- Jamie Ramsay
Stuff on Bread
“You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.” - Anthony Bordain
You also learn a lot about a place when you share in its food.
Despite the skepticism of many who warned I wouldn’t find much more than lutefisk and reindeer in Norway, I was determined that vegetarianism was not going to completely sideline me from experiencing traditional Norwegian cuisine. From some pre-trip research, I learned there was at least one food I could try: brunost. So, my mission was set: I was going to find out if I could love brown cheese.
On my first evening in Trondheim, I met the Nidaros All-Stars derby team, at my hostess's house. I would be joining their bench coach staff for a few games, beginning that weekend, and wanted to get to know everyone. As we got koselig, 15 of us in a snuggled in a circle around a giant, freshly-brewed French press, I asked everyone to tell me their favorite food. As athletes, one thing we all share is a penchant for fueling. Not a single person counted lutefisk or waffles as a favorite dish. One favorite that stood out to me was “stuff on bread” - a literal translation of the Norwegian art of "brødskive med pålegg."
As simple as it sounded as a favorite food, I would soon realize that Norwegians have perfected putting “stuff on bread.” The koldtbord is art. It's compreshensive. And when brunost exists as a prevalent staple, it’s easy to see why.
So, I was euphoric when I opened my hostess’s fridge, which had been graciously stocked for my stay, and found a package of brunost. Tackling my mission would start in Trondheim. I was introduced to that charming Tine label: rosemaling designs on varying shades of burnt orange, maroon and black. Inside, perfectly-sliced, rounded rectangles are each carefully and individually separated with paper. Tine brunost won me over immediately. Throughout Norway, in friends’ houses, in AirBnbs, and in every grocery store, those quaint flowers on the Tine label would signal the one thing I could count on (i.e. and one word I could read) for sustainance in any town, no matter how remote or how bustling. Gudbrandsdalsost, Fløtemysost, Gudbrandsdalsost, I made my way through all the varieties that I could.
Brunost or geitost is a decadent cheese with a texture like fudge. In its purest form, it is made from goat's milk. Tine (the country’s largest dairy co-op) offers several kinds, that range from cow to goat to some combo of both. Goat’s and/or cow’s milk, cream and whey are boiled for several hours, removing all the water out of the milk. Like polenta or traditional caramel, the mixture must be quickly and diligently stirred to eliminate any clumps or crystals. The resultant milk sugars caramelize and produce the signature color. Well-decorated cheesemongers at Den Blinde Ku (The Blind Cow) in Mathallen in Oslo, boil their goat's milk version for two full weeks. Trust me, every day of the lengthly process is evident!
Norway even invented the the cheese planers, that so efficiently shave thin curls from brunost bricks. My favorite consumption is a classic: on whole grain bread with strawberry or raspberry jam. Eating brunost on dark and seedy Dansk Rugbrød, or Danish Rye, is my brunost magnum opus.
It’s an addictive breakfast and a handy traveling snack. I’ve even heard brunost can be put on waffles or on (or in!) ice cream. I enjoyed it toasted, cold, with all kinds of jams, with mustard, in quite a few iterations of avocado toast and even with eggs. Fudgy, thin slices are notably caramely and rich when they hit the tongue - with just a faint, tangy goatiness. The Blinking Cow is definitely at a different level than the common grocery store Tine staple. But truthfully, I love them all for different reasons. I hear the very finest brunost comes from Undredal - but I’ll have to save that tasting for another trip.
Of course I couldn’t leave Norway without a ration of brunost - and couldn’t help but spread the love, transporting a few bricks back to the States for family. I’ve done my best to mete out my haul, to allow my Scandinavian experience to linger just a little longer while I’m back on American soil. Knowing all dairy must come to its end, I was inspired to shoot this unbelievable cheese. Well after I’ve pulled the last curl from my Bergen-acquired Viking planer, at least I’ll be able to look back fondly on the images.
Stuff on bread? Yep, I’m a convert - and especially when it involves brunost.