What is Havarti Cheese?
Born in Denmark and perfected in Wisconsin, Havarti cheese is smooth, buttery, and deserving of a place on your cheese platter.
Anyone who has hosted a cheese tasting—or just put out a variety for guests to enjoy with other snacks—knows that you can’t please everyone. The Cheddar is too sharp, the Brie looks moldy, the blue is, well…too blue. But there’s one cheese that virtually everyone likes. It’s mild enough that the kids will go wild for it, yet interesting enough to satisfy any cheese lover. It also adds a little geographic variety to your cheese tray, as it’s likely to be the only representative of Denmark. Welcome to Havarti!
What Kind of Cheese Is Havarti?
Havarti is a semi-soft cow’s-milk cheese created in the mid-1800s by Hanne Nielsen, a Danish woman who traveled around Europe to learn cheesemaking techniques. Upon returning to her farm in Denmark, she experimented with washing her curds in fresh spring water before pressing them into cheese molds and draining them. This resulted in a soft, creamy new cheese that she named after her farm, Havarthigaard, located just north of Copenhagen in Øverød.
Within a few years, Nielsen was sending her butter and cheese to the Danish king and queen; the rest she would sell in her shop in Copenhagen. There are two types of Havarti: the original (made with whole pasteurized cow’s milk), and flødehavarti (“cream Havarti”), which has cream added to bring the butterfat up to what the French would call a “double crème” (think Brie).
Danish cheesemakers brought the style to Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland,” where a number of creameries craft award-winning versions. In fact, it is notable that, in the 2015 United States Championship Cheese Contest, the top 5 Havarti entries were made by cheesemakers from Green County, Wisconsin. Here in America, the original Havarti is far more popular and easier to find than the cream version.
What Does Havarti Cheese Taste Like?
Havarti is smooth, with no rind, and creamy to pale yellow in color, with very small and irregular “eyes”. It has a buttery aroma, and the stronger varieties can be sharper and nuttier, on the order of Swiss cheese. The taste of Havarti cheese is buttery and mild, yet slightly acidic, inhabiting sort of a middle ground between Muenster cheese, Monterey Jack, and Butterkäse (“butter cheese”).
Because Havarti’s smooth flavor, like that of Monterey Jack, is sort of a blank canvas inviting experimentation, it is often found flavored with dill and other herbs, horseradish, hot peppers, or caraway seeds.
Does Havarti Melt Well?
Havarti cheese melts exceptionally well. Havarti has a high moisture content and a creamy, buttery texture, which makes it ideal for melting. When heated, Havarti cheese becomes soft and gooey, with a smooth consistency. It melts evenly, making it perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, pizzas, casseroles, and other dishes that require melted cheese. Whether you’re using sliced Havarti or grated Havarti, you can expect it to melt beautifully and add a rich and creamy texture to your recipes.
Havarti Cheese Recipes
Just as it accommodates spices and other flavors, Havarti’s creamy-smooth, tangy flavor complements a wide variety of foods, and can be a versatile ingredient in various recipes and uses. You can shred it on a pizza instead of—or in addition to—mozzarella. It melts beautifully over burgers and in casseroles, and is fabulous in a Havarti grilled cheese. Its buttery richness is even perfect with fruits and in desserts. There’s simply no shortage of Havarti cheese recipes. Here are some of our favorite recipes for how to eat Havarti:
- Havarti Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Upgrade your classic grilled cheese sandwich by using slices of Havarti cheese along with your favorite bread and optional additions like tomatoes, bacon, or avocado.
- Havarti and Apple Quesadillas: Spread grated or sliced Havarti cheese over tortillas, and add thinly sliced apples and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Cook in a skillet until the cheese is melted and the tortillas are crispy.
- Havarti and Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breasts: Make a pocket in chicken breasts and stuff them with a mixture of chopped spinach, diced Havarti cheese, and herbs. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Havarti and Ham Croissants: Split croissants and layer them with thin slices of Havarti cheese and ham. Toast them in the oven until the cheese is melted and the croissants are golden brown.
- Havarti and Bacon Quiche: Prepare a savory quiche with a Havarti cheese and bacon filling. Whisk together eggs, milk, cooked bacon, grated Havarti cheese, and seasonings. Pour the mixture into a pie crust and bake until set.
- Havarti and Vegetable Frittata: Make a delicious frittata by whisking together eggs, milk, chopped vegetables (such as bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions), and grated Havarti cheese. Cook in a skillet until the eggs are set.
- Havarti and Tomato Tart: Create a flavorful tart by layering sliced tomatoes and Havarti cheese over a pre-baked pastry crust. Bake until the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are slightly roasted.
- Havarti and Mushroom Pizza: Top your favorite pizza dough with sautéed mushrooms, grated Havarti cheese, and herbs. Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is crispy.
- Havarti and Dill Potatoes: Toss boiled or roasted potatoes with melted butter, fresh dill, and grated Havarti cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and the potatoes are golden brown.
- Havarti and Pear Salad: Combine mixed greens, sliced pears, candied pecans, and cubes of Havarti cheese in a salad bowl. Drizzle with a honey mustard vinaigrette for a delicious combination of flavors.
These are just a few examples of popular recipes that incorporate Havarti cheese. Feel free to get creative and experiment with different ingredients to suit your taste preferences.
What is Aged Havarti Cheese?
Aged Havarti cheese, also known as “Havarti Extra” or “Old Havarti,” is a variation of traditional Havarti cheese that has undergone an extended aging process. While regular Havarti is typically aged for around 3 to 6 months, aged Havarti is aged for a longer period, usually ranging from 9 months to over a year.
During the extended aging process, aged Havarti develops a firmer texture and a more pronounced flavor. The aging allows the cheese to mature, resulting in a richer, nuttier taste with hints of caramelization. The cheese also becomes slightly crumbly and may develop small crunchy crystals, known as tyrosine crystals, which are a natural occurrence in aged cheeses.
Aged Havarti often has a darker, golden-yellow color compared to its younger counterpart. The longer aging period also intensifies the complexity of the cheese’s aroma, making it more aromatic and robust.
Due to its distinct flavor and texture, aged Havarti is often enjoyed on its own or paired with other savory ingredients. Aged Havarti adds a delightful depth of flavor to recipes and can be appreciated by cheese enthusiasts who prefer stronger, more developed cheese profiles.
Wine and Other Pairings
Havarti is the perfect addition to a wine and cheese party. Slice it and serve it on a platter with apples, dried fruits, grapes and pears. Whole-grain or whole-wheat breads or crackers are perfect, as are butter crackers and water crackers. If you’re serving it with other cheeses, be sure to mix it up with an aged Cheddar, a goat or mixed-milk cheese, and some other contrasting flavors. Adding Butterkäse or Muenster to the mix would be bland and repetitive.
Wine: Havarti loves a good red wine like Beaujolais, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and merlot, and can stand up to the high alcohol of a red zinfandel. White wine lovers will enjoy it equally well with a sauvignon blanc, a riesling, or a buttery chardonnay to complement its buttery flavor.
Beer: Havarti cheese is perfect with the entire spectrum of beers, from a lighter pilsner or weiss to a saison or sour ale to a hefty stout.
Next time you’re serving friends cheese with your favorite beverages, invite this gregarious Dane who loves to make friends. Serve a fine award-winning Wisconsin Havarti.
Where Can You Shop for Havarti Cheese?
Havarti cheese is widely available and can be purchased at various places. Remember to check the refrigerated section or the cheese counter of find food and grocery establishments to find it. Different brands and variations of Havarti may be available, such as plain, dill, or herb-infused Havarti. Here are some common places where you can find Havarti cheese:
- Local grocery stores: Most well-stocked grocery stores, including chains like Walmart, Kroger, Safeway, and Whole Foods, carry Havarti cheese. Look for it in the cheese section, either pre-packaged or from the deli counter.
- Specialty cheese shops: Specialty cheese shops or gourmet food stores often have a wider selection of cheeses, including different varieties of Havarti. These shops may offer higher-quality or artisanal versions of Havarti cheese.
- Farmers markets: Local farmers markets are a great place to find specialty cheeses, including Havarti. Many small-scale cheese producers and dairy farms sell their products directly at farmers markets.
- Cheese-making facilities: Some cheese producers have their own retail stores or tasting rooms where you can purchase their cheeses directly. If you know of any local cheese-making facilities or creameries in your area, they may sell Havarti cheese on-site.
- Online retailers: Numerous online retailers specialize in selling cheese and gourmet food products, and offer a wide range of cheeses, including Havarti, that can be conveniently ordered online and delivered to your doorstep.