Last week, a new range of artisanal Danish cheeses were formally introduced to the American culinary scene. At an elegant pairing and tasting event at Aquavit, we tasted the cheeses and learned about their elaborate history, all of which only increased our fascination with and excitement about the city’s growing Scandinavian culinary culture.
Unika cheeses are the result of a long, painstaking, and passionate process, headed up by self-proclaimed “cheese man” John Gynther. Gynther began the artisanal cheese process that led to Unika over a decade ago, working with a small group of passionate dairymen and with Castello, a division of major Dutch dairy cooperative Arla Foods.
Gynther and his team cite The New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto as a major source of inspiration and ideological guidance. Written by Claus Meyer (whose restaurant Noma was voted Best Restaurant in the World in 2010 and 2011), the Manifesto is a declaration of allegiance to the tenets of the New Nordic Cuisine Movement. The Movement and the Manifesto seek to return to the agrarian roots of Nordic cooking, sourcing sustainable, traditional ingredients in order to develop a cuisine which is “simple, pure, and fresh.” Gynther is one of many chefs and gastronomes who have been inspired by the Movement, and his ideology is as evident in his process as it is in the cheese it produces. Unika cheeses are carefully, deliberately crafted in order to highlight the flavors of Denmark, showcasing the land and its flavors. Almost poetically, there is a range in textures and tastes among the cheeses as there is a range among the seasonal and geographical climes of Denmark, but, like the land, the cheeses all share a common thematic tone that unites them as a diverse but complementary series.
Here are some of the cheeses we tried:
This creamy cheese is a riff on the traditional Nordic use of dill to flavor pickled vegetables. On the suggestion of top Danish Chef Erwin Lauterbach, the Krondill is spiced with a mixture of melted dill and salt. The salt draws out the essential etheric oil from the dill, which is then imbued into the cheese. The resulting dill taste is strong but not overpowering.
The Gnalling is a unique cheese that combines the dry crispness of a hard cheese like Parmesean with the mild, soft, melt-in-your-mouth experience of a Gouda. The name (which translates roughly to "little dry thing") reveals Gnalling cheese's odd beginnings: it was accidentally discovered when a batch of cheese was forgotten and dried out. Once the dried batch was tasted, however, the cheesemakers realized they'd found something special.
Though all of the Unika cheeses abide by the New Nordic culinary philosophy, it could be stated that this is especially true for the Havgus. A single farm in Southwest Denmark provides the Havgus milk, and the cheese is crafted as a homage to the flavors of the region.Crispy protien grains create a mouthfeel that is evocative of the salty Southwestern Danish seaside, all woven together with a mild, pure milk taste.
Blue Cheese is a traditional Danish staple, but the Unika interpretation of the traditional recipe makes it accessable even to those who are usually blue-cheese-averse. Instead of exposing the cheese to air (the traditional method), the Unika blue is yeasted and wrapped in plastic, depriving it of oxygen as it ages. This innovation has created a delightfully fruity, almost nutty aromatic cheese that defies the expectations of its genre.
The cheeses have only been distributed to select Danish resturaunts so far, but Unika has opted to share their treasures with a few high-end Scandinavian resturaunts in New York. They have partnered with Chefs like Marcus Jernmark (newly instated Chef of Aquavit), Daniel Burns (of Brooklyn-based Luksus) and Carl Kristian Frederiksen (of Aamans-Copenhagen) to incorporate the artisan cheeses into already outstanding menus. All of the partners share the New Nordic philosophy, and are working to further its goals with their collaberation. Look out for these unique, exclusive cheeses next time you find yourself exploring Scandanavian cuisine, and reap the fruits of the New Nordic revolution.