One of the most curious Norwegian dishes for the foreign visitor is also one of the most common in the country. Brunost literally translates to brown cheese, even though it’s not technically cheese.
Although often eaten at breakfast time, it can be enjoyed any time of the day and is easily found in any supermarket or hotel breakfast buffet.
Much of Norway’s diet is reminiscent of its days as a poor country, where wasting nothing and conserving fish and meat to last the winter were fundamental actions for survival.
As a by-product of the cheese-making process, brown cheese is a classic example of wasting nothing. The leftover whey from the cheese making process is boiled until it caramelizes. After cooling, it is packaged in blocks and sold throughout the country.
The question of whether brown cheese is healthy or not has sparked controversy in Norway in recent years. It contains calcium, protein and vitamin B and also lacks salt, but its high sugar and fat content has prompted a municipality to consider banning its use in schools.
Varieties of brown cheese
There are many varieties of brunost available in a Norwegian supermarket, the majority produced by the national dairy Tine.
The biggest difference between brands comes from the raw material. Whey from cow’s milk, goat’s milk or a combination can be used, with goat’s milk giving a stronger taste. The flavor and color of the final product is also influenced by the boiling time. Longer time leads to darker color and more intense flavor.
Gudbrandsdalsost is by far the most widely consumed brand of brown cheese in Norway. For many, this is the only choice and is considered the most flexible option for all occasions. Fløtemysost is popular among those who prefer a milder flavor because it does not contain goat milk. Ski Queen is available in the United States from Whole Foods and Amazon.
How to eat brown cheese
Whichever brand you choose, brown cheese is almost always eaten in thin slices. It’s rare to see a block of brunost without a cheese slicer nearby.
A slice of brown cheese on regular bread or crusty bread makes a very quick and easy breakfast, lunch, or mid-afternoon snack. But brunost can also be eaten as part of a sweet snack, most often with a waffle and jam, or even as part of a sauce especially for game.
What does brown cheese taste like?
It’s fair to say that brown cheese is an acquired taste. Many people who try it for the first time without any prior expectation find the unexpected tangy sweetness to be an unpleasant experience. Some compare the flavor to caramel, others to dulce de leche, the popular Latin American milk candy.
For first-timers, I recommend not trying brown cheese as part of a salty breakfast. Instead, try it as a sweet snack with jam on a waffle. This will help put your mind in the right place for your first tasting.