Gjetost: Freakish Norwegian Caramel Cheese

I have a cheese problem.

My problem centers around the fact that the two best cheesemongers in town (Penn Mac and Whole Foods) are somewhat inconvenient for me to reach without planning. So I often find myself in the local supermarket, Giant Eagle, which purports to have a good selection of cheese. And they do: in the abstract, their selection is “ok.” Nothing fabulous, but they often have cheeses that I would like to eat, especially if I haven’t had time to pick up something great at Penn Mac.

However, for some reason that I don’t fully comprehend, Giant Eagle wraps their cheese in a plastic that makes all of their cheese taste disgusting – it has a penetrating, oily, plastic aroma that can manage to penetrate to the core of the stinkiest Stilton. Some middle-level manager probably had to go out and do hard research to locate a plastic that was this effective at completely ruining cheese. So I am caught in an infinite cycle wherein I am craving cheese, but I have no cheese, and I’m in the supermarket, and Giant Eagle has a type of cheese that I want, and I know that it will probably taste like rancid plastic but I still convince myself that somehow it won’t taste bad this time, and I buy the cheese anyway, and I bring it home, and it tastes like plastic and I am sad and swear that I’ll never do that again. Since I don’t seem to be able to break my habit of buying cheese at the supermarket when I’m craving it, I’ve developed a tactic designed to minimize the risk: only buy cheeses that were factory-wrapped, rather than cheeses cut and wrapped at the supermarket. These generally end up being not top-of-the-line cheeses, because of the way they are packaged and sold, but my logic is that it’s less depressing to buy a cheap cheese that turns out to be not very good than it is to buy a superb stilton that tastes like plastic because of an incompetent cheesemonger’s stinky packaging.

Following that tactic today led me to buy “gjetost,” which I knew nothing about other than it is Norwegian and comes in a cute small square package.

Gjetost is…odd. I am not entirely convinced it is really cheese. I think it may actually be a very large piece of “Bit-o-honey” candy.


First impressions: medium-brown or dark tan, it has a consistency just a little softer than salt-water taffy, firm to the touch without being actually hard. The package recommended slicing off thin slices, so that’s what I did. The odor was a distinct burnt caramel; the first taste is sweet, just beneath a level I’d consider cloying. The second, third, and fourth tastes are like that too.

So I’m eating this candy cheese thinking “this can’t possibly be right,” so I turned to the internet, which confirmed that, yes, this is indeed what gjetost is supposed to be like. It’s a cow’s and goat’s milk cheese which is prepared such that some of the lactose caramelizes. One site suggested that it’s common in Norway to enjoy it with a cup of coffee for breakfast. I happened to have just brewed a pot of coffee so I tried it: it didn’t improve the experience substantially.

People describe gjetost as a “love it or hate it” experience. I don’t love it or hate it. But I might give out slices to trick or treaters next Halloween.

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Remember: a life without cheese is not worth living.