Like children at a fairground, the 120 goats wait in anticipation for their turn on the milking carousel in the old barn at Raftsjohojdens Gardsmejeri, the farm in the central Swedish county of Jamtland owned and run by Gert and Gunilla Andersson. The ride lasts three minutes, just enough time for each goat to be milked and eat a handful of cereal.
As one satisfied goat finishes and steps off, another enters the constantly moving 18 position carousel automatically positioning its head between the metal bars to reach the cereal while still keeping in place. Down below, in the middle of the carousel, Gunilla busily hooks and unhooks the milking apparatus until all the goats are milked.
It is the only such carousel in the Nordic countries and it allows all 120 goats to be milked in an hour, a process carried out twice a day every day except during the non-lactating period in December and January. The goats return to their bi-level section of the barn where they stay at night during the cold winter months. The two levels allow them plenty of room to move about and to climb, a favorite activity of goats. In the warmer months the goats return to pastureland in the forest after each milking.
From this playground-like milking area, the milk flows through pipes to another part of the barn, where the evening and morning milks are combined to make the traditional cellar-matured goat cheese. Here, in a hygienic environment, the transformation from milk to high-quality unpasteurized cheese begins. The cheese is pressed into a brick-shaped wooden mould, which is placed on a wooden plank in the old stone cellar, where natural conditions produce a a crust of natural mould, which can be black, grey or reddish grey.
Jamtland cellar-matured goat cheese is usually aged 6–7 months and is soft and slightly creamy with a compact texture and a few small, irregular holes. The cross-section surface is white to ebony-white in color. During a winter visit, it was too early to taste the cheese, but visitors to Cheese in Bra will have the opportunity to taste it and judge it for themselves.
At Raftsjohojdens Gardsmejeri, they offer three different cellar-matured cheeses: a lightly matured summer cheese aged 2 to 3 months, a more mature cheese aged 3 to 4 months and a fully matured cheese, rich in character, aged 6 months to 1 year. Gert poetically refers to the entire process from growing the fodder that feeds the goats that make the milk used to produce the cheese as ‘transforming sun rays into cheese’.
At one time goats were a common feature of the Jamtland landscape and what was simply called goat’s cheese was produced in summer pasture villages and on farms. There were some 35,000 goats in the counties of Jamtland and Vasternorrland alone in 1865, but by 2003 there were fewer than 5,500 goats in all of Sweden and 1,200 in Jamtland.
Gert and Gunilla are among only 10–12 producers of traditional cellar matured goat cheese in Jamtland, which, along with the province of Harjedalen, is the traditional area for this goat cheese. They did not set out to be goat farmers and cheesemakers, but represent a new generation of producers who have chosen to return to the land that their ancestors once worked and to respect their traditions.
As he grew up, Gert spent summers at the village of Raftsjohojden in the county of Jamtland, where his grandparents worked as farmers. He chose acting as a career and a way to express his artistic and creative side. As an actor he studied and worked in Paris and Stockholm. His grandparents died in the late 1970s, and in 1980 Gert returned to Raftsjohojdens for a short stay in order to learn the stories of the place that he could use to inspire his acting.
He was particularly interested in working with horses, which involves the same working skills — relaxing, feeling the link, focusing on what’s important and being completely in the here and now — as for acting. He stayed on at the holiday house through the winter – ‘a totally revolutionary thought’. After some years as a lumberman, he learned about working stories from Jamtland and how to tell just a few important things that say everything.
Gunilla joined Gert on the farm in 1984. Her degree in organic farming and her having studied biodynamic farming with pupils of Rudolf Steiner had an impact on the direction of the farm. Together Gunilla and Gert made contact with the elders of the area and learned about the goats, goat herding and cheesemaking.
By 1988, they had made the decision to stay and raise goats and make goat cheese. However, the farm was owned collectively by various family members, none of whom shared their interest in reviving it as a working farm as opposed to a holiday house. But Gert and Gunilla continued goat herding and cheesemaking, and in 2001 they were able to buy out the property entirely.
Their efforts concentrate on preserving tradition. On the outside the farm buildings look much as they have looked since 1750. Inside, only functional changes have been made: the carousel, the multi-level area for the goats, the hygienic, EU-standard cheesemaking area, the cheese shop, the office and computer room. The earthen aging cellars are lined with stones from the land: granite, calcar, and greystone.
During the warm months, the goats graze in a pasture forest on the periphery of the farm. Closer in, the land is used to grow the organic fodder that the goats eat in the colder months when pastureland is not available. Gert likes to keep older milking goats, around 8 to 12 years old, because ‘they know where to graze and teach the younger goats where to find the best grazing and water’.
The goat breed is the Svensk Lantras, also known as the Swedish rustic breed. It is indigenous to Sweden and, though similar to Norwegian breeds, is quite different from others in Europe. The Svensk Lantras is a relatively small goat, weighing an average 60 kilos. It is an endangered breed and the cheesemaking provides a means to help it, well suited to the cold climate, survive.
They have the curiosity typical of goats and, when visiting a herd, one comes face to face with the breed’s myriad of colors: white, spotted, grey, black and all combinations. They can be horned or hornless. The small circle of Jamtland herders and cheesemakers work together, sharing bucks for the best breeding and keeping meticulous track of where they come from to minimize inbreeding. As a result these goats are free of the diseases that often afflict goats.
While production-oriented cheesemakers and government regulations better suited for industrial cheesemaking threaten this breed and the cellar-matured goat cheese produced from its milk, farms such as Raftsjohojdens and organizations such as Eldrimner are committed to education, not only to keep alive traditions, but also to make them viable in a modern world.
Gert and Gunilla host visitors to the farm during the summer months, offering a glimpse of a historic working farm and offering dinners from the meat and potatoes grown on the property. Soon they hope to grow all the organic produce on the farm. Eldrimner is the Swedish national center for small-scale, artisan food processing.
Located in Jamtland, it supports small enterprises through advisory services, seminars, study trips and development work. Together, producers such as Gert and Gunilla and the Eldrimner organization are working to make the Cellar Matured Goat Cheese a Slow Food Presidia project.
Oh yes, and Gert is still an actor, performing locally and writes poetry.
Taken from the latest number (28) of the Slowfood magazine
Linda Kay, USA, is a Slow Food collaborator
Adapted by Davide Panzieri