These were, shockingly, the runaway smash hit of my Scandinavian Midsummer Porch Party. And here I thought no one would like them! But they were the first to go of the open-faced sandwiches on offer and the only ones to have every last sandwich devoured. I probably should have made more...
You may be asking yourself, what the heck is a "Ski Queen Brunost Open-Faced Sandwich?" Dear reader, Ski Queen is a brand of brunost widely available here in the United States. And what exactly is brunost? And how is it different from gjetost? Did you even know you needed the answers to these questions?
Brunost is literally Norwegian for "brown cheese," and it is a very special, very specific style of cheese that is not really a cheese at all. Made from caramelized whey, this super-smooth, sweet and salty cheese can be made from either cow's milk whey (brunost) or goat's milk whey (gjetost).
Whey-based cheeses, or mysost, date back over 2,000 years in Scandinavia, with the earliest evidence found on Jutland, Denmark. Going back hundreds of years, Norwegian dairy farmers perfected the use of whey, the milky yellow liquid leftover from processing butter. The original brown cheese, mysost, was literally just whey boiled until all the water evaporated and it caramelized into a sweet, grainy, fudge-like substance. But brunost is cow's milk whey that has cream and milk added in, which makes it creamy, smooth, and addictive. This addition is attributed to dairywoman Anne Hov, who helped revive the failing dairy industry in Gudbrandsdalen, Norway, in the 1860s. Later variations included goat's milk (gjetost) and "ekte gjetost" or "real goat cheese" is a brown whey cheese made from only goat's milk whey and goat's milk - it has a much stronger flavor than brunost and a sweet-salty tang.
Brunost was typically served with open-faced sandwiches, on Norwegian heart-shaped waffles, or eaten plain as a snack. Modern cooks have used it in all sorts of ways, but one of my favorites is a creamy gjetost sauce for chicken.
Today, most commericial brunost is produced by Tine - a Norwegian dairy cooperative that started in the 1850s and is named after the special bentwood boxes Norwegians used to store butter in the days before refrigeration. Tine also produces Jarlsberg. In the United States, you can get the cow's milk brunost and goat's milk ekte gjetost under the Ski Queen brand, so named because of the association in Norway of brunost with skiing, since brunost holds its shape under a wide range of temperatures, and its sweetness and fat helped replenish energy after a long day of skiing.
Brunost Open-Faced Sandwiches
This really will win converts. If you want to be bold, have a tasting of both the milder, sweeter brunost and bolder gjetost.
thinly sliced buttered rye
a dollop of strawberry jam
You'll need your ostehøvel to get appropriately thin slices - a knife will be too thick. Make sure to get high quality strawberry jam - not too sweet, not too thick (my favorite is Welch's natural strawberry).
These little sandwiches are basically like grownup candy. You can see why they are so popular in Norway and why almost everyone who tries it loves brunost. Have you ever tried it?
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.
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