The Swedish Cheese Project
A love story.
He pulled a cheese plane across the surface of the newly unwrapped wedge. I remember chuckling at the crackly, slightly wet sound as the plane created thin, textured slices with an aroma somewhere between fruity and pleasantly bitter. I tasted a piece. Tangy, salty, crumbly yet a bit creamy, dotted with tiny crystals lending a hint of crunch…
Västerbottensost was my first introduction to Swedish cheese. I was standing in the kitchen of my then-boyfriend-now-husband’s apartment in Columbia, South Carolina on a June afternoon in 2012. Johan had just returned from a trip to Stockholm, bringing with him a piece of cheese by the same name as a northern county in his home country. He said that his parents always kept a big piece of Västerbotten in the fridge, and that he’d occasionally had success in finding it at IKEA when he still lived in Germany. He told me the cheese is quite popular in Sweden, especially in late summertime during the much-anticipated crayfish season when it becomes the co-star of Västerbottensostpaj (which is, for all intents and purposes, a quiche), made with heaps of the lovely ost and a generous addition of fresh-caught crayfish. I kept stealing crumbles as he talked, unable to get enough of the brilliant flavor and consistency.
At the risk of sounding cliché, that was the day I fell in love with with a cheese from a little town called Burträsk, and it spurred a keen fascination with the cheeses of Sweden.
There’ve now been several years, countless visits to Stockholm, and a move to Germany since that first bite of Västerbottensost, and I’ve had the pleasure of trying numerous other svenska ostar along the way. Beyond the reliably excellent Prästost (priest cheese) in its various states of maturity, the modestly named but mild and versatile Hushållsost (household cheese), and a smattering of funky, earthy blues; Sweden has a marvelous array of artisan cheeses made at the hands of passionate cheesemakers. I’ve thrice attended the Stockholm Cheese Festival and, despite my limited Swedish (both of which you can read more about here), have had the opportunity to sample many of these wonderful cheeses and have a brief chat with the talented folks behind the curd. This festival in 2016 is where I discovered the Gårdsost from Svedjan Ost, an exclusive, small-production hard cheese that further skyrocketed my interest in Swedish dairy offerings with its fruity, nutty, crystal-studded magnificence, and left me thinking about it for two straight years before finally getting my hands on another piece at the 2018 festival.
As one may correctly assume, I love to learn about cheese and its many sensuous forms. I read books on the subject, listen to podcasts, scour the internet, linger at cheese counters, pursue opportunities to taste cheese wherever I travel, and I’ve even been dabbling in making my own to gain a better understanding of the process on a [very] small scale (catch my paneer-making Instagram story on my profile highlights if you haven’t already). But I’d like to dig deeper into this world, particularly into the arguably under-appreciated world of Swedish cheeses, so all of this chatter is meant to serve as an introduction to what I’m simply calling my Swedish Cheese Project.
This space is where I’ll be sharing what I learn through research, experimenting, and—hopefully—speaking with Swedish cheesemakers themselves. I hope to visit farms and watch cows frolic, I want to boop the noses of buffalo and say hello to the sheep and goats who provide the milk and their own je ne se quoi (or should I say jag vet inte vad?) for these cheeses. I want to get to know the land where these animals graze, to see where the magic happens in the process of cheesemaking, and I want to learn the stories of the people and the local cultures that have led Swedish cheese to where it is today.
And because I love spending time in the kitchen, this is also where I’ll write about cooking and baking with Swedish cheeses. I’ll be sharing recipes, experiences, and assorted musings on the subject, so do keep an eye out.
So, where do I want to take all of this? Lavish spreads in glossy magazines, perhaps? A book? Eventual expansion into a Nordic cheese project? Let's see.
While I’ll certainly be reaching out to folks for opportunities to profile their work, if you happen to be reading this as a cheesemaker in Sweden, or as a chef or restaurateur who incorporates Swedish cheese into your dishes, or simply as a fellow Swedish cheese enthusiast with a story of your own, please get in touch! I'm also happy to hear your suggestions or questions; don't be shy: firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, on with the cheese.