Cheese of the month July 2013: Grotteost from Hitra Gårdsmat

I’d like to be completely open about one thing straight away: you won’t find this cheese just around the corner, even worse, you won’t find it pretty much around any corner. Nevertheless Grotteost, the cave cheese Bodil Birkeland makes on the Hitra island in Norway, is my cheese of the month. I mean, if this isn’t the right time of the year for at least some cheese-loving people to be attracted by the midnight sun and the North Cape…

GrotteostHitra on a summer day is textbook Norway and the farm Bodil Birkeland has been building up with her husband since they moved here in 1982 looks like a dream of a small paradise at the end of the world – at least when the weather is good and you don’t have to look after the 30 (beautiful) cows yourself, day in, day out! Then you can just buy a large piece of this gorgeous cheese, or, if you’re really lucky, enjoy a whole Hitra Gårdsmat meal, for which Bodil produces every single ingredient herself, foraging, slaughtering, cheesing, cooking, pickling… and not at least baking the best bread I encountered in Norway.

Foto Ebba D. Drolshagen

Foto Ebba D. Drolshagen

Like all the cheeses here Grotteost is made from raw milk, and it ages in a natural cave under the dairy. The piece you can see here is from an exceptionally large round wheel made in October 2011. The rind is quite thick, brown and crumbly, as Bodil only regularly  turns the cheeses, otherwise leaving them to their own devices and the cave is too dry for red cultures to develop. This results in something I’ve never encountered anywhere else, that is a kind of sandy, but completeley wonderful (and not at all dry) texture. The aromas are reminiscent of a whole bunch of flowers and herbs, as enticing as the summerlight here in the centre of Norway. At present Bodil produces only smaller Grotteost (besides several other cheeses, butter and yoghurt, all delicious), as she finds the large ones too heavy to handle. However she told me she just hired a Dutch cheesemaker – he should be familiar with this format, so there is hope! Also in that I’ll encounter this wonderful woman and her cheeses again soon…

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