When a food is described as a national dish, rarely eaten outside its home nation, alarm bells start ringing. So it was for me on a recent trip to Oslo, Norway where I discovered Brunost, or brown cheese. In this interconnected world of international cusine, why hasn’t this particular food or ingredient escaped its national or regional border.
Sitting quietly, largely untouched on the breakfast buffet of a hotel on the outskirts of the city of a suburb called Lysaker, a plate of thinly sliced something caught my eye. Always on the lookout for regional or locally produced food and drink, this plate looked of interest.
A tabletop sign helpfully explained Brunost and what it offers … a deeply savoury taste of dulce de leche. Scandinavian food writer Signe Johansen describes the sweetness as coming “from overcooking whey until a Maillard reaction kicks in and the milk sugars caramelise. Brown cheese doesn’t go through any maturation process, and it keeps in the fridge for a few months.” Made with pasteurized or unpasteurized cow’s (fløtemysost) or goat’s (geitost) milk, whey and cream, it can be added to gravy to be dribbled over a plate of roast beef or added to sour cream waffles.
According to Cheese.com, Brunost has several (mostly unprounceable names for most of us) including Mysost (Norwegian), Mesost (Swedish), Meesjuusto (Finnish), Mysuostur (Icelandic), Myseost (Danish) and Braunkäse (German).
For many non-Norwegians it’s a Marmite reaction … love it or hate it! My first experience of Brunost was at breakfast and while I didn’t have a Marmite moment, I didn’t return for more. The texture was a bit odd, slightly chewy and sticky in the mouth, and the caramel tones weren’t what my breakfast palette was expecting.
It’s commonly placed on toasted rye or dark bread or finely sliced on crisp bread. With a high content of of iron, calcium and B vitamins it is often found in healthy recipes.
So, while I didn’t become a brown cheese evangelist, I’ll have another slice of Brunost on breakfast, crisp-bread topped next time I see it on the buffet.