Parmigiano reggiano is “the undisputed king of cheeses” in Italy. But a few countries away, Sweden answers to a different dairy dignitary, which the country has crowned the Emperor of Cheeses.

The regal dairy product is called Västerbottensost, and the BBC sent writer Jonathan Knott to the source to investigate the intricacies of what makes this cheese so special.


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The birthplace of Västerbottensost is Burträsk, a small Swedish village that’s under 200 miles away from the Arctic Circle. According to legend, a dairymaid named Ulrika Eleonora Lindstrom got distracted one day by a lover while making cheese. She couldn’t just scrap everything and start over, so instead she reheated the curds and the cheesemaking process went on longer than normal. After the cheese went through its usual aging process, Lindstrom cracked open the wheel and discovered the taste was remarkable.


BUT HERE’S THE WEIRD THING

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Västerbottensost can’t be made anywhere else. It’s not just because the recipe is a closely guarded secret that’s only passed from one master cheesemaker to the next. The Norrmejerier dairy itself tried to move production to a nearby larger town, but failed to produce cheese that was up to standard. Could it be the spruce shelves? The soil? The local milk? A meteor (seriously)?

Forensic DNA analysis and at least 12 documentaries about this cheese haven’t made the mystery any clearer. Knott’s BBC piece features some insight into the theories that surround it, but similarly offers no answers. Still, we wouldn’t be worried if we were Norrmejerier. This small facility with a tiny staff still manages to make 4,000 tonnes of that golden magic per year—which is around 8,000,000 pounds.


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Unsurprisingly, the Norrmejerier dairy keeps their exact processes a secret, but confirms that the cheese continues to be made the same way it has been for over a hundred years. Evaluation of the consistency of the cheese is still done by hand, because machines can’t tell you how it feels between your fingers. It’s then formed into large wheels, brined, and aged on special spruce shelves for at least fourteen months, occasionally being turned so it ages evenly. The master cheesemaker has to approve each wheel before it’s declared fit for consumption.


[via the BBC]