Den Fynske Rygeost på Ark of Taste

Den traditionelle fynske rygeost blev optaget på Slow Foods Ark of Taste i 2015, som et helt særligt produkt med dybe rødder i fynsk madkultur, og for at sikre at produktionen bliver bevaret for eftertiden. Udnævnelsen blev fulgt op med et besøg på Gundestrup Mejeri lørdag d. 6/2 og en artikel om fynsk rygeost på Slow Foods internationale website. Læs artiklen her:

A Smoking Success

DSC_0137-Ryslinge rygeost

On the island of Fyn in the middle of Denmark, one dairy is keeping a 1000-year-old tradition of cheesemaking alive with great success.

Gundestrup is a small village on the southern part of Fyn, halfway between the towns of Svendborg and Faaborg. In many ways, a visit to the Gundestrup Dairy is a step back in history. It harkens to a time when nearly every country village in Denmark had its own dairy, brewery, butcher, local grocery store, and blacksmith. Knowledge of crafts and traditions were passed on to the next generation because these skills were considered valuable.

Luckily all is not lost. At Gundestrup Dairy, which is also a brewery, the production of various cheeses is still performed according to centuries-old traditions. The star among these cheese traditions is the rygeost.

Vikings led the way

Literally meaning “smoked cheese”, rygeost is a fresh cheese made from cow’s milk. From archeological findings, we know that a primitive type of sour milk cheese was made 5000 years ago when the first farmers settled in Denmark, bringing cows and sheep with them. But it wasn’t until around 900 AC that the Vikings refined the art of cheesemaking, having brought back knowledge from their many travels. The cheese that the Vikings made was a sour milk cheese. Somewhere along the way they must have tried to smoke it for the sake of preservation, a method commonly used in Denmark. Thus, the rygeost was born and later became popular on Fyn.

Rygeost is traditionally eaten on rye bread with radishes and a sprinkle of chives. It can be mixed with crème fraiche and turned into a rygeost salad, which is tasty when eaten with smoked mackerel, salmon or used in sauces. Hard core rygeost fans enjoy it with a good, coarse mustard.

When the Slow Food Convivium Fyn visited Gundestrup Dairy there was occasion to celebrate, because rygeost has been accepted on the Ark of Taste. It is the 5th Danish product to join the Ark of Taste thus far and it is the only cheese that is safely said to be 100% Danish. Another interesting fact is that rygeost is connected to a particular geographical area, produced at only four different dairies on Fyn, Gundestrup being one of them.

It takes three days to make a rygeost

Upon arrival at the dairy, Manager Jørgen Hoff greeted us. He bought the old dairy in 2007. His goal is to produce quality products based on traditional recipes and with a respect to the craft. The venture was a risky one because the market for dairy products has been totally dominated by one big company whose growth strategy has been to buy up small dairies scattered around the country. They typically accomplish this by outcompeting the smaller dairies, selling their own products at a lower price.

But Jørgen, a stout, jovial character, is a determined man. Within a short time period he has built a successful business, bringing activity and job opportunities to the local community.

Before starting our tour of the dairy we were treated to a “Sun over Gundestrup”; rygeost on rye bread with some blackberry jam on top. The taste really enjoyable, the sweetness of the jam compensating for the sour/smoky taste of the cheese. To accompany the cheese, we drank one of the beers from Gundestrup’s microbrewery. When you have cheesemaking and beer brewing going on right next to each other, it just makes sense to combine the two. So, the beers from Gundestrup are the first in the world to contain excess whey from the cheese production.

During the tour Jørgen explained to us that, unlike the industrial kind, a real rygeost takes 3 days to make. On the first day the process starts by adding a culture and some rennet to the milk, which is then heat-treated to 40-50 degrees and left to curdle. On the second day, the cheese, which now has a grainy consistency, is shaped into molds while the whey runs off.  On the third day, the cheese is placed on an iron grill and smoked very lightly over hay, giving it a characteristic striped look. All processes are performed manually. Years of experience tells the dairyman when the cheese is exactly right; the consistency has to be like silk.

You either love it or you hate it

Around the same time that the convivium began the process of nominating the rygeost for the Ark of Taste, it was reported in the media that sales were in decline. Perhaps the rygeost, with its distinctive smoky, acidic characteristics is an acquired taste, not really appealing to the younger generation of consumers. To put it bluntly, it is a cheese that you either love or hate. I asked Jørgen about this. He told me with pride in his voice that Gundestrup has not experienced a decline. On the contrary, the demand for their products, especially the rygeost, has seen an increase. He attributes this to the high quality of the product.

We don’t have many food products in Denmark that we can call uniquely Danish, but the rygeost is one of them. By joining all the other unique products featured on the Ark of Taste, we hope to use this benefit to promote production and keep an important part of our history and cultural tradition alive.

Written by Karen Bencke, Convivium Fyn