Hailing from Norway, Jarlsberg (pronounced: “YAHRLZ-berg”) is the world’s most famous “Baby Swiss.” This traditional, creamery cow’s milk cheese, is in fact, related to Swiss Emmenthaler, but the flavour is noticeably nuttier and sweeter, with a fruity aftertaste. And then there are those eyes, those large round holes that make Jarlsberg so easy to slice – and fun to eat.
A medium-fat, hard interior ripened cheese, Jarlsberg is covered with a thick rind and yellow wax. On the inside, Jarlsberg is semi-firm, very smooth, and buttery rich. All of these qualities make Jarlsberg one of Norway’s greatest exports throughout the world. And that’s pretty impressive for a European cheese which was only ‘re-discovered’ just over 50 years ago.
Jarlsberg History and Production
Around 1830, master cheese makers from Switzerland came to Norway’s Jarlsberg and Laurvig County to teach the Norwegians how to make cheese. The Norwegians began to actively produce their own holey, Swiss-style cheese, but after 1832, the cheese somehow disappeared.
In 1956, Professor Ole M. Ystgaard from the Agricultural University of Norway undertook the task of researching and re-creating that first Norwegian cheese recipe from 1830. Ystgaard’s work led to the development of a new version of Norwegian cheese, one that combined old cheese-making traditions with modern technologies.
The prototype cheese, produced at Nes Dairy, was originally named OLA after its inventor. However, in 1961, Norway’s new cheese was christened Jarlsberg, after the county where Norway’s first cheese was made.
Interestingly, today’s Jarlsberg is not made at small, rural farms or dairies, but in carefully controlled, high-tech laboratory environments. The recipe and bacterial culture for Jarlsberg are produced – and closely guarded – at a TINE research and development centre in southwestern Norway. The special bacteria that gives Jarlsberg its famous wide-eyed holes and sweet flavouring is a well-kept Norwegian secret.
Over the years, different varieties of Jarlsberg have been introduced, in both rinded and rindless styles. The most popular include:
Jarlsberg Lite: This low-fat variety of Jarlsberg maintains the characteristic large, round holes, but the taste is mild; slightly less sweet and nutty. Only available in a rindless variety, Jarlsberg Lite is great for snacking, but not well-suited for melting or cooking.
Jarlsberg Smoked: This Jarlsberg is dipped in a special smoky liquid to give it a brown-coloured surface and a more piquant, smoky flavour.
Jarlsberg Special Reserve: Ripened for a minimum of 12 months, this exclusive variety of Jarlsberg acquires a stronger, more complex flavour and aroma. It’s a sophisticated choice for cheese boards or elegant entertaining.
Buying And Storage Tips
Jarlsberg is readily available for purchase in slices, wedges, blocks, or even 10 kg wheels. Once home, tightly wrap your piece in plastic and refrigerate. It will store for two to four weeks.
Never overpowering, Jarlsberg is a great all-purpose cheese for both snacking and cooking. To make a traditional Norwegian open-faced sandwich, place thin slices of Jarlsberg atop a piece of buttered rye bread and garnish with parsley. Cube Jarlsberg into your favourite salads, add it to a cheese platter, or simply enjoy as a table cheese or dessert cheese whenever you like. It’s that versatile.
For hot dishes, the regular variety of Jarlsberg melts beautifully into everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to quiche. It’s a great alternative to Swiss in a simmering pot of fondue. In fact, Jarlsberg tastes great melted on just about anything. Try it on burgers, chicken breast, or sliced apples.
Pairing Jarlsberg With Wine
To accentuate Jarlsberg’s sweet, nutty flavour and open texture, choose light, fresh white wines rather than reds. Dry or semi-dry whites made from Chardonnay or Riesling grapes are your best bets. Think Chablis, White Burgundy, or a light, spicy Gewürztraminer.
If you’re not in the mood for wine, Jarlsberg also combines pleasantly with beer and aquavit, a traditional Scandinavian liquor distilled with aromatic flavourings like caraway, cumin, cardamom, orange peel, aniseed and fennel.