Thirteen years have hurtled by since I first went to Norway and had my first mouthful of brunost (brown cheese). From the get go, I was dead set on eating like a local. For breakfast at least. Lunch and dinner was typically pesto and pasta or cheap muesli. You know the kind – more dust than anything else. Though I found tykk-lefse med kanel (a thick flatbread spread with a sweet cinnamon butter) to be graciously affordable, so that was consumed regularly too. Perhaps too regularly. I grew sick of it after two weeks. Note: My relationship with tykk-lefse med kanel has been rekindled in recent years and we’re solid these days.
Anyway, brunost. To make Norway’s favourite cheese is straightforward and involves boiling the water from the whey of goat’s milk for several hours until the water evaporates. This caramelizes the sugar, giving the cheese its distinctive tan colour and caramel (debatable) flavour. What’s leftover from the process is left to firm up (though it isn’t massively firm, it’s akin to soft fudge) then it’s more or less ready. Like other cheese – though brunost isn’t technically a cheese – there’s no maturation needed.
I bought a block of brunost with the happy thought it would see me through the next few weeks of breakfasts and snacks. Having read about it before embarking on my Norwegian odyssey, I was certain I’d enjoy its ‘distinctive caramel flavour,’ because I love caramel. Who doesn’t love caramel? But my tastebuds had other ideas.
I ate it like the Norwegians do; thinly sliced with jam and fresh bread (though they also eat it with crispbread or waffles) but, despite its delectable creaminess, the actual taste, best described by another blogger as ‘salty goat’s fudge,’ wasn’t all that pleasing. Needless to say, I was distraught.
I tried it again later in the day, then again the next morning, determined to enjoy it, and not only because I’d paid nearly ten pounds for it. I can’t remember exactly what happened to the block – I was staying in a guest house at the time – I think I might have stuck a note on it and said anyone who wanted it could help themselves.
I haven’t given up on brunost though. Far from it. I’ve only eaten one variety – and there are many – and I’ve only tried it on bread and with jam. There are countless other ways I could eat it. I could make into a sauce for pancakes, add to gingerbread or use it in – Scandi Kitchen came up with this – mac’n’cheese.
When I was living in Sweden, I would eat something similar to brunost – though it was a soft and sticky spread instead of a firm-ish ‘cheese’ – called messmör. It was similar taste wise to brunost, just a bit sweeter and milder. After a few years of eating it, smeared almost transparently on bread, I found myself looking forward to it, and towards the end of my time in Sweden, would slather it on so thick you couldn’t see there was a slice of bread underneath.
Brunost has caused some controversy in recent years. Despite containing calcium and Vitamin B, due to its high sugar and fat content, one municipality considered banning it in schools. Whether this went ahead or not, I’m not sure, but I do like the idea of kids revolting against the banning of their salty goat’s fudge.