I made a spontaneous purchase during an IKEA trip last week. The place kind of has that effect on people.
Sadly, though, I was struck with a bit of regret when I got it home.
I think I was grabbing some chocolate bars— a safe bet, by the way, and only 99 cents each— and noticed the dairy case. Among the jars of roe and haddock and sturgeon was a pretty hefty selection of cheeses. Perhaps I should have put more trust in my professional instinct before making the purchase, but I was curious. I grabbed a nice wedge of the firmest type. It looked the oldest (and by old I mean aged), which to me seemed like a quality that could only aid the taste of a commodity, pre-packaged cheese. I wanted to try IKEA cheese and I wanted to give it the best shot possible.
I served it a couple of days later at a party, among four other cheeses. I didn't say anything about its origins. The other four cheeses were significantly nicer. The remnants on the plate speak for themselves. It was virtually untouched.
Comparatively speaking, the IKEA wedge— Vasterbottensost cheese, specifically— had an off flavor. It tasted creamy and innocuous, and then bitter in a decidedly off-putting way. Not to be dramatic, but the rind itself smelled and tasted nearly noxious.
And then I tasted it again just now, to refresh my memory. It's still bitter, in an almost winey kind of way, but it tastes imminently more satisfying than it was alongside four other inarguably delicious cheeses. Served on its own, it becomes much more palatable.
Vasterbottensost is from the Vasterbotten region of Sweden. It's considered the king of cheese, like Sweden's Parmesan. And for that I feel badly criticizing it. Perhaps IKEA doesn't get the best version of the cheese?
You could make the argument that IKEA cheese— or at least the one I bought— is much like its furniture: it's functional. If you're hungry, it serves a purpose. It'll never stand out as the nicest wedge on the plate, much like your IKEA bookshelf won't turn heads. But it's functional, and the price is right.
(Image: Nora Singley)