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Reporting on one of Norway’s most rare and famous cheeses!
The Vikings, who were known for their strength and endurance, fueled themselves for their expeditions in part by eating a special cheese called Gamalost. It’s also considered an aphrodisiac, commonly known today as “Viking Viagra.”
Gamalost (gammal = old, ost = cheese), which got its name from the length of the aging process rather than the fact that it is one of Norway’s oldest cheeses, is as colorful a cheese as you could imagine. Gamalost was once a staple of the Norwegian Viking diet, in large part because it could be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration, which proved useful for the seafaring Vikings. Made from skim milk, Gamalost contains more than 50% protein and just 1% (or less) fat. It also contains chitosan, a substance that has many beneficial properties.
When a Norwegian grandfather was asked how to make Gamalost, he replied, “Take some cheese, stuff it in an old sock, bury it in manure under the barn and when it is ready, it will crawl out.” (1)
Perhaps a more accurate description of how to make Gamalost is that, each June, skim milk was allowed to sour in a large wooden bucket. It was then heated in large cast iron or copper pots. When the curds separated, they were placed in a wood form lined with a linen or jute cloth and the liquid whey drained out. The drained cheese was placed on a warm shelf in a mountain cheese hut. After a few days, the cheese was wrapped in dried marsh grass in preparation for aging and taken down to the farm with the animals (perhaps for exposure to more microbial diversity). Every other day during the maturation process, the cheese had to be rubbed by hand to facilitate the absorption of the necessary bacteria. By Christmas, the cheese had fermented to a brown color and was ready to eat.
Tradition has taught the local people that the longer and more aged the cheese, the more potent its immune benefits. Traditional people depended on this potent source of microbes for vital nutrients as well as its immune and stamina boosting benefits. Gamalost as Viking food is a perfect example of this use of raw cheese.
You can see below that Gamalost looks more like bread than cheese. This is because the probiotic bacteria have penetrated it entirely. Eating cheese is by no means a requirement for health, but I think it fascinating to understand how each traditional culture evolved foods that naturally support healthy and diverse gut microbes in their diet.
Gamalost is somewhat of an extreme example, but Norway in the winter is a very extreme place. Traditionally, this cheese was ready in early December – the darkest and coolest time of the year when the immune system needed boosting. This is also completely in line with the Ayurvedic belief that cultured and fermented foods are best eaten in the winter due to their propensity to heat the body.
Tahir Mahmood Qureshi, PHD has spent four years in Norway researching their traditional cheeses for health benefits, and has discovered the presence of certain peptides that have been shown to support healthy blood pressure levels. “Through in-vitro models, we see the activity of these blood-pressure-lowering peptides increase when traveling through the digestive system and also increase in numbers in the intestines. We have researched how these peptides develop in intestinal juice from human beings and observed a further development of these healthy peptides,” says Qureshi.
Due to the very elaborate production process, the tradition of making it now lives on only at the Tine dairy cooperative in Vik, Norway, which produces 150 to 200 tons of Gamalost per year. Norwegian authorities have even granted the brand “Gamalost frå Vik,” special protected status because of its importance as a piece of the country’s cultural heritage.
Raw cheese is available in the US and is a great resource to help rebuild our diverse microbiology.