A cluster of red, white, blue and yellow houses nestled on the green shores of a breathtaking Norwegian fjord, the tiny village of Undredal has a population of 70 people. And 500 goats.
Goat’s cheese has been made in this valley for centuries. Until 1988, the village could only be reached by boat, which helped preserve traditional cheesemaking methods. Three types of cheese are made from the milk of goats who spend much of the year grazing freely on the grassy slopes of the fjord. Brown Undredal, a kind of geitost, is made from whey boiled for eight hours until it caramelizes. Brown, sweet and creamy, it is eaten thinly sliced with bread and butter at breakfast and lunch. White Undredal can be fresh or aged, while Sogna is a regional specialty, a traditional unsalted white cheese.
All three cheeses have always been made with unpasteurized milk, which caused problems with local food safety authorities in the early 1990s. But the local cheesemakers’ cooperative, Undredal Stølsysteri, challenged the authorities on behalf of all of Norway’s small-scale cheesemakers, and became the first authorized raw goat’s milk dairy in the country. One of the cooperative members even founded Norsk Gardsost, an association for artisanal cheesemakers, working to promote traditional and raw milk cheeses.
The cooperative currently involves three families and has one employee. It aims to combine tradition with modern solutions, improving hygiene and efficiency. The cheese is made from February to October and sold directly at farmers’ markets and the local grocery store, which sells it on to other stores around the country. “We all keep our own goats, we cut the hay, do the milking and so on in addition to the cheese production,” said Anna Karine Marstein, the cooperative’s chairwoman. “Six adults have more skills than two, we have more time off and we can do what we like and are good at.”
She said that the cooperative had helped bring pride to the villagers. “The village is highly recognized for the cheese,” she said. A cheese festival is held every other summer, and “fjord safaris” for tourists advertise stops in Undredal with a tasting of the local goat cheese. Unlike many rural villages, Undredal has a stable population, and the Undredal Stølsysteri cooperative dairy is helping to boost local business and improve livelihoods, as well as raising the profile of Norwegian artisanal raw-milk cheese.