The brown blocks of Norwegian cheese are hard—but not impossible—to find.
By David Tamarkin|
The challenge Find a block of the brown, Norwegian cheese known as gjetost.
The hunt When TOC contributor John Dugan traveled through Scandinavia in the ’90s, he noticed everybody “seemed to live on brown blocks of cheese, fresh bread and beer.” Dugan got in on the habit himself, eating the sweet, nutty gjetost for breakfast and as a snack on the train. He bought a few blocks of the stuff at the time but hasn’t had any since.
We thought we’d find it for him. But a few days after accepting the challenge, we got some foreboding news: A truck in Norway carrying 27 tons of gjetost had caught fire—a blaze that, thanks to the high sugar content of gjetost, burned for days. Could it be this shipment was bound for Chicago?
Not likely. When we called Pastoral and asked after the cheese, head buyer Cristi Menard informed us she doesn’t carry it. “It’s not a cheese that gets very much play in the U.S.,” she said. The reasons are myriad: It’s not from a country with a renowned cheese-making tradition; it’s got a hard-to-pronounce name (“YAY-toast”); and the flavor, Menard says, is “exceedingly sweet.” And because of that caramel-like sweetness, “it’s not a cheese I envision as being a regular player on a cheese board.”
A call to Provenance yielded a similar response. Owner Tracy Kellner told us she’s never carried it, and she doesn’t remember anybody asking for it. She seemed intrigued—“It sounds delicious,” she said—but not intrigued enough to place an order.
This is where our hunt got depressing. Not only had we not found the cheese, but we were running out of cheese shops to call and ask after it.
The find We were dubious that the Lincoln Park Whole Foods(1550 N Kingsbury St, 312-587-0648) would have gjetost, because, get this: The place doesn’t even carry preserved lemons (geez!). But the gentleman who answered at the cheese counter was jubilant about the stuff. “Oh, yeah, we have it. It’s called Ski Queen.” He recommended eating it for breakfast on toast. To which we said: No, dude—it’s for eating on the train.