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 The cheese is named for the county in Norway where it was originally made in the 1830s.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.