Cheeses in the north of Europe have a fascinating history and offer fabulous, rather surprising range of flavours, textures and types.
But here are FIVE things you maybe didn’t know about cheese from the North of Europe.
NORTHERN cheese all started in the SOUTH
The history of cheese in the north of Europe begins in the Mediterranean countries – particularly Italy – from the sixth century BCE. It was the Romans who took cheese north with them as they expanded their empire, not only spreading their methods of cheesemaking, but also their approach to farming.
Goats and sheep thrive on less fertile land, so smallholder farmers declined, and land was consolidated into massive manors called latifundia owned by the empire’s elites, with farmers and slaves working the land to produce cheese to feed the manors and sell into urban markets.
Scandinavian cheese is a little more insular, originating as it did from the Norse raiders returning with cheesemaking methods ‘borrowed’ from places they had visited.
One NORWEGIAN cheese actually CLOSED a motorway for weeks!
Back in 2013, about 27 tonnes of brown goat cheese caught fire in a crash in the Brattli Tunnel at Tysfjord, northern Norway. It raged for five full days.
The tunnel - which was badly damaged - closed for several weeks. Police officer Viggo Berg said the high concentration of fat and sugar in the cheese made it burn "almost like petrol"!
Some of the best German cheeses are trolling French and Italian cheese makers
Germans love cheese. And in particular, they love French and Italian cheeses... and this was all good until the German cheesemakers decided it was about time there was some ‘healthy competition’. In the 1960s the Italians developed dolcelatte for the British market – a less pungent, milder, softer version of their famous Gorgonzola. Of course, the German loved it too and it soon became a firm favourite. So German cheese makers invented a similar soft, creamy blue cheese, that even has an Italian sounding name – and immediately went on to win prizes in all the competitions it was entered in – much to the disgust of Italian cheesemakers.
They have done the same with French cheeses, creating exceptional cheeses that look, taste - and sound – very French... whoops!
The Dutch INVENTED smart cheese marketing
After the medieval period, larger, highly specialized Dutch dairy farms developed new cheesemaking equipment that produced specific varieties and led to some of the earliest cheese marketing. Their uniquely shaped cheeses were often given vividly coloured rinds. Edam was made in small spheres rather than drums or wheels, easier to pack, and rubbed with a protective bright red coloouring that also kept insects off (handy!) Gouda’s rounded wheels were coated in vinegar dyed yellow from saffron threads.
Cheese had flavours added too - like caraway seeds and cloves. As this exciting cheese production grew, huge regional cheese markets sprung up in cities like Alkmaar, Amsterdam and Gouda, exporting thousands of cheeses to the rest of Europe and the New World by the late 16th century.
Cutting Norwegian cheese has RULES!
There is a right way and a wrong way to cut cheese in Scandanavia.
Cheese should be cut using a Norwegian cheese slice or 'Ostehøvel' which has remained nearly unchanged since it was invented in 1925 by Norwegian Thor Bjørklund. Using almost any other kind of knife is frowned upon, as is leaving the cheese looking like a ‘ski-slope’!