For spectators and the organisers of events like the World Cheese Awards, there is always a hope that the winners might be in the crowd – but with entries coming in from the far reaches of the world, it’s not worth betting on. The Gangstad Gårdsysteri team was, however, attending the awards at the Spektrum indoor arena in Trondheim this year – as the owners, second generation cheesemakers and fourth generation farmers Maren and Ole Gangstad told FFD.
Their farm is a mere two-hour drive away and it seemed like a good opportunity for them to witness the event. “It was a work trip to get some experience, talk to other dairies and cheese producers in Norway and just to experience it. And did we!” said Maren.
Although their winning cheese, Nidelven Blå, was awarded a Super Gold and named Best Norwegian Cheese in 2019, and Norwegian cheeses had already taken the top title twice in recent years – Tingvollost’s Kraftkar in 2016, and Ostegården’s Fanaost in 2018 – they never would have guessed theirs would claim the winning spot this year.
“We haven’t really had the time to let it sink in,” Maren said, as sales for all of their cheeses have gone through the roof. “We’re all just still looking at each other and smiling and shaking our heads over what’s going on.”
Luckily, they had already been in the process of growing their output capacity before this victory. They recently built a new cowshed which will allow them to almost double the number of milking cows they own from 40 to 70, and to make cheese solely with their own milk, as they currently buy a proportion from the Tine dairy consortium.
The new cowshed also improves on the welfare conditions for the cows, giving them more space and keeping calves with them, “but also for the welfare of the team,” said Maren. Having the World Champion Cheese is significant for the crew of 12, which Maren describes as tightly knit.
When the farm dairy was set up by Ole’s mother, Astrid Gangstad, 25 years ago, it was the first in Norway to seek authorisation to produce cheese from their own cows’ milk, and Astrid was instrumental in defining health and safety laws relating to cheesemaking in Norway. This has earned her some fame within the cheese community – helping to explain the rapturous response when Nidelven Blå was crowned the winner.
“Gunnar [Waagen, the maker of 2016 World Champion, Kraftkar] shed some tears for us. There is a big community that are happy for us, who understand that this is a good thing for all of us making cheese in Norway.
“We are colleagues, not competitors. We share experiences and we visit each other and if have trouble we talk to each other. It’s not like we keep secrets from each other – we work together.”
The couple hope their success will help improve Norwegian cheese’s status on the world stage, as well as serving to encourage Norwegians to eat more local cheese. “Norwegians import a lot of cheese,” said Ole.
“A lot of people still think that Italian, French, Swiss, have higher quality than Norwegian cheese – it’s kind of an old hang-up.”
Once the dust has settled, they might consider exporting their cheese, but for the time being, they’re prioritising existing customers. “We are getting a lot of exciting requests from Barcelona, Italy, from England, from all around the world. It’s something that we were considering already before this, but now, if we’re able to increase our production, we will look back into it.”