Denmark’s most popular and most famous cheese, Havarti is a traditional creamery cheese with a deliciously mild, sweet, and slightly acidic tang. With age, the buttery aroma and flavour of Havarti turns sharper and saltier, displaying hints of hazelnut.
Havarti is made from cow’s milk and characterized by a supple, semi-soft texture laced with irregular pinhole-sized eyes. Mellow, creamy, and simple, the ivory-colored table cheese can be sliced, grilled, or melted with ease. No wonder Havarti is appreciated by the youngest of children and cheese connoisseurs alike.
Hanne Nielsen is the enterprising cheesemaker credited with inventing Havarti in the mid 1800s. The wife of a New Zealand farmer, Nielsen became interested in the art of cheesemaking, and so she decided to travel throughout Europe to learn techniques and trade secrets.
Upon her return to Denmark, Nielsen experimented with her newly acquired knowledge, producing many cheeses. Her finest creation was an original washed rind cheese she named “Havarthi,” after her farm.
Today’s Havarti is factory made and widely distributed throughout the world, but still a direct descendent of Nielsen’s creation. Havarti is an interior-ripened cheese, so after the curdling process, the cheese is pressed, cooked, divided and drained. Typically aged for three months, the ripening begins at the centre of the cheeses and progresses outward to the surface. During this process, the cheese develops a thin rind that is washed periodically.
Quality versions of the interior-ripened cheese are produced in the UK, Canada, and on a large scale in the U.S. states of Wisconsin, New York, and California.
Havarti varieties range from plain to mildly sharp to aromatic. One of the most popular types is Cream Havarti, an enriched version made with extra cream. The exquisite result is a softer, more luxurious, melt-in-your-mouth feel.
More savory selections of Havarti include smoked varieties and those studded with herbs, fruits, and spices such as caraway, dill, garlic, cranberry, chive, pepper, horseradish, and mustard.
Buying and Storage Tips
Havarti is widely available at most supermarkets and easy to store. As with most semi-soft cheeses, it will keep for at least two weeks stored in the least cold section of the refrigerator (usually the vegetable drawer). Once opened, carefully re-wrap Havarti with aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
The true beauty of Havarti lies in its versatility. It’s simple enough to enjoy everyday, especially with sandwiches, or snacks of fruits and vegetables. For the cook, Havarti is a wonderful cheese to have on hand thanks to its excellent melting properties. Shred it into omelets, pasta, rice, and vegetable dishes for a lovely change of pace.
For more elegant occasions, grate Havarti atop salads or melt slices onto French bread (place under the broiler for just a few minutes). Or make chic mini sandwich appetizers by layering Havarti, sliced cucumber and fresh dill on little squares of hearty rye.
Of course, Havarti is always the quintessential dessert cheese, especially when served with fruit and wine. On a cheese board, surround Havarti with pears, apples, figs, raisins and walnuts. When paired with Sauvignon Blanc, less oak-y Chardonnay, or light-bodied Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, a smooth, mild Havarti displays enough character to please even the most distinctive of palates.