few very good ones. Kubbeost from Rueslåtten ysteri is a small brick shaped goat milk cheese. Fresh and milky with a mild goaty hint. Alternatively there is Myrull, slightly more matured tha, Kubbeost, but still mild and fresh.

For the firm cheese go for Lagret Fanaost, the World Cheese Awards 2018 champion. Gouda style but still, rich with a fine sweetness. My favourite Norwegian blue is Råblå from the same makers as Myrull above. Has a combination of sweetness and saltiness that will please your palate and sit for long. That’ds it, apart from pultost and gammalost which are traditional lactic Norwegian cheese that the general public is about to forget, but deserves a place on any breakfast table this day – and any other day for that sake. As for the champagne, they work wonderfully together.

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Brin d’Amour from Île de Beauté

Brin d’amour

Brin d’Amour from Corsica

There is this beautiful French island Corsica south-east of Nice and south of Genova with a lot of cheese of which my absolute favourite is Brin d’Amour. A ewe’s milk cheese covered with dried local herbs. Creamy when young and firmer with some age. The paste is so beautifully white while the rind can appear anything from rather boring grey to rather colourful. A small scale, farm made raw milk cheese of course. But mind you, it has a pasteurised, more industrial cousin called Fleur de Maquis.

Brin d’Amour – A breath of Love

Yeah, that’s what it means. A breath of love, isn’t that beautiful? And a beauty it is. The name actually refers to the aromatic coating of rosemary, fennel seeds, thyme and juniper berries applied during production to enhance the natural flavours of the island, and it pairs very well with the milk which also brings along flavours from the vegetation the sheep feed on. That’s called maquis which is a Mediterranean plant community of evergreen shrubs and small trees. The maquis is a dense, often almost impenetrable thicket of 1.5–5 m tall shrubs with stiff, jagged branches and small dark green, leathery leaves (Wikipedia). With those fodder challenges the milk and eventually cheese has to be good. Taste is fresh with a good amount of acidity, more the younger the cheese, but might become more challenging with age. You might also find some barnyard notes on the palate. Usually matured for a month, but you can find both younger and older variants. I must admit I am not all that happy with flavoured cheese, being it truffle or kelp or whatever some choose to flavour their cheese with. I prefer the real taste of the cheese. But Brin d’Amour is an exception. I love it.

Brin d’Amour
An older cheese with a far less attractive exterior, but don’t be judgemental.

The rind

A few words about the rind. Can or should you eat it? Yes you can eat it, especially when the cheese is young. The older it gets the drier the herbs and not all think it’s a good idea to have their mouth filled with sharp needles, because that’s what it will feel like. But, if you’re tougher than the rest, go for it. It will add an extra herby tang to the cheese.

To drink with Brin d’Amour

Not so sure about the white wine here, well it always works, I would say. But a local red would also work just fine. And they do make good rosés, so it really depends on your mood. Corsica makes great wines but they are largely little known. The best come from Ajaccio and Patrimonio, but also look out for wines from the Vin de Corse Sartène, Figari and Porto Vecchio appellations. If you’re there, I suppose anything will work. And as always, check it out with the locals, what do they prefer? Is just you, your cheese and some bread, or do you have some other food as well?

Going there?

I’ve never been there I must admit, but I love their cheese, and there are more than just the Brin d’Amour. They call their island «l’Ile de Beauté», and rightfully so. You can get there by air, and arrive at the Ajaccio Napoleon Bonaparte Airport across the bay from the city. You can arrive by boat, for instance fly to Nice and take one of the ferries from there, going to Bastia most of them, but there are other available ports. Once you’re there you can rent a car or motorcycle, or you can choose public transport to get around the island. There is a lot to do and see, so make sure you check out Visit Corsica to get inspired. Perhaps wise to avoid the peak of summer, spring and autumn is probably better. Anyway, «winter» is very short in Corsica.

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Klein River Cheese – Stanford, South Africa

There are times coming to a new place feels like coming home. Klein River Cheese is such a place. So heartily greeted and taken care of. Klein River cheese neatly nestled along the Klein river with a huge park garden, just outside Stanford in the Stanford valley. It´s definitely a farm, but most of all a farm dairy, they do not do dairy farming themselves, but buy their milk from a few surrounding farmers, partly family.

Klein river cheese
Some of Klein River Cheese’s assortment served in their garden.

The cheese they make at Klein River Cheese vary from soft to hard and the most famous is their Gruberg, a Swiss alpine style reminiscent of a Gruyère. This cheese is also included in the Academy of Cheese library, quite an honour that is. But they have a good variety of cheese from young to very well matured, washed rind and natural rinds. They even have a cheese called Parmesan which they are allowed to in South Africa. A couple of Danish varieties, too – Havarti and Danbo. No Norwegian though, how can that be? What about using some of the whey from the cheese making to make a brown cheese. I am sure most South Africans have a sweet tooth, so that would be a hit.

We plan to visit Klein River Farm on our South Africa trip November 2024. On my visit I was lucky enough to be guided around the whole dairy included the huge maturing area. I must admit it takes a brain smarter than mine to keep track of all those cheeses and which is ready when. They’re doing very well, so there is definitely a system. We cannot expect to have a whole group guided through the dairy but my hope is that we can sit down in the garden or at The Veranda for a cheese tasting with wine, or perhaps beer for a change, and listen to their story. I am sure that will be a wonderful memory to take home. They make fantastic cheeses, well worth tasting.

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