The villages scattered along the Sognefjord, Norway's longest and deepest fjord, have an ancient tradition of producing goat cheese from fresh raw milk.
Artisanal Geitost has been made on mountain farms for about 500 years; once made across the entire region, its production is limited today to the small village of Undredal that looks out onto the fjord. Until 1982, the only way to get to Undredal was by boat; this isolation contributed to the conservation of the village's cheesemaking traditions.
Local inhabitants use term Undredalsost (ost is the Norwegian for “cheese”) to refer to two different types of raw goat’s millk cheese. However, they are quite different in taste and production techniques: a fresh “white” cheese and a sweet caramelized “brown” cheese (a category known locally as brimost, but more generally referred to as Geitost).
The village white cheese is made like a classic fresh goat cheese from raw milk curdled with calf rennet, then drained and pressed. The wheels of “white” cheese weigh 3 kilos each and can ripen for several months.
The brown cheese is made with an unusual technique, one found in Norway and Sweden, but nowhere else in Europe. The brown cheese was made for sale whereas the white one was used in the households. Made from the whey, it is a by-product of the production of “white” cheese.
To make this specialty, a little whole cow’s milk cream is added to fresh whey that is boiled immediately after pressing it out of the white cheese. This mixture is cooked for 8-10 hours. During cooking, the lactose sugar present in the milk reacts and turns brown.
The solid mass that forms from the cooked whey is then left to cool. It solidifies as it cools, and once it is solid yet still malleable it is kneaded and pressed into square wooden molds. After a day in the molds, it is ready to be eaten – Norwegians like it best sliced thin and eaten on bread.
The milk used comes from local goats, the Sognefjord breed. This breed is grass-fed and free to graze on the fjord for most of the year.
Undredal's cheesemakers have always produced their brown cheese with traditional methods and their own fresh raw goat’s milk, however, in 1991, local food safety authorities demanded that they started pasteurizing the milk.
During the 20th century, traditional cheesemaking in Norway deteriorated almost to the point of extinction, and the traditional brown cheeses have been substituted throughout Norway with mass-produced whey cheeses made from cow’s and goat’s milk. In order to protect this artisanal product the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity has established a Presidium to support local producers.
The producers of artisanal Geitost run a cooperative dairy, Undredal Stølsysteri. In response to the challenge from Norway's food authority, they founded Norsk Gardsost, an Association for Norwegian smallscale cheesemakers. By 1997, Norsk Gardsost had become a countrywide association with 150 cheesemakers from across Norway, and is working not only for the promotion of traditional cheeses, but also to promote raw milk cheese consumption.
The project aims to get consumers involved in the battle to defend raw milk cheeses and promote the products belonging to the fjord’s delicate ecosystem. The Presidium currently includes six cheese makers in the Undredal Stølsysteri cooperative and two village shopkeepers that focus on the sale of the cheese.
What is a Slow Food Presidia?
The Slow Food Presidia are projects sustaining quality production at risk of extinction, protecting unique regions and ecosystems, recovering traditional processing methods, safeguarding native breeds and local plant varieties.
Check out our website: http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/presidia
Photos — Archivio Slow Food