ASTRID, THE CHEESEMAKER & OSTKAKA
We wake up in the camper and are fresh and ready to start the day to capture our next Recipe Hunting Story in Sweden. Lillemor returns from a morning school bus route and we share fresh coffee as she gives us directions to the Ostkiosken (cheese store in Swedish). Following the directions and little map created by Lillemor, we drive through a small Swedish rural town in search for “the barn that is one barn north of the saw mill” in Alfta. Alas, we see a small sign marked “ostkiosken” so we turn into the driveway and park next to the house. The noise of our car is loud enough to establish our arrival at the small farm. With a genuine, bashful smile we are greeted by a short, strong women. “Astrid” she says as she walks towards us with her hand extended to greet us. Behind Astrid, pops a jovial, red-headed woman who introduces herself as Susann with a gigantic grin. We immediately feel the love. A school teacher by profession, Susann is Astrid’s daughter who is thrilled to meet us, share stories, be our translator, and to take part in the adventure. It is so exciting to see how enthusiastic they are for the day!
We head straight to the cheese room where the fresh, raw cow’s milk is being heated. Astrid is keen when she restates that we cannot take photos of her face but we can feel free to take pictures of everything else. We respect her decision and she continues to joyfully teach us about her unique cheeses. With the surplus milk that they do not sell to the dairy communal, Astrid makes Swedish saltost (salt cheese), stekost (fried cheese), and ostkaka (Swedish cheese cake). In Sweden, if you own a dairy farm you are granted a milk quota. With this quota, you must sell at market price to a cooperative that buys the milk every other day. This allows for a stable source of income for many dairy farmers but it also demands that you meet that quota. Astrid must sell a certain amount to the cooperative based upon the amount of cows they have. With the excess milk, they make as much Swedish ostkaka, stekost, and saltost as possible. “We have very angry customers,” smiles Astrid, “angry because we often run out of cheese before 10 am!”
As Astrid gently works with the milk and cheese, she explains the history of the ostkaka recipe in her family. When Astrid was little, she would follow her mother into the cheese making room. Her mother made the cheeses often but only sold them during the Swedish holidays of Christmas, Easter, and Midsommar (Midsummer or St. John’s Day). Midsommar is celebrated to rejoice the summer solstice. Families and friends gather together on the friday and saturday that falls between June 19 to 26. With an abundant supply of Swedish traditional dance, music, food, and snaps they dance around a pole (midsommarstång) wearing traditional clothing and rejoice in the near 22 hours of sunlight to start their summer! After a harsh winter, I too would appreciate every second of warm sun.
Astrid and her husband inherited the farm from Astrid’s mom but the farm was not producing enough money to raise their 4 daughters. Astrid decided that since there was such a high demand for her mother’s cheese during the holidays, why not try to open a cheese stand (ostkiosk)! She began by working around the clock: making cheese at the crack of dawn, selling it before and after work, and doing shift labor during the day in the nearby town. Working two full time jobs, Astrid was missing out on the opportunity to be with her kids. She left her job in 2004 to focus full time on the cheese and to spend more time with her loved ones. To much success, Astrid now has “angry”, loyal customers!! Customers that are angry because there is not enough cheese but loyal through the honor system at the cheese stand. The Ostkiosk works by putting your money in an empty milking jug and writing your name on a piece of paper with information about what you bought! We are surprised but delighted to hear this. See you can have faith in humanity.
Astrid continues to teach us about the cheese as she rhythmically cuts the curd. Susann steps in to further explain and translate. It is really fun to see the dynamic mother-daughter relationship as they work together during today’s adventure. There is some blocks of cheese on the nearby table that is browned on the sides so we ask about it. Stekost, she says as she cuts us some to taste. Leila looks at me and says, “it’s Swedish Halloumi cheese, my favorite!” The soft cube of cheese is fried with salt on each side and can be used to melt on foods!
Astrid removes the whey from the curds and Leila ask her about any mistakes that have occurred. Two stories come to mind: Susann once left the cheese in the oven to burn when Astrid was on vacation and Astrid once used blueberry yogurt culture by accident. Laughter fills the cheese room.
After removing all the whey, Astrid places the ostkaka in the oven. She then goes to the fridge, takes out an ostkaka from yesterday, and cuts it in the shape of a heart! She slices some pieces, boils them with some milk, and tells us to follow Susann to the dining room.
We follow Susann to check out the honor system run ostkiosk. Our faith in humanity is restored! We head to the bed and breakfast and are given a tour. Eager to share the Swedish past with us, we dine in a 150-year old dining room. The room is normally not dined in but is used to display a glimpse of antiquity to their B&B guests. The room contains clothing, suitcases, paintings, a wood-fired oven with accessories, and a large wooden table from 1850. The royal blue wallpaper is from the original construction but has been shredded in a perfect line by a bird that was trapped in the room. The room is a picturesque display of nostalgia. We sit on a side table as we enjoy our ostkaka. We drizzle the ostkaka with homemade red currant syrup and drink refreshing homemade white flower lemonade!
Although Ostkaka translates to cheesecake it is more hardy-farmer cheese breakfast or lunch rather than a dessert. The plate originates from the central to northern parts of Sweden. Rather than the very high-fat American cheesecake that we are accustomed to, Ostkaka is a lot less sweet and fills us up quickly. Having anticipated an American style cheesecake we are pleasantly surprised as we save on calories, enjoy lunch with Astrid and Susann, and are sated with Ostkaka, Baked with Love.
Before we leave, Astrid and Susann explain to us that at most family gatherings, the time is spent in the kitchen. “It just doesn’t make sense to separate people that cook from those that sit at the table,” say Susann. That immediately resonates with Leila and I because it was something we had discussed numerous times. Home is where the hearth is, isn’t it? They have us follow them into their open kitchen and we take a mental note of the design. Right before we walk out their front door, Astrid opens up another door. Wahlah, a room with a huge wood fired oven and countertop to bake on. “Wow you guys sell bread too?” I exclaim. Astrid states, “we bake a lot in the winter time to warm up the house but right now we are so busy with cheese.” Although we could not convince Astrid for a picture, we leave with strong hugs, and a picture of the ostkaka with the possible heir to the cheese thrown, Susann! We stop at the ostkiosk for some fresh eggs, sign our names, and drive off with Astrid’s’ gift of fresh stekost that is certainly Made with Love in Sweden!