Residents of the Norwegian valley known as Gudbrandsdalen have claimed a small victory, after dairy cooperative Tine temporarily suspended its decision to move production of its Gudbrandsdal cheese out of the region from which it draws its name. The battle over the sweet brown cheese, however, isn’t over yet.
The future of the traditional production of Norway’s beloved brown cheese has been unclear since Tine announced earlier this year that it would be financially advantageous to shut down its factories in the municipalities of Lom and Skjåk in Gudbrandsdalen.
The announcement sparked a wave of protests among local residents, spearheaded by celebrity chef Arne Brimi, a native of Lom. They argued that moving production of the brown cheese out of the area in which it originated would damage its essential character and identity. Tine has since said it would put the closure on hold until further notice.
The fudge-like brown cheese has been a staple in Norway since its inception in 1863. Made from a mixture of goats’ and cows’ milk, the cheese gets its distinctive color when lactose caramelizes during production, in what is called the Maillard reaction. The average Norwegian eats close to two and a half kilos of Gudbrandsdal cheese each year.
The cheese is currently manufactured in five factories across the country. The facilities in Lom and Skjåk are the only dairies that still employ the traditional method of preparing the cheese by slowly boiling it in large pots, and have been assessed as the least efficient. In an effort to cut costs, the dairy cooperative has suggested that these factories be closed down, and production in nearby Ørsta downscaled. This would mean that the production of Gudbrandsdal cheese would be removed from the valley region in central Norway in which it has its origins.
Locals of Lom and Skjåk rallied in protest against the proposed move, launching a petition and establishing a Facebook page that has attracted nearly 50,000 fans. As the official spokesperson for the movement, Arne Brimi has made several media appearances, arguing that the cheese is an important part of Norway’s cultural heritage. “If you move production out of the region, you lose the flavor of Gudbrandsdalen, and all you are left with is cheese,” he told local newspaper Gudbrandsdølen Dagningen.
The European Union has long maintained legislation preserving geographically distinct products such as Cognac, Roquefort, Parmigianno-Reggiano and Parma ham. Similar legislation on Norwegian traditional foods was recently passed, offering protection to a list of 17 regional products. Despite the battle over brown cheese, there has been no application to add Gudbrandsdal cheese to this list.
Tine announced last month that the project would be put on hold until 2011, citing time constraints and other projects. Stein Øiom, a Tine vice president, denied the delay was related to the protests, while an official statement from Tine claimed the company merely wanted “to be thorough in such structural matters,” allowing “sufficient time … to ensure a strong foundation for decision-making.”
The reprieve for protesters is short, as discussions on the matter are scheduled to resume early next year.