Cheese and Wine

Fjelldronning from Avdem farmstead dairy

I live in Oslo, but the rest of my family lives on the beautiful north west coast of Norway, which is a seven to eight hours drive from here, crossing the mountain range dividing east from west. I went for a brief visit to see my aging mother now living in an old folks home.
An extreme weather situation forced me to take another route across the mountains. Icy roads, gale winds and snow are not the best of conditions to drive in. But this deviation, which used to be the normal route, brought me to well known Avdem gardsysteri at Lesja. They now have their farm shop, Avdemsbue, by the road from Dombås to Åndalsnes which has fairly heavy traffic. They had announced tasting of a new alpine style cheese they are working on the next day, but I decided to try my luck. Alas, no samples of the new cheese, but a chunk of Fjelldronning (mountain queen) that brought home a bronze medal from the World Cheese Awards in London last month was available. I have tasted Fjelldronning many times, but never as mature as this.

avdemsbue, avdem gardsysteri,
Stopp ved Avdemsbue på Lesja for en handel.

Avdemsbue

Avdemsbue is a fine place to stop for some shopping of local, small scale produce and other edible stuff. Norway local I should say. Cheese, condiments, produce, local beers, cured foods, cordials and much more. But no tasting of any new apline style cheese. There is always a way, though.

Avdem

So, after having shopped some cheese I drove the few yards to the dairy where Sigurd and Åse, fully engaged in making cheese and porridge respectively, took time to sit down for a long chat and, would you believe, tasting of the new cheese. Bufast as it is called. During that conversation we reflected on the development of local farmstead cheese making and what that has done to small local communities like Lesja. Avdem used to produce milk for the Norwegian coop dairy. That kept about one and a quarter person occupied. Now that they have started cheese making, launched the shop, started up growing vegetables at the farm beside the milk production, seven to eight people are engaged full time. These small enterprises like Avdem have become cornerstones in the small rural communities.
The reason for my visit was of course to taste the new cheese. Well, it is still young, but very promising. Fine texture, compact with absolutely no holes and a beautiful washed rind. Very appealing. But it will take some time, some fine tuning and maturing. The name honors the farmer, living at the same place for generations and taking care of mother earth.

fjelldronning, avdemsbue, avdem gardsysteri
Fjelldronning modnet i 20 måneder.

Fjelldronning

I bought whatever was left. A chunk of almost a kilo. Did not taste, feeling very confident this was OK. Excellent taste, by the way. Made on March 21st 2016. 20 months of age. As I said, I have never tasted this mature Fjelldronning before, and the age becomes it. Sweetish on the palate, crispy crystals and a touch of caramel, even some burnt caramel. This was exceptionally good. I still have some left for Christmas.
I do not belong to those believing cheese only becomes better and better with age, irrespective of type. Up to a point all is well, but then a lot of cheeses start fading. These 20 months had done Fjelldronning well.
While Bufast is a tribute to the farmer, Fjelldronning is a tribute to all the women taking care of their herd at the chalets up in the mountains during summer. Mountain queens all of them.

To drink

My choice is a well developed Chablis. If you insist on something red, that is perfectly possible. Go for an east side Bordeaux, where the Merlot grape is dominant. Even a German Riesling Kabinett pairs well. As does a cup of good black tea. With milk, no sugar.

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Catalan cheese and wine at Cheese 2017 – a guided tasting

Seems appropriate, these days, to write about a tasting of Catalan cheese and wine during Cheese 2017 in Bra, Italy, back in September. The cheese hailed from the two Catalan regions Montsec in La Noguera and Pallars Sobirà. The latter is a mountain area in the Pyrenees to the west of Andorra, while La Noguera is much closer to Barcelona, about three hours drive heading northwest from the city. No reason to doubt the Catalan patriotism, most of the guiding during this session was done in Catalan. Kudos to the interpretor switching instantly between Italian, Catalan, French and Spanish. The leader of the tasting panel was the Barcelona based chef Sergi de Meiá running a restaurant carrying his name.

Tasting of Catalan cheese, all from raw milk.
Not many spare seats left at the tasting of Catalan cheese and wine.

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Guided firm cheese tasting during Cheese 2017

The last day of Cheese 2017 in Bra I was lucky enough to participate in a guided tasting of some fine European firm cheeses. The tasing was proficiently led by Hervé Mons. Firm cheese is exciting, even though I know a lot find them boring, at least when that’s the sole type of cheese on the plate. But there is a lot of taste, aroma and nuances you normally don’t think of, unless you really sit down to taste.
All the cheese on the plate was made during August 2015, so they were 25 months old. A bit of confusion on my part regarding the Parmigiano Reggiano which I think was mentioned to be 48 months old. The rest were definitely 25 months.

Six firm cheeses at the tasting during Cheese 2017 in Bra
The six cheeses in the tasting during Cheese 2017

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Toma di Bettelmatt from the Italian Alps

I cannot say the excellent cheese shop Fromagerie here in Oslo is famous for their Italian cheese. But his week they presented a completely unknown alpine variety, for me at least. Toma di Bettelmatt comes from Val d’Ossola, in the province of Verbano Cusio Ossola, as far north in Piedmont as you can get and more or less on the Swiss border. Sort of a flap cutting into Switzerland north west of Lake Maggiore. Here, at an altitude of about 6500 ft they make cheese (of course they make cheese). Alpine cheese. In small chalets, during a short summer season.
Highly sought after as they are, especially the Toma di Bettelmatt, which also means there a many other cheeses made in the same style in the Val d’Ossola area, they are brought to the market by helicopter nowadays. It used to be by mules, but in these times of instant gratification none has time to wait for the mules vinding their way down to the plains.
toma di bettelmatt

Long traditions

In this area at the top of Piedmont, they have long standing traditions for making cheese during the summer. The area, even at this altitude has wide, sheltered pastures where the animals can graze. The best conditions are in Val Formazza, at the end of the road and close to the Swiss border. That’s where Toma di Bettelmatt, the most famous of all the alpine summer cheeses made in the valleys, hails from. And this “business” they’ve carried out for centuries, and only in 2017 did this chees land on my table. So what have I been up to? Well, I cannot know about all cheeses out there, but I am improving, one cheese at the time.

Toma di Bettelmatt
Fra Google maps

What is it with Toma di Bettelmatt?

It is an alpine cheese made only durting a very short summer season. matured for about 60 days, so the piece I have is one of the first made this season. Since it’s a chalet cheese made at most of the chalets in the area, there are of course variations, so no Toma di Bettelmatt is made equal. Being it size or texture. There has been an issue with counterfeits, so these days the rind has a burned stamp on top of it. Even though the Toma di Bettelmatt is regarded the best, there are similar excellent cheese from Toggia, Kastel, Sangiatto, Lago Vannino, Alpe Forno and Poiala as well. The cheese has a very compact texture, with a few scattered eyes, but that may also vary. Typically cow’s milk yellow, even though it looks somewhat lighter in the picture below. Then of course its reputation also has something to do with availablity. As mentioned, relatively few cheeses are made every season.

Toma di bettelmatt
Toma di Bettelmatt from quite north in Piedmont.

The taste?

I must admit I had expected more fruit, like most other alpine cheese. The taste is marked and rustic. No trace of nuts as in the Swiss varieties. Then the nuttines is something developing over time, and this is a fairly fresh cheese. But if you fancy a barnyardy and earthy taste and aroma, well then this is the cheese for you. A little bit dry in your mouth. So I do not fancy it? yes I do, it was just different from what I had expected. Serve it together with some aromatic honey and rye bread. Perhaps a slice of pear as well.

To drink

This is a cheese for the red wine lovers. Pairs well with a full bodied Barolo.

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