Baked cheese is a type of cheese which is oven-baked during the cheesemaking process to create a distinctive golden brown crust. The technique for making baked cheese originated in Scandinavia, where baked cheese is very popular in some regions. A growing push for artisan or unusual cheeses in other parts of the world raised consumer awareness and demand for baked cheese in the 1990s. The cheese is easier to find in some parts of the world than others, but it can be readily ordered from an assortment of suppliers for people who live in areas where baked cheese is not readily accessible.
To make baked cheese, the cheesemaker heats milk with rennet and bacterial cultures, forming cheese curds which are pressed into molds. The cheese is allowed to mature and harden before being baked at a high temperature. During baking, the natural sugars in the cheese are pulled to the surface, where they caramelize and form a crackly brown crust with an intense sweetness which pairs well with the buttery, rich interior of the cheese. Baked cheese has a long shelf life, and can be frozen for up to one year before use.
In Finland, baked cheese is called juustoleipa, which means “bread cheese,” a reference to the loaf-like appearance of the finished product. It is also found labeled as simply juusto, with many American producers marketing baked cheese as juusto. In Sweden, the cheese is called ostbröd.
Served cold, baked cheese goes very well with sweet jams and other sweetish cheeses. It can also be served warm with sweeteners or on a cheese platter, and will not melt when heated, although it does soften. The Finnish like to dip baked cheese in their coffee, and the cheese is also served with omelets and other breakfast foods. It also makes a very suitable standalone snack.
The cheese has almost 200 years of history and a small but devoted fan base. In some Scandinavian countries, baked cheese has traditionally been made with reindeer milk, since cows do not thrive in extreme conditions. Many companies have since transitioned to cow's milk for making baked cheese, although a few traditional producers still use reindeer milk. Cow's milk lends a more buttery, creamy flavor to baked cheese which can make it feel more decadent to eat.