Despite being on the menu at royal weddings and Copenhagen super-restaurant Noma, Västerbottensost can only be made in a single northern Sweden village – and no-one knows why.
With a reputation like this, it’s understandable that demand for the cheese is high. But when the dairy tried to expand production by starting an operation in the nearby city of Umeå, it didn’t taste the same. It turns out that for the cheese can only be made in Burträsk – and no one knows why. Not even after using forensic DNA analysis techniques or making 12 documentaries about Västerbottensost.
Its been suggested that the cheese’s unique flavour could be due to the local spruce shelves that it’s left to mature on, the particular microflora in the dairy building, or even long summer days affecting the mood of the cows. According to the most intriguing theory, the beloved taste is all down to a meteorite that struck the area long ago, creating the lake next to Burträsk and making the soil rich in calcium, which in turn created knock-on effects on the milk and the cheese-making process.
According to legend, the cheese was created in 1872 by mistake. The story goes that a Burträsk dairymaid called Ulrika Eleonora Lindstrom was distracted from her cheese-making duties by a lover; the process was prolonged and she had to keep reheating the curds. The resulting cheese was left to age anyway, and when someone tasted it they realized the happy accident.
The precise recipe is still a secret – but the logistics of making the cheese haven’t changed much over the years. The milk is delivered from 20 to 30 different local farms, pasteurised and curdled. The consistency of the cheese in the curdling vat is still hand tested, to judge its feel in the fingers. The granular curds that emerge after the liquid whey is drained are packed inside linen cloths into a round mould, turned several times by hand, and soaked in brine according to a strict schedule. The resulting cheeses (which weigh 18kg each) are then left to age for at least 14 months at a nearby warehouse. The small dairy, with only 25 people working on a typical shift, makes 4,000 tonnes of Västerbottensost a year.
These limited production in a place near of region to the edge of the world, makes this cheese understandably of a high demand to all cheese lovers worldwide.
by Jonathan Knott