Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

As Kraft continues to perpetuate its “Velveeta Shortage = World is Ending” public relations campaign to drive sales for the Super Bowl — seriously, show me a store where the shelves are bare of processed cheese — I say it’s time to start a new trend here in Subarctica and eat warm cheese that does not consist of milk and whey protein concentrate. 

Yes, I made up the term Subarctica to represent where I live in Wisconsin, even though we appear to be on the tail end of an arctic polar vortex blitz featuring temps of minus 20 degrees F for the past week. So it seems to be a good time to talk about something warm. And what’s better than warm cheese?

People, I give you the best warm cheese outside fresh curds from a vat. Called Juustoleipa (pronounced oo-stah-lee-pah, with the first syllable rhyming with the word who), this cheese originates from Scandinavia, where the fine folks in northern Finland have been making it from reindeer, cow and goat milk for 200 years. 

In Wisconsin, you’ll sometimes see it labeled as Bread Cheese, because a) that’s how Juustoleipa translates in English, and b) the cheese is actually baked (like bread) during the cheesemaking process. Made without a starter culture – a process similar to making feta – Juustoleipa is merely fresh curds pressed into blocks. It it then briefly baked. The result is a squeaky cheese with a mild, buttery flavor. The best part is the splotchy brown crust, formed when heat from baking caramelizes the sugars on the outside of the cheese. The cheese is made to be grilled in a skillet or warmed in an oven (it doesn’t melt when heated) and eaten for breakfast with coffee and maple syrup or honey, or after a meal with jam or jelly.

Juustoleipa first came on the scene in Wisconsin back in 2002, when scientists at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR), via funding from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, worked to recreate the original Finnish recipe in an effort to preserve a traditional, ethnic cheese and develop a safe manufacturing method to share with small Wisconsin cheese factories and farmstead operations. Cheese Scientist Jim Path, now retired from CDR, traveled to northern Michigan, where he found an elderly couple producing it in tiny quantities, and then to a farmstead in Finland just 150 miles from the Arctic Circle where he studied the manufacturing technique.

In September of 2002, CDR hosted a seminar attended by 28 Wisconsin cheesemakers and 10 Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers that included a hands-on demonstration of making Juustoleipa. The idea was that the cheese would be ideal for a small factory or start-up.

Today, you’ll find six different Wisconsin cheese companies crafting it under a variety of names.

  • Carr Valley Cheese Bread Cheese (in Traditional, Garlic, Chipotle and Jalapeno flavors)
  • Babcock Hall Juustoleipa and Jalapeno Juustoleipa
  • Pasture Pride Cheese Juusto (in Traditional, Italiano, Jalapeno, Chipotle flavors, as well as with Nueske’s Bacon), Guusto (goat’s milk version) and Oven Baked Cheeses filled with 5yr cheddar, Parmesan, and aged goat cheese
  • Bass Lake Cheese Juustoleipa (Cheesemaker/Owner Scott Erickson is the only certified master cheesemaker in Juustoleipa)
  • Brunkow Cheese Brun-uusto Cheese
  • Noble View Creamery Juustoleipa (in Traditional, Jalapeno and Habanero flavors, and with bacon)

So while here in Wisconsin we enjoy all the taste of Juustoleipa, we haven’t yet adopted its cultural practices. Legend has it that in Finland, mothers of “eligible women” – I love that phrase – used to offer suitors a cup of coffee with the cheese and, if the man liked the cheese, he married the girl. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Who wouldn’t want to marry a man who didn’t like cheese?

As a side note, if you’re looking for a way to taste all of these Juustoleipas, I’ve created an “Juustopalooza” event in the specialty cheese department at Metcalfe’s Market-Hilldale in Madison on Saturday, Feb. 1 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. We’ll be frying up 3 different Juusto cheeses for you to sample with many more available for sale. See you then!

3 thoughts on “Screw Velveeta, Eat Juustoleipa

  1. Juustoleipa is one of my favorites – being of Finnish descent, I was very glad to see the rebirth of it. Our grocer here in Pittsville even carries it for us. LOVE it. Great article on it.

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