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Nokkelost
A Spicy Norwegian Treat


This month we venture into the far north of Europe, to Norway, for a cheese that has always been considered their year end Holiday Cheese. The appreciation for this cheese has especially extended to the places Norwegians have emigrated to over the past many years.

The Nokkelost cheese has a medium to medium- firm body, a supple texture, and is laced with bits of caraway seeds and broken cloves. It also retains a slight sweetness in the finish.

In my own hybrid style, I had to add my own twist to things. Since Cardamom has been such a wonderful spice used by the Norwegians, and my remembrance of the spice used in milk drinks (Lassi, Teas etc.) I added a Cardamom infusion to the milk as well.

It smells so good, I just had to do it!


Why Nokkelost?:

At one time, Nokkelost type cheeses were even made in America for the large Norwegian communities. However, these traditional cheeses have either disappeared or evolved into non recognizable versions, and the imports have become harder to find.

I have a good friend in Colorado who grew up in one of these American/Norwegian families in the midwest, and remembers this cheese from earlier years as a special treat. He has been after me for years to make one for him (actually to teach him cheese making in general). So, since this years American Cheese Society Conference was held in Denver, it gave me the opportunity to spend some time with him, Between the research of locally produced Colorado beers, and our catching up, we put our minds and hands into making what he remembers as Nokkelost (I had been gathering notes on the making of this for a few years by then).

What we put together may not be true to style, but with my technical input and my friends memories of this cheese from the past, this is what I am offering here "in the style of" Nokkelost. Yes, perhaps a hybrid, but that's the beauty of making your own cheese: get a pretty good game plan and run with it. Cheese making should be fun and it is YOUR cheese.


A Bit of History:

The term "Nokkel" in Norwegian translates into "crossed keys," which is part of the symbol used by the Dutch city of Leiden to denote products produced within, and adjacent to, their city. So to see the traditional cheese, you would notice the crossed-keys emblem; it symbolizes the cheese's association with the Leiden heritage.
Originally it was produced in Holland by the city of Leiden (or Leyden) where the crossed keys represented the emblem found at its city gates.
The cheese was made as a semi-hard cheese, its name translates into “key cheese” (Ost = Norwegian for cheese)

The cheese has been made since the 17th century, and in the late 1860s, Leyden cheese was important enough to be accepted as payment when trade was done between the two countries, and when the trade stopped, the Norwegians began making their own version of this cheese.

Nokkelost the Cheese:

The cheese is of a semi firm texture, and from my research, the original cheese was only spiced with Caraway. In Norway, it has been traditionally served as thin slices cut with a cheese plane and served on the dark bread, famous in the north.
Nokkelost is good cubed in salads, or shredded and baked in scalloped potatoes. It melts well and can be a unique main ingredient for grilled-cheese sandwiches. It partners well with beer and wine, especially when served with dark breads, such as pumpernickel.

The clove addition seems to have been added when they began making the cheese in Norway, but it must not be strong enough to mask the cheese and its caraway character.

As the Norwegian communities began to develop in America, they felt a need for their own cheese and at one point Kraft was making a cheese in America that they originally called "Caraway Cheese" but later changed to "Kuminost Spiced Cheese". The caraway addition is confusing because some references say that it is cumin that is added instead of caraway.
This is confusing but my research has shown me that CARAWAY HERB SEEDS are also called PERSIAN CUMIN; the confusion here is that in India, JEERA is the name for CUMIN whereas SHAHI JEERA is the name for CARAWAY. They both look somewhat similar but they are not.

All very confusing, but I am sticking with caraway as the addition because cumin just seems wrong with its warm flavor, and I can easily see this masking the character of the cheese. The caraway, with its brighter flavor, seems to add that additional zip to add to the character of the cheese.

The clove addition also needs to be subtle, with less used than the caraway for a balanced cheese. Sometimes less is more.

Now for my addition of cardamom. Cardamom ( Kardemumma) is not traditional in this cheese, but huge on many Norwegian tables, especially in breads.
Vikings came upon cardamom about one thousand years ago, in Constantinople, and introduced it into Scandinavia, where it remains popular. Norway is still today one of the biggest consumers of this spice.

But why did I bring it into this cheese?? Many years ago a friend had made a cardamom ice cream for me several times, and I never forgot how well the brightness of this spice went with the dairy aspect. Also, the 'Lassi' accompanying Indian meals is in my taste memory, and I thought this would be my own little addition to this historical cheese from Norway (I cant believe no one else has done this yet and I am sure they have).
When I mentioned the infusion of cardamom into the milk my friend agreed how right it seemed. As already mentioned cardamom is used in many breads in Norway.




A Guide for making it..

I make the cheese as a 4 Gallon batch at about 5 lbs but the following recipe is for a 2 Gallon batch. Feel free to 'up' the guideline proportionate to the milk you have. I do not recommend going smaller than 2 gallons though.

Before you Begin:

You will need:

  • 2 gallon of milk (Not UltraPasteurized, and the fresher the better).
    • For raw milk use 25-40% less of the ingredients below
  • 1/8 tsp of our Kazu culture (or MM100 but not as complex) or 1 packet of our Buttermilk culture
  • Liquid Rennet (single strength)
  • Salt
  • A good thermometer
  • A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds with.
  • Molds SmallMold-M3
  • A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds
  • A Cheese Press or weights to apply sufficient weight for consolidation of the curds.
  • Calcium Chloride for pasteurized cold stored milk
  • Cheese Wax for aging the cheese
  • Spices:
    • ground cardamom
    • whole cloves (toasted and cracked)
    • caraway seeds (toasted)

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.


Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by heating the milk to 90F (32C). You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats.
Add 1/4 tsp of Calcium Chloride IF the milk is pasteurized, or you have been having problems with a firm curd.

Once the milk is at 90F, remove 1 cup of warm milk and add 1/8 tsp of cardamom powder to it. Stir well and let rest for the infusion while the milk with culture is working.

Then the culture can be added.
To prevent the culture powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the culture powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.


adding the Cardamom to a cup of warm milk for infusion

The milk now needs to be kept at this target temperature until it is time to add the rennet. Hold the milk with culture quiet for the next 60 minutes to allow the culture to begin doing its work. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into its more rapid rate of converting lactose to lactic acid.

At the end of the 60 minutes, strain the cardamom infused milk through several layers of draining cloth into the main milk pot. Bring back to temperature if needed.


Coagulation with rennet:

Next add about 1.5 ml of single strength liquid rennet.

The milk now needs to sit quiet for 45 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. At about 12 minutes you should notice the milk beginning to thicken (do not stir or agitate the milk at this time).

The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It is OK if the temp drops a few degrees during this time.

During this time heat another pan of non-chlorinated (boiling usually removes the chlorine) to about 160F. This will be used to wash the curds in the next step. Also this is a good time to make sure the mold is sanitized as well as the draining cloth and ready with the press or weights.


Cutting curds and releasing the whey:

Once you have tested for a firm curd, you can cut the curd. If the curd is not quite firm enough ,test again in a few minutes.

When ready to cut, carefully cut to about 3/8 in. Then allow to rest for 5 min. before stirring slowly.

Stir slowly for 15min then let settle and remove whey, about 1/3 of the original milk volume (2.6 qts).


Washing & Cooking the Curds:

In this step we are removing the whey to slow the acid production down (removing their supply of lactose). This will make for a sweeter cheese and make it easier to stop the bacteria working. Then, by slowly adding back the same amount of 160F water, we will raise the curds to their scalding temperature for the final cooking.

Add the same volume of 160F water as whey removed, slowly in small additions, back into the milk over 15 min. while stirring, until temperature of curd comes to 102F (38F). Do this slowly enough that the milk temperature increases very slowly, at about 1F a minute
Finally we stir slowly for another 15-30min for dryness
Check grip for final dryness. This means that each curd will show a springiness when pressed in the hand and should show an even dryness throughout when broken open. This can also be a control for a moister or drier cheese in future batches. Good notes here will help you for the next batch.


Removing the Whey and Adding Spices:

When the curds are ready, allow them to sink to the bottom and remove the whey above them.


draining whey and transferring to draining pan

The curds are now ready to drain and can be transferred to a colander or drain pan lined with butter muslin. They should be allowed to drain for a few minutes and a gentle stirring will make sure that the whey drains off. Do not allow the curds to consolidate.

Next add the prepared spices: 1/2 tsp of cracked cloves and 3/4 tsp of caraway. This can be amended according to preference in future batches. Mix these in well.


adding the remaining Cloves and Caraway and mixing them in


Pressing:

The curd is now ready for the form. Give the drained curds with spices a final stir to free up any clumps and quickly transfer to the mold packing them with a firm hand pressure. Their residual warmth will help them to consolidate.


into the form and ready for press weight

So, for pressing you should begin very light and slowly increase the press weight to a moderate level:

  • 30 minutes at 12lbs.
  • 60 minutes at 25lbs
  • 3 hours at 25lbs
  • Overnight in mold, with no weight, at a cool temperature.

The rate of whey running off is simply a matter of drops and not a stream of whey being released. This is a good rate of whey removal during pressing and will slow even more as the residual free moisture is released. The form should show tears of whey weeping from the form very slowly. When this stops you can increase the weight slightly.


the press shows an initial stream of whey then settles to a steady drip

The cheese should be removed from the press, unwrapped, turned, re-wrapped, and put back to the press at the above intervals, to assure an even consolidation. At each turn you will notice the cheese has formed a smoother surface and rests lower in the mold.


the cheese consolidates more as the pressing continues

The final step above is to move to cool room 50-54F overnight post press(no weight). This will cool the cheese and allow any final fermentation to complete, leaving it at a good temperature for brining the next morning. The surface should be smooth and continuous with no holes or openings remaining or any creases from the cloth.

If you find that you need more press weight or time, then perhaps the final cheese curds should be made moister next time. Usually cutting too small causes a dry cheese.


Salting:

You should have a saturated brine prepared for salting this cheese.
You will find all of the details you need on brining here.
A simple brine formula is:
1 Gallon of water to which is added 2.25 Lbs of Salt, 1tbs. Calcium Chloride (30% solution), and 1 tsp. white vinegar.

The cheese now needs to be set in the brine for about 3 hours per lb. Your final cheese should weigh about 2.5 lbs from 2 gallons of milk so the brine time should be about 7.5 hours.
The cheese will float above the brine surface so sprinkle another teaspoon or 2 of salt on the top surface of the cheese.
Flip the cheese and resalt the surface about half way through the brine period.

At the end of the brine bath, wipe the surface and allow the cheese to surface dry for a day or two before waxing. The surface will darken somewhat during this time.


the final cheese drying after salting and then into the cave to dry before waxing

Aging:

The cheese can now be waxed for aging. For details on waxing the details are here.

The cheese can then be placed into your aging space at 52-56F and 80-85% moisture.
The cheese can now be aged for 3 months and it will ready for your table. Longer aging may develop more character but too long will dry it out.




Imagine spending the weekend with a group of other cheese makers from all over having wonderful lunches together w/ plenty of cheese to taste. At the same time immersing yourself in the cheese process while getting all of your questions answered.

Jim's Workshops:

April 21-22 2017__ Beyond the Basics

Jim Wallace has been our technical resource for a number of years now, teaching and answering our technical questions. He is also the person who researches, develops, and writes our recipe pages every month. He is an expert photographer, a great teacher and a wealth of knowledge.

For a more hands on and personalized experience in cheese making, Jim Wallace our Technical Guru offers several workshops at various levels to answer your questions. Each workshop is designed to work through the process of making 3 very different cheeses to explore as many phases of cheese making process as possible in the 2 day sessions. You will gain the knowledge & experience to apply not only to the cheeses made during the session but to many other cheeses in the future. This is because the study approach is the Why and How of the many individual concepts in each process and not just a set of instructions or written recipes.

His years of experience in working with cheese makers both here and in Europe plus his many years at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC) program at University of Vermont will prove to be a helpful resource for you to move your cheese making to the next level

The workshops are kept small to provide time for everyones questions.

Anyone that has been here will agree that it is possible to have 'Uber' Fun while learning a lot.




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Jim Wallace
Dec 2017


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