As you may know, I adore cheese. We even had a tower of cheeses for our wedding cake. So when I was invited to a Scandinavian cookery class using cheese, I jumped at the chance. Because while I love to buy and eat cheese, I usually just have it with bread or crackers – I rarely cook with it. So I was keen to get some ideas for how to use it in the kitchen.
The class was led by Brontë Aurell, co-founder of ScandiKitchen along with Agneta Andersson from Västerbottensost Cheese, who had kindly come over from Sweden for the event.
Västerbottensost has a fabulous history behind it. Created by dairy maid Ulrika Eleonora Lindström in 1872 in Burträsk, rumour has it that she was distracted by an attractive dairy hand, taking her eye off the cheese. What might have been a disastrous batch of cheese in fact turned out to be delicious and unique. And so Västerbottensost was born.
The cheese has been produced in the same way since then, but the recipe is very much ‘top secret’, with only a few people holding the key to it. No one else has been able to replicate it outside of Burträsk. There is much discussion behind its unique flavour, be it the local spruce used for the resting shelves, the influence of the midnight sun on the vegetation and the cows, or even the calcareous soil in Burträsk as a result of an ancient meteor strike!
Once made, the wheels of cheese are left to rest for at least 14 months and no cheese will leave until being tried and tested by store manager Ola Larsson and master cheese-maker Thomas Rudin. A small piece is extracted using a drill, and they will decide if it is ready to be sold, being assessed on taste, smell, consistency, texture and appearance, on a scale of one to nine.
On arrival at the class, I was paired up with fellow food blogger, Lucy, from Lucy Loves To Eat and after nibbling on some of the cheese (in fact, a lot of the cheese), we got straight to work. We were making four courses at the class: Cheese Pie, Cream Cheese Spread, Swedish Meatballs with Cheese Mashed Potato, Raw Courgette Salad. All of the recipes are in full below.
Brontë was a great teacher, giving us lots of hints and tips, and anecdotes about Scandinavian cooking. They like to do things just right, and I think that’s fair enough! She told us a story about an English journalist she cooked with once, who started cutting the cheese in the ‘wrong way’, slicing it into pieces, in a very British fashion. He ignored Brontë’s warnings and it ended up making the Swedish news! No pressure on us, then 😉
Along with the cheese and crackers, we were also given some delicious ‘cloudberries’ to try. They are extremely sought after in Sweden as they’re hard to cultivate. They’re often made into jam, which can be bought in the UK, but hardly ever available ‘fresh’ over here – so it was a real privilege to be given these to try.
All of the courses were fairly easy and simple to make, but full of flavour. It’s the kind of food that you could cook mid-week after work, but feels like you’ve really made an effort. We got through just over a block of Västerbottensost to make the recipes, as well as eating some on the side. Needless to say, I had some very interesting dreams that night! There was so much food, that even though Lucy and I had dinner there, there was still plenty left for both of us to take home. I ended up eating the cheese pie for lunch the next day!
Here are the recipes for you to try at home, all provided by ScandiKitchen and Västerbottensost:
125g cold butter
200g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Water, if needed
100ml whole milk
250ml double cream
½ tsp Paprika
Tart tin with loose base (22-23cm diameter)
Heat oven to 180C. To make the pastry, blitz all ingredients in a food processor until a dough forms. Leave to chill for 30 minutes before using.
Roll out the dough and line the pastry tin. Prick the base with a fork or bake weighed down with baking beans. Bake blind for 10-12 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the ingredients for the filling and stir in the grated Västerbottensost last.
Carefully pour the mixture into the pastry case. Pop it back in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until done – it will puff up quite a bit towards the end. Leave to cool before slicing.
Serve with Romsås – a caviar sauce – or if you can get real bleak roe, serve with a spoonful of this and some crème fraiche and chopped fresh red onion.
1 jar of red lumpfish roe
3 tbsp. crème fraiche
Mix together, leave to set for a while, stir again and serve as a sauce for the Paj.
This Paj is served at room temp, not usually hot. Serve as part of a summery smörgåsbord, or with a simple leafy salad. This Paj is an essential item at a Crayfish party (always in August).
Real Swedish Meatballs (Köttbullar, potatismos, gräddsås)
There are as many recipes for meatballs as there are people who cook them. This is a basic recipe from which to start creating your own. Add different herbs and spices, but keep the basics the same and you will have a recipe from which you can create your own unique recipe.
How do the Swedish eat meatballs?
With lingonberry jam or stirred lingonberries, mashed potatoes and gravy.
Cold, on sandwiches
Warm, as a side dish to a Smörgåsbord
Warm as a side to a nice salad
Cold, as a snack, straight from the fridge.
Serves 4: makes around 30 small meatballs
Preparation time: 1 hour, including resting
150ml meat stock (chicken works well)
30g porridge oats or breadcrumbs
350g minced beef
250g minced pork (min 10% fat)
1 tbsp. plain flour (or corn flour)
½ medium onion, grated
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground all-spice
½ tsp ground black pepper,
½ tsp ground white pepper
A dash of Worcestershire sauce or soya
2 tbsp. cream
Soak the oats/breadcrumbs in the chicken stock for a few minutes.
Blend the ground meat together in a mixer with a good pinch of salt for a couple of minutes to ensure it’s thoroughly combined.
Add the egg, flour and spices to another bowl and mix with the soaked oats and grated onion, then add this to the meat mixture. You’ll have a sticky, but mouldable, mixture. Leave the mixture to rest for 20-25 minutes before using for best result.
Heat up a pan with a small knob of butter and a drop of oil and shape one small meatball. Fry it until done and then taste it. The quality of meat you use will alter the seasoning required and this is a great way to ensure your meatballs have good flavour. Adjust the seasoning according to taste and fry another meatball to test it until you get it just right.
Shape the individual meatballs in your hands – it helps if your hands are damp, even wet. Each meatball should be around 2½ cm in diameter.
Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan with a dash of oil and carefully add some of the meatballs – make sure there is plenty of room for you to swivel the pan round and help turn them so they get a uniform round shape and ensure they do not stick. Cooking time is usually around five minutes. Keep in a warm oven until needed.
Serve with mashed potato, cream gravy and a spoonful of ‘stirred Lingonberry’ (or store bought Lingonberry jam).
Tip: You can get Lingonberry jam in most specialty stores and also some supermarkets.
Västerbottensost mashed potato (potatismos)
1kg good all-rounder potatoes
200-250ml warm milk
Salt, pepper, nutmeg, white wine vinegar
Grated Västerbottensost, to taste
Peel the potatoes and cut into smaller pieces. Wash the starch off them, then bring to the boil in salted water. Cook until soft, then drain (preserve water for gravy).
Add the cubed, cold butter to the potatoes and mash together – adding milk as you go along. Season well, then add cheese to taste.
Traditional cream gravy (Gräddsås)
When you’re finished cooking the meatballs, keep the pan on the heat. Ensure you have enough fat in there, if not, add a knob of butter to the pan and melt.
Add a tablespoon of flour and stir, then add a splash of potato water with a bit of stock and whisk again as you bring to the boil.
Keep adding water until you have a creamy gravy, then add a good dollop of single cream and season with a few drops of soya, salt, pepper and a teaspoon of lingonberry jam or red currant jelly. The colour of the gravy should be very light brown.
Stirred Lingonberries (Rårörda lingon)
‘Rårörda lingon’ means raw stirred lingonberries. Back in the day, the berries were not made into jams – but simply stirred with sugar. The berries are so acidic that this simple method was enough to preserve them for quite some time. Stirred lingonberries is so easy to make: if you have a garden full of lingonberries that need to be picked and used, then lingonberry jam makes a lot of sense, but if you just want a homemade accompaniment to your meatballs, this is a nice option.
75g caster sugar
Simply stir the lingonberries with the caster sugar. Leave for a while and then stir again – until the sugar dissolves and the berries have defrosted. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
They say some of the best things in life are the simplest. This is not really a recipe, more a cream cheese with extra flavour. I save all the crumbs of my Västerbottensost to make a delicious spread for crisp bread.
Actually, that’s a bit of a lie…I grate it because there are never enough crumbs for my consumption levels of this spread: it’s lovely.
Västerbottensost pairs really well with a tart jam – such as cloudberry or lingonberry. The quantities below are guidelines: for a spread at home, I prefer a strong, thicker mixture, but I sometimes add more crème fraiche if I want to use it as a dip. If I want to pipe out the mixture to use on canapés, I add more of the cream cheese.
75g grated Västerbottensost
50g cream cheese
50g crème fraiche
Freshly ground pepper
Cloudberry jam / Lingonberry / other tart berries
Finn Crisp or similar (toasted dark rye bread is also a wonderful match)
Optional: Chopped chives
Mix the Västerbottensost, crème fraiche and cream cheese together. Season with pepper. You won’t need salt as the Västerbottensost is salty enough. Once smooth, use as desired. Top with jam and chives, if using.
Raw courgette salad with Västerbottensost
2 medium sized courgettes
1 small bunch of rocket (or leaves of choice – stronger flavours work well)
50g shaved Västerbotten cheese
50g flaked almonds
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Toast the almonds lightly. Shave the courgettes into thin strips length ways – this is best done using a mandolin or a flat metal cheese slicer.
Add the courgette and salad leaves to a big bowl and mix gently. Add the cheese and fold again.
Combine the vinegars and oil in a bowl, whisk well and season with salt and pepper. Dress the salad (you may have too much dressing for your taste – this salad doesn’t need much, so you can save the rest for next time).
Arrange on a serving plate, scatter with toasted almonds and serve immediately.
And there are lots more fantastic recipes on the Västerbottensost website. If you’d like to try this cheese out for yourself (and you definitely should!), Västerbottensost can be found at Waitrose, Ocado and Selfridges, priced at approximately £19.90 per kilogram.
I was invited to the event by Västerbottensost, ScandiKitchen and The Impact Agency but did not receive any payment. All views are my own.