I've talked before about the times I spend in Lidköping, Sweden, as a child.
For several years, my dad took a busman's holiday working as an anaesthetist in the local hospital there. Mum, my sister and I went with him and whiled away our days walking around town and along the river, visiting the local parks, playing in the little sandpits within our apartment complex, spending good times with the local friends we made over the years and generally enjoying our Lidköping home-from-home.
In that post I mentioned my memories of köttbullar (meatballs), punschrulle (little cakes traditionally made using leftover cake and cookie crumbs from the day's baking, which is why they are also known as dammsugare or "vacuum cleaner"), surströmming (fermented herring) and skogsbär (fruits of the forest) yoghurt.
And I shared a recipe for Swedish Cheese Tart from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann. At the time, we didn't have the Västerbotten cheese listed in the ingredients, so we substituted cheddar. It was still very delicious!
But now I have good news:
Västerbotten cheese has come to town!
It's a hard cow's milk cheese with teeny, tiny holes and is firm but with some give. And it's one of the many things we grew to love in Sweden.
We'd miss it so much when we returned home that we'd insist mum tracked it down; the nearest she could find in the UK back then was Danish Havarti, which has similar little holes but an altogether softer texture and not quite the same flavour.
So, I was very happy to be sent some Västerbottensost (ost means cheese) for review, along with a packet of Leksands Knäckebröd (crispbread) and a jar of Felix lingonberry jam.
The cheese transported me immediately back to childhood. The appearance, the smell and above all, the taste created such a strong sense of happy nostalgia and familiarity, I almost launched into a rousing rendition of Dr Seuss ("You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes…") but instead, concentrated on enjoying my cheese.
Incidentally, those Leksands crispbreads are rather good too; I'd forgotten how much I like this style of crispbread – the plain variety with a wonderful crunch and mild flavour.
I did wonder, for a moment, whether I was enjoying the cheese so much because of those childhood associations. But Pete said he really liked the cheese too.
It's not just the cheese I like, but the story of how it came to be.
According to legend, it was accidentally created by cheese maker Eleonora Lindstrom who lived in Burtrask in the far north of Sweden. She was left alone to stir the curd of a traditional Swedish cheese but found herself becoming ‘distracted’ on several occasions by visits from her lover. As the fire went out each time Eleonora became side-tracked, the curd cooled, meaning it had to be reheated and then stirred again when her attention returned to it. Due to this unorthodox method of constant heating, cooling and stirring, the cheese didn’t make the usual grade so was placed on a shelf and left there for 12 months. When the cheese was eventually tested, the taste and texture was so unusual and delicious that Eleonora’s technique was replicated and Västerbotten cheese was born.
These days, it is aged for 14 months, known as Sweden's King of Cheeses and emblazoned with the title, “By appointment to his Majesty the King of Sweden”.
Västerbottensost is currently celebrating it's 100th year anniversary.
As part of a collaboration between Swedish Trade Council and John Lewis/ Waitrose the cheese is featuring in a 7 week celebration of Swedish food and drink at John Lewis Oxford Street and Waitrose Bluewater. The celebration runs to the end of February. Also available to try and buy at the celebration are the crispbread and lingonberry jam above plus a range of Swedish food and drink including breads, dairy products, condiments and meats.