I have looked at gjetost in the cheese cooler for years and have avoided buying it because I had no idea what it was except that it was Scandinavian and these are the same people who brought us lutefisk and despite sitting in the cheese cooler, it does not look much like cheese. I recently broke down and bought some. Gjetost is a Norwegian cheese that is what happens when a caramel marries the offspring of a fudge and a mild, semi-hard cheese. It is pronounced "Yay-tost" and the first half "gjet" is the Norwegian word for goat and the second half - "ost" means cheese in Norwegian. It is made from whey and is boiled for several hours. The whey must include at least 10% goat's milk whey (it can be up to 100% goat's milk whey) and the rest can be cow's milk whey. They may also add a dollop of cream to the recipe. Slowly boiling the whey for several hours reduces the whey by 75% and caramelizes the lactose sugars. At this point, the gjetost maker pours the condensed whey into molds, lets it cool resulting is a dense, sweet block of cheese. The resulting cheese is non-perishable and Norwegians take it along on hike and ski tips as a snack and eat it for breakfast.
My gjetost comes wrapped in plastic and and it is firm like fudge and a little sticky on the surface. It looks more like a medium dark caramel fudge than cheese. It is smooth with no rind and you can roll a large pinch into a ball. The texture feels like it comes from a spot somewhere between fudge and cheese and it has a bit of peanut butter stickiness. It smells like caramel on the verge of being burnt with a hint of funk but not much in the way of typical cheese aromas. Lightly sweet caramel dominates the flavors with light tang and a dash of saltiness. The stickiness coats the mouth leaving a pleasant lightly sweet and mildly salty caramel taste that stays with you for a long time.
I am eating the gjetost with a Surly Nøkken (9.3% alcohol by volume), a collaboration farmhouse ale brewed with Denver's TRVE using Norwegian Farmhouse Kveik yeast and Warrior, Citra and Hallertau hops and mellowed with Colorado honey and birch wood aging and a Junkyard Wake Up Late Vanilla Coffee Stout (9.8% alcohol by volume) . I picked the Nøkken because pairing a Norwegian style beer with a Norwegian cheese made sense. I chose the Junkyard Wake Up Late because Norwegians often eat gjetost for breakfast and coffee pairs nicely with things caramel and vanilla should too.
The Nøkken is citrusy and lemony with some fruit notes and some moderate tartness. The sweet notes in the gjetost bring out the the fruit notes in the beer and the carbonation and tartness in the beer washes the palate and adds new flavors in the aftertaste. The Nøkken pairing with the cheese evokes an elegant caramel fruit hors d'oeuvre that one might eat during an afternoon tea.
The Junkyard Wake Up Late and the gjetost make each other taste more like a caramel fudge brownie. The stout dominates but the cheese provides a nice seasoning. Eating the cheese after a drink of the stout brings out some new caramel, burnt caramel, chocolate and traces of fruit flavors. The cheese's caramel flavors enhance the beers roast notes. The gjetost also calls attention to the beer's vanilla. The cheese and stout lay claim to after dinner dessert territory. Where the Nøkken pairing suggest elegance, the Junkyard Wake up Late is more decadent.
I often hear that gjetost is not to everyone's taste and I can't imagine why. It is different, and perhaps a little unexpected but versatile and delicious. Both pairings are excellent and worth a try.