The color of stale peanut butter and thick and fudgy in texture, Gjetost (Yay–toast) is a cheese that does little to attract newcomers. If, like me, you are not Norwegian, this brown cheese is easily passed by on sight alone. It’s also hard to find – after all, who would stock such a freakish block of dark-colored cheese? Look it up online and you will learn that a Gjetost cheese fire (seriously, I can’t make this up) burned for days, closing a tunnel in Norway.
My Norwegian mother-in-law revered this cheese, as you might, I don’t know, believe you will find golden eggs in the garden. So while I was frequently offered the cheese at the breakfast table, I politely declined. Warm beer and cold pizza are better choices than brown cheese –right? Food and Wine magazine opened, nay, blew my mind with a “Best of” proclamation that included Gjetost in their top 10 best things. Seriously? Were they bribed? Run by Norwegians? Now I had to try this stuff.
Humble pie can be difficult to face – like brown cheese at breakfast. Still, there I was facing the cheese with popular culture and my mother-in-law promising me that it was good. Maybe a taste would not kill me. How does the cheese get brown anyway? So the cheese melts easily and I prepared a thin slice on toasted English Muffin. I thought maybe I could pick it off and salvage the English muffin if this went bad. Orange marmalade topped the cheese – maybe that could make Gjetost disappear. Too many onlookers to pass this off to the dogs – I bit in.
Gjetost is sweet. Caramelized, creamy, and luscious – clearly not what I had expected. Marmalade makes a brilliant contrast to its rich character. Very nice cheese indeed and yes, breakfast was saved. Gjetost is like ricotta is to mozzarella, made from the remaining whey from another cheese. What makes it brown? Cooking. Like simmering a sauce to a desired consistency, the watery whey and remaining curds are reduced by heat.
Cheeses, made from “leftovers” are few in number, and in my mind, special. Like ricotta, which some describe as a “worthless excuse” for cheese, are different. But the udder truth is that all-natural cheese begins as Mother’s milk. Milk designed for calves, ewes, and kids (baby goats – not your little ones, silly). Making the most of that gift gives perspective to something my Mother frequently told me, “You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Using the whey makes sense like (at least on some occasions) listening to our Mothers. The results can be delicious.