Making Cheese at the Finnish Farmhouse

Kristina Vanni is an award-winning cook, food writer, and television host.  She currently writes for the Better Homes and Gardens website and recently became the new owner of Cooking Contest Central, the premier website dedicated to cooking and recipe contests. You can also find Kristina on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Kristina's relative's farmhouse

It’s not often that a recipe starts, “First, wait for a cow to have her calf…”  Yet that is where the story of this recipe begins.  This summer I traveled to a remote part of western Finland to visit relatives from my father’s side of the family.  In fact, I visited for the very first time, the dairy farm that has been owned and operated by my family for almost 200 years.  (It is also, I am proud to say, currently in the process of becoming certified organic.  By 2014 it will be official!)

One of my favorite Finnish specialties is “leipajuusto” or bread cheese.  Many Americans refer to it as “squeaky cheese” for the distinctive sound it makes against your teeth.   This firm, baked cheese is enjoyed throughout the day in Finland.  It can be dipped in morning coffee, cubed and tossed in a salad for dinner, or drizzled with cream and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar for dessert.  What makes this cheese special, is that it is traditionally made with cow’s beestings or colostrum, the rich milk from a cow who has recently calved.

Making Finnish Rye Bread

On this day, I was busy learning how to make traditional Finnish rye bread while my cousins were keeping close tabs on a cow who was just about ready to provide us with this important ingredient.  Meanwhile, a hot fire was built in the fireplace to make this delectable cheese.

The Fireplace

Now, I don’t speak much Finnish and only one of my cousins spoke English to serve as my culinary translator in this process.  I just tried to watch and learn as much as I could along the way.   After the miracle of life gave us the all important milk, it was curdled and cooked down to a round-shaped disk in the bottom of the pan.  Then out came what looked like a medieval torture device!

The Leipajuusto Roasting Tool

It is a circular piece of wood with a long handle and sharp spikes of nails sticking out from the disk.  At this point I had no idea what would happen next…

Preparing to cook the Leipajuusto

In typical Scandinavian fashion, this device was the perfect intersection of innovation and efficiency.  The wooden platform was placed face down into the cheese disk, and the nails held the cheese in place.

Cooking the Leipajuusto

The cheese is then baked in the glow of the fire, until both sides are brown and bubbly.  It was a mild day in August, but we were sweating inside the house with this roaring fire!

The Finished Finnish Cheese!

We all couldn’t wait to dive in!  The table was set and warm coffee was brewing for our afternoon meal.

The most traditional way to serve leipajuusto in this region of Finland is with fresh cloudberries.  These bright orange Arctic berries are rich in vitamin C and have a distinctive tart taste. I was there in August, just at the very beginning of cloudberry season, so we were lucky to have found some at the farmer’s market that morning.   In Finland the terms “local,” “seasonal,” and “organic” aren’t just buzzwords, they are a way of life.

Finnish Leipajuusto

If you don’t happen to be in possession of a cow ready to calf, or live near a cloudberry bog don’t worry!  I have a few tips for enjoying this dish in the US.  Leipajuusto can be purchased at certain specialty cheese shops (especially in the Minnesota, Wisconsin, Upper Michigan regions) or ordered online. I have never found fresh cloudberries here in America, but lucky for us IKEA carries cloudberry jam!

It meant so much to me to be at the very farm where my great-grandmother Josefiina was born, learning to make the traditional dishes from my Finnish heritage.  Even though my Finnish is poor, it was amazing how much the common language of food and a warm smile can form a bond.  I can’t wait to return to the farm soon and learn more classic recipes!

Leipajuusto with Cloudberries

Finnish Leipajuusto with Cloudberries
  • 8 ounces Leipajuusto
  • ¼ cup cloudberry jam
  1. Slice cheese into 2 ounce servings. Top each with 1 tablespoon of cloudberry jam. Serves 4. Enjoy with a strong cup of coffee and great company.
  2. Hyvaa Ruokahalua! (Bon Appetit!)

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8 Responses to Making Cheese at the Finnish Farmhouse

  1. Eila July 23, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    An average cow produces 8 gallons of milk / day. A little calf is not able to drink that much and if cow isn’t milked it will be very uncomfortable…just like breastfeeding mother.

  2. Eila July 23, 2014 at 7:57 am #

    My grandparents had a farm and gramma used to make this cheese every time cow had a calf- yes, the calf got plenty of that milk as well- they used ONLY what they needed and the cow produced plenty extra, more than the calf could drink. And these days most of the “squeeky” sold is made with regular milk, not fresh first milk.

  3. Josie February 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    I would love to make the Finnish rye bread you are making….

  4. Elle October 31, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    I’ll start by saying I’m not a vegetarian/vegan – I’m an omnivore and I don’t shy away from eating & otherwise using animals and animal products.
    Reading this post I got an awful tie in my tummy.
    I am a mother and I breastfed my children. I also used to work as a lactation consultant and was a LLL leader.

    Colostrum, the golden first milk in the first couple of days after birth, is a magical concoction. It contains immune factors such as secretory IgAs providing important immunity in the vulnerable days after birth.

    I think the dairy industry (organic too) is crueler than the meat industry (I don’t live in the US and we don’t have your massive industrial “feeding lots”). I visited a couple dairy farms seeing how the cow and the calf are separated with the baby calf being put in an iron cage so the mom-cow can see, smell and hear her baby cry out but can’t touch or breastfeed her baby so she’ll make milk for us humans, while the calf gets processed artificial baby formula.

    Every such visit made me cry. The last one was a few years back and I still remember every detail.

    I went off dairy completely for 2 years and felt morally better but not physically and eventually I went back to eating dairy so it’s still bothers me a lot.

    I think we are omnivores and meant to eat other animals but we pride ourselves for being better or superior to animals because we have morals. Where is the human moral superiority in the dairy industry?

    • Jouni November 3, 2012 at 2:45 am #

      Hi Elle,

      I do understand Your point. In food production we are always hitting the borderlines of ethics and moral.
      First of all, baby calves will get the colostrum, it is very important factor for calves. Especially in organic milk production cow must be with the baby calf minimum 2 days and calves need to get whole milk up to 2 months. This is the rule in organic milk production in Finland.
      I have been working as a dairy barn designer now more than 20 years and the biggest motivation to that, is my love and commitment to always do what is the best for cows, their welfare. I´m so delighted to see that development in this industry always starts from cow comfort, at least areas where I do my most work (Finland and Sweden) Goal in milk production is to get cows to “last”, we must ensure them a good life, so that they don´t suffer from bad environment, bad food and bad care. So economical sucsess and welfare are hand in hand. I would dare to say that milk production is maybe the most “ethical” animal based food industry because of that.
      One point is also cow´s great ability to change grass to milk. In areas for example in Finland, it is much more effective to have grass in the fields than grains and get that as milk, which is very good product for humans as we know.
      As said in the beginning, of course it is in a way cruel to take baby calf away but this is way it goes. In the same way as farmers sometimes need to make a decision about sending cow to a slaughtery. Between birth and death of cows we need to take care them as well as possible, I see a human moral in it.
      In Finland it is said that sometimes our cows get better conditions and welfare (and higher rules) as old people in the hospitals.
      Discussion about food production ethic is important and industry must follow that very carefully and do it´s best. But consumers must always remember that when they buy food products from grocery stores, good product pays always more. Consumers make decisions how they want food products to be produced.
      Yes, it is my mother making the leipajuusto in that article 😉

  5. Jeanne @JollyTomato October 31, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    Love this story, Kristina! I really felt like I was right there with you at the farmhouse. It must have been incredible to be right there in the heart of where all of this family history took place. Thanks for sharing the experience!

  6. Kristina Vanni October 29, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    Thanks so much to Andrew for asking me to post during October Unprocessed!

    I have to brag a little bit right now… My cousin, the farmer on this very farm in Finland, just won a prestigious award for growing the best grass in all of Finland for his cows to graze and enjoy! We are all proud and the cows are certainly very happy too!

    If you can read Finnish the story is here 🙂,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=81&cntnt01origid=48&cntnt01returnid=48mething


  1. Making Cheese at the Finnish Farmhouse | Rakkaudesta ruokaan. The love of food. | - October 30, 2012

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