Nokkelost Cheese Making Recipe
This wonderful cheese from Norway is often described as their 'year end holiday cheese'. When done, the smell and taste are so good, it is easy to see why this is such a popular cheese for the holidays.
In this fantastic recipe, we added our own twist by infusing the milk with cardamom before making the cheese.
- 2 Gallons of Milk (Not UltraPasteurized) - If using raw milk decrease culture and rennet amounts by 25-40%
- 1/8 tsp Kazu or MM100 or 1 Packet C21 Buttermilk Culture
- 1.5 ml Single Strength Liquid Rennet
- 1/8 tsp Cardamom Powder
- 1/2 Cracked Cloves
- 3/8 tsp Caraway
- 1/4 tsp Calcium Chloride (for pasteurized milk)
- Good Thermometer
- Knife to Cut Curds
- Spoon or Ladle to Stir Curds
- M3 Small Hard Cheese Mold
- Butter Muslin
- Cheese Wax
- Brush for Waxing
- Nokkelost Info
- Q & A
A Recipe for Nokkelost
I make the cheese as a 4 Gallon batch at about 5 lbs but the following recipe is for a 2 Gallon batch. Feel free to 'up' the guideline proportionate to the milk you have. I do not recommend going smaller than 2 gallons though.
Heat, Infuse & Acidify Milk
Begin by heating the milk to 90F (32C). You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats.
Add 1/4 tsp of Calcium Chloride if the milk is pasteurized or you have been having problems with a firm curd.
Once the milk is at 90F remove 1 cup of warm milk and add 1/8 tsp of cardamom powder to it. Stir well and let rest for the infusion while the milk with culture is working.
Then the culture can be added.
To prevent the culture powder from caking and sinking in clumps sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the culture powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.
The milk now needs to be kept at this target temperature until it is time to add the rennet. Hold the milk with culture quiet for the next 60 minutes to allow the culture to begin doing its work. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into its more rapid rate of converting lactose to lactic acid.
At the end of the 60 minutes strain the cardamom infused milk through several layers of draining cloth into the main Milk pot. Bring back to temperature if needed.
Coagulate with Rennet
Now add about 1.5 ml of single strength liquid rennet.
The milk now needs to sit quiet for 45 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. At about 12 minutes you should notice the milk beginning to thicken (do not stir or agitate the milk at this time).
The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It is ok if the temp drops a few degrees during this time.
During this time heat another pan of non-chlorinated (boiling usually removes the chlorine) to about 160F. This will be used to wash the curds in the next step. Also this is a good time to make sure the mold is sanitized as well as the draining cloth and ready with the press or weights.
Cut Curd & Release Whey
Once you have tested for a firm curd you can cut the curd. If the curd is not quite firm enough ,test again in a few minutes.
When ready to cut, carefully cut to about 3/8 in. Then allow to rest for 5 min. before stirring slowly.
Stir slowly for 15min then let settle and remove whey ... About 1/3 of the original milk volume (2.6 qts).
Wash & Cook Curds
In this step we are removing the whey to slow the acid production down (removing their supply of lactose). This will make for a sweeter cheese and be easier to stop the bacteria working. Then by slowly adding back the same amount of 160F water we will raise the curds to their scalding temperature for the final cooking.
Add the same volume of 160F water as whey removed slowly in small additions back into the milk over 15 min. while stirring until temperature of curd comes to 102F (38F). Do this slowly enough that the milk temperature increases very slowly at about 1F a minute
Finally we stir slowly for another 15-30min for dryness Check grip for final dryness. This means that each curd will show a springiness when pressed in the hand and should show an even dryness throughout when broken open. This can also be a control for a moister or drier cheese in future batches. Good notes here will help you for the next batch.
Remove Whey & Add Spices
When the curds are ready, allow them to sink to the bottom and remove the whey above them.
The curds are now ready to drain and can be transferred to a colander or drain pan lined with butter muslin. They should be allowed to drain for a few minutes and a gentle stirring will make sure that the whey drains off. Do not allow the curds to consolidate.
Next add the prepared spices. 1/2 tsp of cracked Cloves and 3/4 tsp of Caraway. This can be amended according to preference in future batches. Mix these in well.
Forming & Pressing
The curd is now ready for the form. Give the drained curds with spices a final stir to free up any clumps and quickly transfer to the mold packing them with a firm hand pressure. Their residual warmth will help them to consolidate.
So, for pressing you should begin very light and slowly increase the press weight to a moderate level:
- 12 lbs for 30 minutes
- 25 lbs for 60 minutes
- 25 lbs for 3 hours
- Remove weight and keep cool (50-54F) overnight
The rate of whey running off is simply a matter of drops and not a stream of whey being released. This is a good rate of whey removal during pressing and will slow even more as the residual free moisture is released. The form should show tears of whey weeping from the form very slowly. When this stops you can increase the weight slightly.
The cheese should be removed from the press, unwrapped, turned, rewrapped, and put back to the press at the above intervals. To assure an even consolidation. At each turn you will notice the cheese has formed a smoother surface and rests lower in the mold.
The final step above is to move to cool room 50-54F overnight post press(no weight). This will cool the cheese and allow any final fermentation to complete leaving it at a good temperature for brining next morning. The surface should be smooth and continuous with no holes or openings remaining or any creases from the cloth.
If you find that you need more press weight or time, then perhaps the final cheese curds should be made moister next time. Usually cutting too small causes a dry cheese.
You will need a saturated brine prepared for salting this cheese, find all of the details you need on brining here.
A simple brine formula is:
- 1 gallon of water
- 2.25 lbs of salt
- 1tbs calcium chloride
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- Bring the brine and cheese to 50-55°F before using.
The cheese now needs to be set in the brine for about 3 hours per lb. Your final cheese should weigh about 2.5 lbs from 2 gallons of milk so the brine time should be about 7.5 hours. The cheese will float above the brine surface so sprinkle another teaspoon or 2 of salt on the top surface of the cheese.
Flip the cheese and resalt the surface about half way through the brine period.
At the end of the brine bath, wipe the surface and allow the cheese to surface dry for a day or two before waxing. The surface will darken somewhat during this time.
You can now wax the cheese for aging. For details on waxing the details are here.
The cheese can then be placed into your aging space at 52-56F and 80-85% moisture.
After aging for three months your cheese will be ready to enjoy. Longer aging may develop more character but too long will dry it out.
Nokkelost a Spicy Norwegian Treat
In this recipe we venture to the far north of Europe into Norway for a cheese that has always been considered their year end Holiday Cheese. The appreciation for this cheese has especially extended to the places Norwegians have emigrated to over the past many years.
The Nokkelost cheese has a medium to medium firm body, a supple texture and is laced with bits of caraway seeds and broken cloves. It also retains a slight sweetness in the finish.
In my own hybrid style I had to add my own twist to things and since Cardamom has been such a wonderful spice used by the Norwegians and my remembrance of the spice used in milk drinks (Lassi, Teas etc.). I added a Cardamom infusion to the cheese milk as well.
It just smells so Good I just had to do it.
Nokkelost in America
At one time Nokkelost style cheese was made in America for the large Norwegian communities. However these traditional cheeses have either disappeared or evolved into non recognizable versions and the imports have become harder to find.
I have a good friend in Colorado who grew up in one of these American/Norwegian families in the midwest and remembers this cheese from earlier years as a special treat. He has been after me for years to make one for him (actually to teach him cheese making in general). So, this years American Cheese Society Conference in Denver gave me the opportunity to spend some time with him and between the research of locally produced Colorado beers and our catching up, we put our minds and hands into making what he remembers as Nokkelost (I had been gathering notes on the making of this for a few years by then).
What we put together may not be true to style but with my technical input and my friends memories of this cheese from the past this is what I am offering here 'in the style of' Nokkelost. Yes, perhaps even a Hybrid but that's the beauty of making your own cheese, get a pretty good game plan and run with it. Cheese making should be fun and reember, each cheese is unique.
A Breif History of Nokkelost
The term "Nokkel" in Norwegian translates into "crossed keys," which is part of the symbol used by the Dutch city of Leiden to denote products produced within, and adjacent to, their city. So to see the traditional cheese, you would notice the crossed-keys emblem; it symbolizes the cheese's association with the Leiden heritage.
Originally it was produced in Holland by the city of Leiden (or Leyden) where the crossed keys represented the emblem found at its city gates.
The cheese was made as a semi-hard cheese, its name translates into “key cheese” (Ost = Norwegian for cheese)
The cheese has been made since the 17th century and In the late 1860s, Leyden cheese was important enough to be accepted as payment when trade was done between the two countries, and when the trade stopped, the Norwegians began making their own version of this cheese.
What is Nokkelost
The cheese is of a semi firm texture and from my research the original cheese was only spiced with Caraway. In Norway it has been traditionally served as thin slices cut with a cheese plane and served on the dark bread, famous in the north.
Nokkelost is good cubed in salads or shredded and baked in scalloped potatoes, it melts well and can be a unique main ingredient for grilled-cheese sandwiches. It partners well with beer and wine, especially when served with dark breads, such as pumpernickel.
The clove addition seems to have been added when they began making the cheese in Norway but it must not be strong enough to mask the cheese and its caraway character.
As the Norwegian communities began to develop in America, they felt a need for their own cheese and at one point Kraft was making a cheese in America that they originally called "Caraway Cheese" but later changed to "Kuminost Spiced Cheese". The Caraway addition is confusing because some references say that it is cumin that is added instead of caraway.
This is confusing but my research has shown me that Caraway herb seeds are also called Persian Cumin the confusion here is that in India, Jeera is the name for Cumin whereas Shahi Jeera is the name for Caraway. They both look somewhat similar but they are not.
All very confusing but I am sticking with Caraway as the addition because Cumin just seems wrong with its warm flavors and I can easily see its flavors masking the character of the cheese. The Caraway with its brighter flavor seems to add that additional zip to add to the character of the cheese.
The Clove addition needs to also be subtle with less used than the Caraway for a balanced cheese. Sometimes less is more.
Now for my addition of Cardamom. Cardamom (Kardemumma) is not traditional in this cheese but huge on many Norwegian tables, Especially in breads.
Vikings came upon cardamom about one thousand years ago, in Constantinople, and introduced it into Scandinavia, where it remains popular. Norway is still today one of the biggest consumers of this spice.
But why did I bring it into this cheese?? Many years ago a friend had made a Cardamom ice cream for me several times and I never forgot how well the brightness of this spice went with the dairy aspect. Also the 'Lassi' accompanying Indian meals is also in my taste memory and I thought this would be my own little addition to this historical cheese from Norway(I cant believe no one else has done this yet and I am sure they have).
When I mentioned the infusion of Cardamom into the milk my friend agreed how right it seemed. As already mentioned Cardamom is used in many breads in Norway.
- juniper berries
I took the ginger, cardamom, and juniper berries from "Spice Infused Cheese Recipe" and infused them into the milk to make Nokkelost (instead of adding caraway and cloves). This is hands down the very best cheese I have ever made. The texture is wonderful, and the flavors are just fantastic. When I make it next (soon, as I'm shipping out my Christmas cheeses this week and my cave will be empty) I will use a tad less fresh grated ginger and double the juniper berries. It was difficult to decide who on my Christmas list would get a sample of this elegant cheese. I also made a Nokkelost with an infusion of lebkuchengewurz (German gingerbread spice). The flavor was a bit more subtle than expected, so next time I would make a stronger infusion.
Made this cheese on 10/6/18, waxed it and then aged in my cave for 4 months. Today I cut into it and tasted it and .... it was amazing. Lovely supple , medium textured cheese. Next time I would add a bit more spices because I love the flavor it imparted. Very well balanced acid and sweetness. Great everyday eating cheese.