It just goes to show that being the biggest isn’t necessarily best as a small farmer from Norway is officially the best cheese producer in the world.
The 25th World Cheese Awards were held at Bergen in Norway and attracted entries from 40 countries. Category winners were judged down to 16 ‘super gold’ cheeses from which the judges selected the supreme award winner. Mr Hafslund has passionately produced his own cheese since 2006 and in 2018 produced 20 tonnes of cheese, mainly of his award winning Fanaost variety. Thanks to high demand for his cheese, this year Mr Hafslund is upping his production to 30 tonnes. To cater for this expansion he and his wife Ruth have already invested in new cheese boilers. The successful husband and wife partnership also produce a Camembert and Brie cheese to order.
Mr Hafslund’s small herd produces around 80,000 to 90,000kg of milk per year plus he buys in 120,000 litres from TINE, Norway’s largest producer, distributor and exporter of dairy products, to make his cheese. The average milk yield for his cows is a commendable 8,000kg per cow per year. And, the use of antibiotics in the herd is low, as it is in many of Norway’s dairy herds thanks to genetics.
“I rarely have to use antibiotics,” said Mr Hafslund. “In fact I’d rather milk a cow separately for a few weeks than treat with penicillin. “I think the combination of our system and the genetics contributes to our milk quality. We get 15 cheeses from 700 litres of milk, compared with 14 cheeses from the same volume of milk sold to our farmer co-operative TINE, and we only use our own milk for making camembert and brie.”
The cows run on 96 hectares of a combination of tenanted and rented land with heifers put to more extensive grazing land and are each fitted with GPS collars so they can be located easily. Not all of the grazing land is good quality but Mr Hafslund says the older meadows produce much more complex milk that adds distinctive flavour to his cheese. For Mr Hafslund and his wife, cheese-making started on the kitchen table 7 years ago. He admits that he was completely clueless about cheese production when they started up and the first 3 to 4 attempts were unsuccessful. “Ruth and I went on a course, and then travelled around Europe to gather knowledge about cheese production,” he added. Subsidies from Innovation Norway helped the enterprise take off, as it enabled him to hire a person in production so he could promote sales. They now have 6 full-time employees to run the herd and the cheese-making business. Mr Hafslund said: “Our cows are our key resource and everything else is built around them. I always do the morning round of the cows to keep up with what is happening in the barn. And it’s a good way to get up in the morning,” he said.
Mr Hafslund breeds his own pure Norwegian Red cows suitable for his system using semen from Geno, which is the breeding organisation of the Norwegian Red, the main dairy breed in Norway. Geno has developed a breeding programme that has always selected for yield and temperament but in the past decade it has put increasing emphasis on fertility, health and udder traits without compromising yield. As a result, sires from the Geno programme are well-known for their high fertility and health status, good temperament and milk yields. Mr Hafslund said: “My cows are very healthy animals that graze well and thrive in my system. The genetics progress made in these traits, and others, is very good, thanks to Geno.” Mr Hafslund says that he has been producing cheese for a long time, and he knows that high quality raw ingredients are crucial to its success, namely excellent milk quality. The cheese is sold through the Norwegian grocery store chain, Meny, but he has been approached by other national and international retailers.