This unique Scandinavian original is a new American comfort food, and may be the hottest thing from Finland since the sauna.
Companies have been coming up with some pretty funny combinations to please the legions of people who are going gluten-free or cutting carbohydrates out of their diet. (No doubt you’ve seen the sandwiches that use chicken fillets or burger patties instead of bread.) But can you imagine grilled cheese without bread? They can in Finland, and they’ve been doing it for more than 200 years. Introducing juustoleipä.
Pronounced hoo-stah-lee-pah, the name literally means “cheese bread” in Finnish, where it is also known as leipäjuusto (“bread cheese”). Neither choice is very friendly for the average tongue in America, where it is simply known as “bread cheese.” In its birthplace in northern Finland, juustoleipä is traditionally made with goat or reindeer milk, or the very rich milk (“beestings”) from a cow that has just calved. Today this increasingly popular comfort food is made from pasteurized cow’s milk by several cheesemakers in Wisconsin.
Fresh juustoleipä curds are similar in texture to feta cheese before they are pressed into blocks—each roughly the size and shape of a slice of bread—and baked. A lovely toasted crust is formed when the sugars on the outside of the cheese begin to caramelize, with the resulting cheese looking much like a slice of French toast. In fact, Finns eat the cheese warm for breakfast dunked in coffee or served with maple syrup or honey…much as one would eat French toast. It is even offered as dessert with a topping of jam.
You can serve juustoleipä cold—sliced or in chunks—in which case it will have that distinctive “squeak” when you bite into it, much as do fresh cheese curds. But the best way is to heat it up in a pan or sear it on a grill for a warm, creamy treat. Just be aware that the cheese won’t actually melt, but will instead soften into a pleasantly buttery and creamy slice of goodness.
Juustoleipä is often compared to a grilled cheese sandwich without the bread, so consider using the same toppings you prefer on your grilled cheese. It’s a gluten-free alternative that satisfies a comfort food craving.
Here in America, “bread cheese” comes in a few flavors, including jalapeño, which makes a tasty appetizer or tailgate snack.
If you’d like to try “Juusto” in a recipe, here are two preparations developed by food blogger Hip Foodie Mom for wisconsincheesetalk.com: Grilled Summer Vegetables and Juustoleipä and Pan-Fried Juustoleipä with Fresh Greens.
Hyvää ruokahalua! That’s Finnish for bon appétit…now check out WisconsinCheeseman.com for a selection of bread cheese!