Norwegian farmer named world’s big cheese

Jorn Hafslund raises only 12 Norwegian Red cows, but managed to see his gouda named the world’s best cheese last fall

Showing how being the best doesn’t necessarily mean being the biggest, a small farmer from Norway has been selected as the best cheese producer in the world.

With a herd of 12 Norwegian Red cows, Jorn Hafslund from Ostegarden won the accolade in November with his gouda cheese, Fanaost. It emerged as the top cheese out of 3,472 entries from around the world.

The 25th World Cheese Awards were held at Bergen in Norway and attracted entries from 40 countries. Category winners were judged down to 16 “super gold” cheeses from which the judges selected the supreme award winner.

Hafslund has produced his own cheese since 2006 and in 2018 produced 20 tonnes of cheese, mainly of his award winning Fanaost variety.

Thanks to high demand for his cheese, this year Hafslund is upping his production to 30 tonnes.

To accommodate this expansion, he and his wife, Ruth, have invested in new cheese boilers. The couple also produce a camembert and brie cheese to order.

Hafslund’s small herd produces 80,000 to 90,000 kilograms of milk per year. He buys another 120,000 litres from TINE, Norway’s largest producer, distributor and exporter of dairy products, to make his cheese.

The average milk yield for Hafslund’s cows is a commendable 8,000 kg per cow per year. As well, the use of antibiotics in the herd is low, as it is in many of Norway’s dairy herds, thanks to genetics.

“I rarely have to use antibiotics,” said Hafslund. “In fact I’d rather milk a cow separately for a few weeks than treat with penicillin.

“I think the combination of our system and the genetics contributes to our milk quality. We get 15 cheeses from 700 litres of milk, compared with 14 cheeses from the same volume of milk sold to our farmer co-operative TINE, and we only use our own milk for making camembert and brie.”

The cows run on about 240 acres of a combination of tenanted and rented land with heifers put to more extensive grazing land. Each are fitted with GPS collars to help locate them.

Jorn Hafslund collects his winning cheese award. | Supplied photo

Not all of the grazing land is good quality but Hafslund said the older meadows produce much more complex milk that adds distinctive flavour to his cheese.

For Hafslund and his wife, cheese-making started on the kitchen table seven years ago. Hafslund admitted that he was completely clueless about cheese production when they started and the first three to four attempts were unsuccessful.

“Ruth and I went on a course, and then travelled around Europe to gather knowledge about cheese production,” he added.

Subsidies from Innovation Norway enabled Hafslund to hire a person in production so he could promote sales.

They now have six full-time employees to run the herd and the cheese-making business.

“Our cows are our key resource and everything else is built around them,” said Hafslund.

“I always do the morning round of the cows to keep up with what is happening in the barn; and it’s a good way to get up in the morning,” he said.

Although he does not spray his land for weeds, he uses an additive in his silage to reduce the risk of mould. This silage is the staple winter ration for his cows along with bread.

Hafslund breeds his own pure Norwegian Red cows suitable for his system using semen from Geno, which is the breeding organization of the Norwegian Red, the main dairy breed in Norway.

Geno has developed a breeding program that has always selected for yield and temperament but in the past decade it has put increasing emphasis on fertility, health and udder traits without compromising yield.

As a result, sires from the Geno program are well-known for their high fertility and health status, good temperament and milk yields.

The cheese is sold through the Norwegian grocery store chain Meny, but Hafslund has been approached by other national and international retailers.

“There is a shop in London and one in Madrid that specializes in cheese. I might consider sending something overseas,” he said.

For now, Hafslund plans to continue as general manager with an overview of the herd and the cheese production business.

“But I keep Fridays as free as possible to work as a dairy farmer,” he said. “That’s the bit I really enjoy, tending to the cows and keeping them happy and healthy. If we achieve this then they reward us with top quality prize-winning cheese.”

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