SALEM, Ohio – You want some cheese. Let’s say Swiss. But a little classier, a little creamier, a little riskier.
You pick Jarlsberg. It’s Norwegian so it’s a bit exotic, but it’s also America’s top-selling imported cheese, so it’s already a favorite.
It’s a hit on the cheese tray at your dinner party, the kids love it on sandwiches and your diet isn’t ruined if you stick to the light version.
Some people already know these things about Jarlsberg cheese. But most don’t know about the secret frozen cultures shipped from Norway to Holmes County, Ohio.
Or about the cheese factory there pumping out 10 million pounds of Norwegian cheese a year.
No, to them Jarlsberg is just cheese and it tastes good.
Wanting more. For decades, Norwegian dairy producers kept a tight fist around the secretive Jarlsberg recipe. But U.S. cheese shoppers wanted more.
As demand bounded ahead, trade agreements prevented Norway from exporting more than 15 million pounds of Jarlsberg into the United States.
In an unprecedented move five years ago, Norwegian dairy farmers sold an American cheese factory a license to the fiercely guarded Jarlsberg process.
That company, Alpine Cheese in Winesburg, Ohio, is now the only place in the world outside Norway making Jarlsberg cheese, said Dave Brohel, president of Norseland, a U.S. company marketing Norwegian cheese.
In the late 1990s, Alpine Cheese made colby, baby Swiss and pepper jack but was ready to increase production, said plant manager Don Fudge.
TINE, the Norwegian dairy co-op with the Jarlsberg enigma, came along at the right time, Fudge said.
It contacted Alpine Cheese and they went into business. But because U.S. milk is a little different than in Norway, the group spent a year and a half perfecting the cheese process in America.
“TINE is extremely quality conscious, almost to a degree we’ve never experienced,” Fudge said.
The group wanted it to taste and look exactly like the original Jarlsberg, and it succeeded, he said.
Although Alpine makes the cheese, Norway still supplies what Fudge calls the “heart and soul” of Jarlsberg: frozen Norwegian bacteria cultures.
Cheese exclusive. What the tongue tastes can’t be put into words, but Brohel and Fudge try. Mild, creamy, light Swiss cheese flavor, they agree.
It’s covered in eyes, or holes, like traditional Swiss and has a pale yellow tint, but the price tag usually lands Jarlsberg in a grocery’s specialty cheese display.
Even with a cost doubling traditional Swiss cheese prices, Jarlsberg’s appeal keeps growing. Last year Alpine Cheese churned out 7 1/2 million pounds, and next year it should jump to 11 million, Brohel predicts.
With these numbers, there’s no time for colby or cheddar at Alpine anymore. This small-town Ohio cheese factory is too busy supplying the country with Jarlsberg.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Grab a bite
* Look for Jarlsberg at select Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Buehler’s locations. Be sure to also check your local grocer for availability. But you probably won’t be able to tell whether it’s from Alpine Cheese or imported for Norway. Their packaging is identical.
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