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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Why Cheese and why should you go there?

Il sapore dei prati – The taste of the meadows. Panel discussion on climate change.

Cheese 2023 is history, but those attending have most probably gone home with new knowledge, ideas and fresh impulses whether you make cheese, sell it, or is just a nerd that cannot be surrounded by enough cheese. This festival in Bra, let’s call it a festival, is cheese for tasting, for buying and exploring. And of course it is networking, meeting up with people you know and connect with new ones. There are seminars and panel discussions, this year’s topic was Meadows, the fact is they are slowly disappearing. All over. If you want biodiversity, if you want terroir, well then you also need meadows. That simple.

Two years till next Cheese

You’ve got time to plan in other words. Arranged in Bra by the Slow Food Foundation which resides in Bra. The whole town is enjoying the massive influx of people and is involved in Cheese one way or the other. So what should you plan to do? You can just stroll around, take in the atmosphere, taste cheese, sit down for a coffee (and a grappa if you like), have light or heavy lunches, talk to people at the huge number of stands around the town, taste wine and cheese at the large tasting hall, listen in to panel discussions, seminars, go to guided tastings. Mostly with wine, but there were cheese with beer, with grappa, and unfortunately the one with coffee was cancelled. To secure a ticket for the tasting you have to book early. Some of the activities are free, others are payable, typically such as the guided tastings. Slow Food is also concerned with tradition so they have programs to help threatened breeds, products or other related issues to survive. Not only cheese, anything food.

Cheese for any palate

Who should go?

Anyone with a special interest for cheese. Being a producer – big or small, trader, merchant, journalist, nerd, foodie, chef. Well anyone dealing with something cheese related or just enjoying it and are curious about the cheese world. it is so diverse, you really cannot imagine before you have been there. This was my third time visiting and i had the pleasure of guiding a small group as I did last time.

Also read: Alpine cheese, is the older always the better?

Cheese always have a theme

This year it was all about meadows. The sad fact is that they are disappearing. Fast. In the mountains a well as at the flatlands. Giving way to urban development. This has an impact on our food supply as well as our climate, pretty basic both of them for our survival. Sounds very dramatic of course, but the thing is if we let this just continue that’s where we’ll end up. Not in my life time, but one day.

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