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What is Jarlsberg?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Jarlsberg is a Norwegian cheese which is extraordinarily popular in the United States and in many other parts of the world. The cheese is related to Emmentaler and other “Swiss” cheeses, with characteristic large holes and a creamy, nutty flavor. Jarlsberg tends to lend itself more readily to melting, and is found on sandwiches, in fondues or quiches, and anywhere else where a semi-firm, flavorful cheese might be needed. Jarlsberg happens to be one of Norway's biggest exports, and is considered by some to be a financial success story for the Scandinavian country.

The story of Jarlsberg is the tale of the cheese that almost wasn't. In the 1830s, Swiss cheese makers came to Norway to show Norwegian dairies how to make their classically nutty, sweet, holed cheeses. The Swiss style cheese became very popular, and was produced in large volume for several years before disappearing from the market altogether. In the 1950s, scientists at the Agricultural University of Norway became curious about the cheese and attempted to recreate it, releasing Jarlsberg in 1956 and exporting the cheese in 1961. The cheese is named for the county in Norway where it was originally made in the 1830s.

Jarlsberg is often marketed as a Swiss style cheese, because it has many of the same characteristics. Jarlsberg, however, is somewhat nuttier in flavor, and tends to be stronger than Emmentaler, as well as sweeter. The cheese is semi-firm and very smooth, without a granular texture, and is delicious eaten plain, on hot dishes, or in the grilled cheese sandwich. In addition, the large holes make it immensely fun to consume.

Jarlsberg is a unique cheese, in that it was developed scientifically in a laboratory and the cheese is still made in a carefully controlled lab environment from a pooled milk supply that originates from all over Norway. It is made from pasteurized milk which is introduced to rennet and special cultures before being cut into curds and whey. The curds are pressed into cheese forms, salted, and allowed to age from one to 15 months.

Young Jarlsberg reaches the market at two to three months of age, and is delicious with a slight zesty flavor. Older aged cheese is sold as Jarlsberg reserve, and has a stronger and more complex flavor. Both types are readily available with or without rinds in many parts of the world, as Jarlsberg has become a ubiquitous supermarket offering.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon297868 — On Oct 17, 2012

Dr. Oz had "Jaslberg Cheese" on his show and the man that was talking about the cheese said that the way that this cheese is fermented it can actually help with lung problems? Is this true? "Does anyone know, or heard the same thing that I did?

By picturethis — On Mar 26, 2012

Check at Sam's Club. They have so many kinds of cheese for you to try. Once every other month I try a difference cheese. But nothing has the smoothness of my Jarlsberg.

By anon252581 — On Mar 06, 2012

Walmart carries it in my area, both regular and Lite.

By alex94 — On May 02, 2011

@sleepwalker- I have not been able to find Jarlsberg cheese either. I found a website that gives some great suggestions for cheese substitutions. For fondue, they recommend using goat, gruyere, and Swiss cheese together if you don't have Jarlsberg.

You use ¼ cup of each of all 3 of those cheeses and then ¼ cup of white wine. It is really great if you add ½ tsp. of nutmeg to it. It makes great fondue!

By risotto — On May 02, 2011

This is so cool -- I never knew that Jarlsberg had such an interesting history, though I've loved it ever since I first tasted it.

To tell the truth, Jarlsberg cheese is my long-time treat to myself. There's just something about the zestiness combined with the saltiness of a young Jarlsberg that really gets me going.

Whenever I'm in need of a little pampering, I always slice up a little Jarlsberg with some nice water crackers and eat them along with a glass of wine. Perfect cure for any bad day.

By KLHChef — On May 02, 2011

@SleepWalker - Gruyere is a good substitute and an excellent cheese for fondue. Mix it with a good sharp cheddar or smoked gouda for an extra delicious touch.

By SleepWalker — On May 02, 2011

I am making a fondue and my supermarket doesn't have Jarlsberg or Emmentaler. They have Swiss but I would like to use something more sophisticated than just plain Swiss cheese. Any suggestions?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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