“Kjært barn har mange navn,” goes a Norwegian adage, which roughly translates to “a beloved child goes by many names.” An example is Brunost—“brown cheese”—with its three regional monikers: Geitost and Gjetost (both “goat cheese”), and Raudost (“red cheese”). It’s considered one of the quintessential Norwegian foodstuffs and trails only Jarlsberg as the country’s most popular cheese.
Yet, one thing sticks out: Despite its many names, Brunost is not a cheese.
We’re plummeting into contrarianism here, but as Brunost is made with whey and not pure dairy, it is technically “mysost”—“whey cheese.” Conversely, Gjetost—“goat cheese”—is also a misnomer. The quote-unquote-cheese is diluted with byproducts from cow’s milk, which immediately disqualifies it from being goat cheese. And if we really want to get into the weeds, Brunost isn’t even red, meaning the seldom-used Mysost should be its true name.
Of course, only the true belligerent would raise those arguments. To most of us, Brunost looks like cheese, smells like cheese, and tastes like cheese. Most everyone has come to peace with it being just that: Cheese.
Possibly the most striking thing about Brunost is its semi-golden brown color. I’m not aware of any other cheese that looks like it. Paradoxically, it is also hard and soft. It feels firm to the touch and slices without crumbling before it instantaneously softens. Stack slices on a serving platter, and they’ll likely mush together, so they must be served as quickly as possible. By the time you bite into it, the cheese will either melt to your tongue or stick to the roof of your mouth. It’s an odd sensation.
The flavor is a mix of sharp dairy—whey—and caramel. It’s not quite sweet enough to be a dessert cheese, but its flavor is both balanced and powerful in all its simplicity.
Brunost is commonly served for breakfast or lunch on a Wasa cracker with a schmear of butter. Not a whole lot more is needed to complement the tangy flavor, though you can serve the crackerbread with a glass of cold milk if you want to live the life of a 1980s Norwegian child. (I would not recommend this.)
For a more exciting variety, I’ll point you to my write-up on the Norwegian waffle. Simply topping the waffle with cheese is plenty, but you can’t go wrong with adding butter. And, for the true adventurer: Strawberry jam and Brunost is a flavor bomb unlike anything else in the Norwegian culinary lexicon.
Brunost is manufactured by the Norwegian state-subsidized dairy cooperate TINE and is marketed in the US as “Ski Queen”—a shaky attempt at being folksy. It can be found in most grocery stores amongst the deli cheeses.
Anne Hov: A Surefire Member of the Norwegian Culinary Arts Hall of Fame
Joining Ivar Moss as a lynchpin in Norwegian food history: Anne Hov is the mother of the modern Brunost. While varieties of the cheese had been around for hundreds of years, Hov created what was ostensibly an imitation goat cheese in 1863 after her father gave up on goat farming.
These days, you can find “real” Brunost—the type made from pure goat’s milk—but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of Hov’s ingenuity? Goat’s cheese without goat’s milk? It’s the Beyond Meat of the 1860s.
“Historien om brunost.” TINE. tine.no/merkevarer/tine-brunost/artikler/brunostens-historie
“Brunost.” Wikipedia. November 05, 2022. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunost
“Anne Hov.” Wikipedia. July 23, 2022. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Hov