The love between a country and a cheese
TEXT: LINNEA DUNNE | PHOTOS © FABIAN BJÖRNSTJERNA, STYLIST: LINDA LUNDGREN
Still to this day, after almost 150 years, no one quite knows why Västerbottensost® has such a unique and outstanding flavour – and why the cheese can only be produced in the small dairy in Burträsk in northern Sweden.
“Anyone who has ever tasted Västerbottensost® can most likely identify it in a blind test with hundreds of other cheeses. That is how special the rich flavour is, with its unique combination of sweetness, saltiness, bitterness and umami,” says cheese master at Västerbottensost®, Thomas Rudin. Ever since the beginning, Västerbottensost® has had a special place in the hearts – and on the tables – of the Swedish population. With its unique flavour, it works well in all forms of cooking, hot or cold, and is enjoyed daily throughout Sweden and beyond. Västerbottensost® is now also a natural part of Swedish holiday feasts, where the characteristic Västerbottensost® quiche has become a classic during both Midsummer and the traditional crayfish parties.
The recipe came about through a lucky coincidence in 1872, and the result became a Swedish national treasure that is loved at least as much as ABBA, Volvo and IKEA. “As everybody knows, you should never tamper with a winning recipe,” the cheese master laughs. “Proudly Swedish, Västerbottensost® was last year listed as one of the top ten most recommended brands in its home country, according to the YouGov Brand Index Buxx ranking 2018.”
But Västerbottensost® is also somewhat of a riddle, because no one has ever quite managed to figure out why it can only be produced at the small dairy in Burträsk. One answer might simply be that each cheese is made using carefully selected ingredients, a big dose of love and a craft that has been carefully passed down from each experienced cheese master to the next.
Another theory is that it is the long aging process that does it, with each piece of cheese being allowed to mature for no less than 14 months. It is then subject to a thorough tasting test by cheese master Rudin, who has held this delicate task since 1983. Only the cheeses that score highly throughout are approved to be sent out to shops and restaurants – and yet, most find that the aging and tasting are just not explanation enough.
Could it be the milk, which comes from the cows of Norrland who graze on the calcareous land surrounding Burträsk? The midnight sun, which provides long, bright nights and enchanted summer evenings? Or the unique house flora of the dairy in Burträsk, which gives the cheese its special richness and character?
The secret recipe came about on the famous day in 1872, when the skilled dairy maid Ulrika Eleonora by a lucky coincidence experimented with the cooking process and, by chance, left the curdling vat to sit for a little longer than usual. At first, the cheese was considered ruined – but when it was tasted, the unique flavour was discovered. Luckily, Ulrika Eleonora passed on her new knowledge to those who came after her by carefully documenting every step of the process, a document that has since been known as the top-secret recipe of Västerbottensost® that only a handful of people know of – a recipe that may well be Sweden’s most important state secret, and one that made Västerbottensost® a royal purveyor, deeply treasured by both Swedes and their visitors, including many Nobel banquet guests.
The mystery behind the Västerbottensost® riddle may never be solved, but to understand the secret behind the cheese so cherished by successive generations, perhaps simply tasting a piece of the special delicacy will suffice.
Quiche with Västerbottensoste
– 125 g/4.5 oz butter
– 225g/8 oz plain flour
– 1 tbsp water
– 150 g/5 oz grated Västerbottensost®
– 3 eggs
– 200 ml/7 fl oz double cream
– 1 pinch salt
– 1 pinch pepper
Preheat the oven to 225°C/425°F/Gas 7. Mix the ingredients for the pastry. Chill the pastry for at least 1 hour. Use the pastry to line a pie dish, prick base with a fork and bake blind for approx. 10 min. Whisk eggs and cream, add cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the cheese mixture into the pastry case and bake for approx. 20 min, until the pie filling is set. Allow to cool.
The recipe can be adapted according to the season by adding primeurs, for instance, pictured here with asparagus.
Outside of Sweden, Västerbottensost is now available in Finland, Norway, Estonia, the UK, Germany, Spain and Hong Kong. For more information about distribution, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org