What Is Brown Cheese?
“I just thought the Norwegians packaged peanut butter in a different way, you know, instead of spooning it out of a jar they served it in a block that you slice with a cheese cutter. It still tasted like peanut butter and I ate it on bread with jelly but I didn’t find out it wasn’t even peanut butter until much later.”
Babs, an American expat in Norway chuckled as she told me about her first encounters with Norwegian brunost (brown cheese). She and her Norwegian husband met in Lebanon decades ago where, at the time, he would ship in a huge box of brown cheese to satisfy his homestyle hunger.
Americans compare it to peanut butter; Brits compare it to Marmite; Many others compare it to dulce de leche. But it is none of them.
Norwegian brown cheese is not essentially cheese — it’s made with goat milk, whey, and cream — and boiled for so long that the sugar in the mixture caramelizes, giving it the iconic caramel color and flavor. Then it is molded into a rectangular block and sold that way. Paired with bread and jelly it can pass for peanut butter, but in its singular essence it has a unique creamy caramel taste. It is delicious.
And with this classic Norwegian treat came innovation: a special tool designed to create the most perfect slice. It’s a triangular-shaped metal head and handle that without a doubt can be found in every Norwegian household. I myself am a cheese-cutting fool, for I keep finishing off the slice with a sharp shave of my thumb knuckle. Practice makes perfect, I say, but concerned friends have suggested I try a serrated cutter instead.
A Ban on Brown Cheese? Norwegians Say No Way!
Since it is such a traditional food in Norway, it serves as a classic meal-time snack for kids in kindergartens and daycares. Just like in America where children dig into PB & J’s or goldfish snacks, kindergartens* serve slices of brown cheese on tasty whole-grain bread. But earlier this year some of these institutions have stopped the distribution, citing that it’s just not healthy enough.
Excessive fat and sugar are the culprits lurking in the brown cheese that make administrators want to halt using it as a school snack. Pushback is strong, though, with Norwegians scoffing at the assertion:
“It seems people are becoming health hysterical here in Norway when they start banning our brown cheese in kindergartens!” noted Matias NC who had been living abroad for the past few years and recently moved back to Oslo.
Brown Cheese Gets Bad Rap (Again): To Blame for 5-Day Fire
It is hard to vilify a goat cheese that has done the job for decades, but a recent disaster concerning the dairy product has at least proven its combustibility.
A semi-truck transporting a 27-ton shipment of brown cheese caught on fire in a tunnel in the North of Norway and raged for a whopping five days due to the high concentration of fat and sugar which doubled as gasolene. No one was hurt, thankfully, but the accident did shed light on how flammable the precious snack is. Pro tip: Don’t grill or over toast it in the oven.
So there you go, a pretty thorough rundown of delicious Norwegian brown cheese. People say you either love it or hate it, but I dare not to be so extreme. You’ll probably like it.
*every type of daycare up to the 1st grade is referred to as ‘kindergarten.’
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