Midwest Crowd Pleaser: Brun-uusto

Chicago

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If you've visited a farmers' market in Chicago and noticed a line forming in front of a cheese stand, there's a good chance the shoppers are waiting for a taste of Wisconsin's Brunkow Cheese. If they're lucky, they'll get to try Brun-uusto, a baked cheese served hot with a crispy crust.

In other words: Get in that line!

We talked to Brunkow's cheesemaker Joe Burns this morning at Chicago's Federal Plaza farmers' market. He said the recipe comes from Finland, where it's known as Juustalepia (HOOstah-lee-pah), or "bread cheese," because the crust of the cheese is similar to that of toasted bread.

Baked cheese dates back about 200 years in Scandinavia, where it was traditionally made with reindeer milk; cows don't fare well under the extreme conditions. While the weather can seem pretty extreme in the Midwest, the cows do just fine here.

If you're a fan of cheese curds, you'll probably enjoy baked cheese. It's actually made from cheese curds that are pressed and hardened and then baked at a high temperature, which creates the delicious caramelized crust.

Baked cheese is meant to be served warm, and can be heated on a grill or skillet, or even in the microwave. It can certainly stand alone, as we've served it in the past. But it's also great with a touch of sweetness – honey, maple syrup or marmalade – or a savory topping like pico de gallo. According to the package notes, some people even dip it in coffee.

Burns has been making Brun-uusto for about six years and now sells it at markets throughout Chicago and Wisconsin. The cheese is also available in Whole Foods stores throughout the Midwest.

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Related: The Squeakier the Better: Cheese Curds

(Image: Joanna Miller)