Life On The Wire: Wrångebäck
From the country that brought us Spotify, Candy Crush, and some band called ABBA comes Wrångebäck.
We were lucky to attend a tasting hosted by Thomas Berglund, president of Almnäs Bruk, the company that has been making Wrångebäck since the 1830’s, with a brief break from 1961-2008. There we feasted on two different ages of Wrångebäck along with pickled herring and a fabulous Wrångebäck tart, and we had one of the best conversations about cheese and dairying we’ve had all year.
Wrångebäck means "wrong creek" which refers to a creek that is on the Almnäs estate which flows in the “wrong direction” because the shore line is so steep that water flows away from Lake Vättern from spring on the lake shore. The Almnäs estate can be traced as far back as August 14th, 1225 when the estates boundaries were drawn up, and it belonged to the Alvastra monastery until the 1520’s when it was transferred to the crown during the Lutheran reformation. In the 1530’s it was given to a noblewoman who owned several nearby homesteads which brought the estate to its current 8,848 acres which is two-thirds forest.
Almnäs is a working farm; they have about 800 cows, mostly Holstein and Norwegian Fjordfe, that are born and live their entire lives on the estate and at the end of their lives they are sold to some of the top restaurants in Sweden. It's all in line with the Almnäs philosophy; respect the land, respect the animals, respect the consumer. Why raise beef cattle which do nothing but stand around and eat when you can had a herd of working cows that live six to nine years and give you milk to make cheese (and butter and cream and ice cream)? At the end you can then sell to a restaurant that will use her nose to tail. That's the ideal, as Thomas explained to me over a glass of schnapps, because the quality of the meat on the retired dairy cow, and the cost of it, the whole animal gets used because its an investment. If you want to learn more I highly suggest reading Reinventing the Wheel by the Percivals where it talks about the dairy and beef industry and their impacts.
Almnäs has been making cheese since 1830’s; two Christmases ago a cousin found a photo from 1891 that shows the original estate store where wheels of Wrångebäck were on display. Wrångebäck was served at the 500th anniversary celebration of Sweden’s parliament, it was a farewell dinner for a (ill-fated) Swedish polar expedition and a dinner hosted by Sweden’s Crown Princess.
Cheesemaking took a 47 year sabbatical but in 2008 the Burglunds wanted to bring cheesemaking back so they enlisted the help of a former dairyman and assistant cheesemaker who retaught them how Wrångebäck was made. In a quest to stay true to the original they even found the old wooden boards Wrångebäck was aged on in storage and pressed them into use again; allowing the bacterial cultures from the original cheeses to influence the new wheel, creating a 150 year bacterial culture chain.
Don’t freak, its the same idea, if different methodology, that is used in Parmigiano-Reggiano production; in that cheese’s case a litre of milk from today’s production is saved and added to the next days production in a continuous chain stretching back to the dairy’s first wheel. Just like with Wrångebäck.
In Swedish literature Wrångebäck is described as the archetype of the great Swedish Manor cheese (aka table cheese or traditional cheese, much like cheddar to Americans, Comte to the French, and Parmigiano-Reggiano to the Italians) and combines elements of cooked alpine cheese with the high-acid of lowland cheeses.
With a smooth texture that is dotted with tyrosine crystals (that salty-ish crunch you find in older cheeses) and golden hue that reminds us of spring sun. The flavors are long and complicated with a lactic bite in front, like cultured yogurt or crème frais, that eases into notes of cooked cream, butter, hay or grass with a hint of the wood boards they age on and a touch of reduced bacon fat.
We find ourselves reaching for our hunk of Wrångebäck when we’re looking for a melting flavorful cheese; into eggs or quiches, cheeseburgers or grilled cheese, or even when we’re making chicken parm.
Be sure to stop in and try some of this great cheese, and if you ask nicely we’ll teach you a Swedish drinking song.
The Fine Print:
Wrångebäck - $34.99/ lb