It's hard having a cheesemonger for a daughter. She's tasted a lot of what's out there, and (admittedly) can be pretty snobby when it comes to cheese. Take it from my parents, who continually try to impress and please me with new cheeses when I go for visits. (It's they who have the love affair with Jarlsberg Light, remember that?) But just this week, they made serious progress.
Västerbotten is the first Swedish cheese we've reviewed here, perhaps because it's a bit harder to find. My parents found it at Big John's market in Healdsburg, California, but I've spotted discussions of its sighting on Chowhound at Sahadi's in Brooklyn, and at IKEA, which makes sense, considering its origin.
Västerbotten has been dubbed "The Emperor of Cheeses" in Sweeden, and has been made in largely the same fashion since 1872 in Burtrask, in the northern part of the country. The rumor is that a housemaid, Ulrika Eleonora Lindstrom, accidentally invented the cheese by leaving the cheese to set at varying intervals, while she went about her chores (or, as some recounts attest, while she visited with her lover!). Regardless, the make process is one that lets the milk sit for awhile and for the curds to be stirred and cut intermittently over a long period of time.
Made from cow's milk and aged for at least a year, it has a flavor reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano. It's less salty, though, and much more sweet. I get notes of caramel or toffee, and there's a meatiness to it, too. Like sweet, cured meat. It's bright and fruity, too. Pretty complex, but without a lingering finish. What's especially nice is the texture: firm but not crumbly, almost like a mountain cheese, with little crunchy bits throughout, another similarity that it has with Parm.
• Västerbotten can be found at iGourmet for $10.99/.5lb (but seems to be currently out of stock) and at Sahadi's in Brooklyn for $16.75/lb.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a Cheesemonger and the Director of the Cheese Course at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.