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Reporting on one of Norway’s most rare and famous cheeses: Gamalost (gammal = old, ost = cheese).
Gamalost is one of Norway’s oldest cheeses, but it received its name from the length of its aging process.
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 would drain 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 locals 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.
The Vikings, known for their strength and endurance, “fueled themselves for their expeditions in part by eating Gamalost,” writes Annika Hipple, founder and editor of Real Scandinavia. (2)
As you can see in the photo to the right, 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, Ph.D. spent four years in Norway researching their traditional cheeses for health benefits and discovered the presence of certain peptides 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.
Raw cheese is available in the US and is a great resource to help rebuild our diverse microbiology.