January 17, 2011

ski queen

Like many things deeply rooted in nostalgia, my affection for Norwegian gjetost (pronounced yay-toast; literally 'goat cheese,' and also known as brunost or 'brown cheese') leans slightly toward the irrational. My mom was into gjetost when I was a kid; I remember her thinly slicing the cute little brown cube of cheese and draping ribbons of it on top of warm buttered toast or whole grain flatbread. My memory of gjetost's flavor is fuzzy but comforting - sweet, caramelly, rich, like a cheese candy of sorts. At some point my family lost the taste for gjetost, and it disappeared from our cheese drawer not to be seen again. I forgot about my love for this brown cheese entirely, until I saw a little red brick of Ski Queen in the cheese case at the market one day and was compelled to buy it.

Gjetost is an amalgamation of cow's and goat's milk, cream, and whey. The mixture is boiled for several hours until much of its water content has evaporated and the milk sugar (lactose) has caramelized, similar to the way dulce de leche is made.  Once solidified, the cheese is cut into little cubes and packaged; when you unwrap one of these cubes, it looks uncannily like an oversized caramel. In Norway and other areas of Scandinavia, gjetost is a a breakfast standby, thinly sliced with a cheeseplane, the curls eaten on buttered toast or flatbread, with fresh fruit or preserves.

This is definitely not a cheese to eat by the chunk. Gjetost is an intense sensory experience, sort of a cross between fudge and cheese; beginning with the richness, sweetness, and slight bitterness of caramel, it finishes with a wave of tangy goat. It's a flavor that's difficult to put into words. It just has to be experienced. (And it is something of an acquired taste - people seem to either love it or hate it.)

The richness of gjetost calls for something substantial that can stand up to it -- a hearty, whole grain rye flatbread (such as Kavli) is a good pairing. A thin layer of unsalted butter on the flatbread creates a mellow foundation for the curls of gjetost (I don't have a cheeseplane so didn't quite achieve curls; just sliced the cheese as thinly as I could with a sharp knife) and balances the intensity of the cheese. An interesting combination. Try it if you dare.

1 comment:

  1. I'm intrigued! I'd definitely give it a try if I ever see it.