Coffee and Cheese for Breakfast

I am far from the first American to discover the joys of dipping warmed Finnish cheese into my coffee, but that doesn't put a damper on the current affair that I'm having with Brun-Uusto.

I first spotted the stuff at Spec's as I was picking up a few pieces of cheese for the week. It looked like saganaki -- the famous Greek "flaming cheese" -- but in a little plastic package, a fat square of mild cheese toasted and nearly burned in areas. Its toasted appearance isn't why the cheese went into my basket, however.

These words on the package sealed the deal: "The mild buttery flavor is a great complement served warm with jam, maple syrup or dipped in your favorite coffee." Cheese with jam or other sweet things is not a big deal. But cheese to dip in my coffee? This I had to try.

The next morning, following the instructions to heat it in a skillet and serve it warm, I incorporated the cheese into my regular breakfast routine (seen above in all its daily, recurring glory).

It barely melted in the skillet, staying nicely intact on its crusty sides. I was a little surprised to see how greasy it got, however, and quickly decided that dipping it into coffee with my fingers, like with biscotti, would be a little tricky. I cut a piece off instead and dipped it into my black coffee with a fork.

The coffee immediately took on an oily sheen from the cheese, but I found out later that it only adds a faint buttery note to the taste. Not such a bad thing. As for the cheese, it just tasted like a piece of buttered toast that happened to be, well, melty. It was a striking contrast in textures and flavors. I liked it. A lot.

I've been eating little slices each morning for breakfast -- and, honestly, a little bit goes a long way. It's a very fatty cheese, made from the exceptionally rich milk from a cow that has recently given birth. Apparently, the traditional milk for these cheeses -- called Leipäjuusto in its native Finnish -- was reindeer milk, which has six times the fat of cow's milk. I can only imagine what traditional Leipäjuusto tastes like...

Regardless, I find it interesting that this traditionally Finnish cheese -- which does, in fact, taste very good with coffee -- is not at all meant to be eaten in this way. As it turns out, the coffee aspect is a Swedish bastardization, and one that Finns aren't particularly pleased about.

And this just makes me want to try Leipäjuusto in a more traditional fashion by going to IKEA to buy some lingonberries from -- who else? -- the Swedes.

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Katharine Shilcutt