The Mysterious Origin Story of Jarlsberg Cheese

Deli Business Magazine

The determination of the Jarlsberg cheese origins has had its twists and turns. When and where was the very first round cheese made? And how did it get its nutty flavor? Jarlsberg and its story has been discussed many times. Did monks make it? Swiss cheesemakers? A king? In the 19th century? By accident? Well, it’s not quite that kind of story, but still a good one. And, of course, an important one.

The story of the cheese that we today call Jarlsberg goes back to the 1950s. It all started in the small Norwegian village called Ås and a professor, Ole Martin Ystgaard, who was leading a long-term research project at the Dairy Institute at the Agricultural University of Norway. The project started in 1956 and continued for about 10 years, until Professor Ystgaard decided the development phase was complete. Under the supervision of Professor Ystgaard, a group of Professor Ystgaards’ students conducted cheesemaking experiments where they added bacterial culture to cheese milk. First, the cheese-making technique for producing Emmental cheese was used without success. Later, good-quality cheese could be made using the Research Dairy’s cheese vats. These experiments led to further development where the bacteria metabolism created large holes when added to Gouda cheese. It’s from this process that the well-known Jarlsberg holes were born. The studies at the Dairy Institute also led to adding bacterial culture and making it work on a larger scale. Something that became possible after the completion of the trial cheesemaking facility at the Dairy Institute in 1956.

What about the Jarlsberg name? The cheese was first sold at the Research Dairy’s shop as “Research cheese” and then as “Extra cheese.” Only a few know the history of the name, and it’s still a great mystery how and when it was finally decided that the name should be Jarlsberg. In 1957, the Ministry of Agriculture sanctioned an application for the name Jarlsberg and the definition of the new cheese.

But (and there’s always a but), as every great story must have its secrets, of course, Jarlsberg has its secrets, as well. Every legend has its mysteries, and the secret recipe of the Jarlsberg cheese is one of Norway’s most closely guarded secrets.


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