Havarti Cheese: The Danish Delight
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 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 geek. 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 Is Havarti Cheese?
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, 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 is buttery and 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.
Havarti Cheese Recipes
Just as it accommodates spices and other flavors, Havarti’s creamy-smooth, tangy flavor complements a wide variety of foods. 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.
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.
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.
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.