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Cheese of the Month - December 2017

Sliced, flavored or plain, Havarti is a versatile favorite

Editor’s Note: “Cheese of the Month” is Cheese Market News’ exclusive profile series exploring various cheese types. Each month, CMN highlights a different cheese in this feature, giving our readers a comprehensive look at production, marketing, sales and in-depth aspects of each profiled cheese type. Please read on to learn about this month’s featured variety: Havarti.

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — Havarti is a traditional Danish cheese that was adopted by U.S. cheesemakers and has become popular in both plain and flavored varieties.

According to Arla Foods, which offers both Danish- and Wisconsin-made Havarti under its Castello and Arla brands, the cheese originally was inspired by the Prussian Tilsiter cheese and brought to Denmark by cheese pioneer Hanne Nielsen. The cheese is named after her farm Havartigaarden.

“Havarti is a creamy, mild cheese which is a pale yellow in color. It has many small rice-sized holes. Havarti is a truly Danish cheese,” says Kyle Lancaster, senior manager of brand management, Arla Foods, adding that Danish Havarti dates back to the 1920s but was not named until 1952.

Havarti typically is seen in loaves but can come in all different shapes and sizes. A hint of annatto coloring brings out a buttery appearance. It is normally aged three months or less, which is ideal for machinability, according to Gina Mode, assistant coordinator, cheese industry and applications group, Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR).

Mode notes that there are three types of Havarti traditionally made in Denmark that are defined by their ratio of fat and dry matter: 30, 45 and 60, with 60 having the highest fat content. In the 1980s, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) partnered with University of Wisconsin-Madison food scientist Mark Johnson (now CDR assistant director) and cheese consultant Dan Carter to develop and patent “Wisconsin Style Havarti,” based off of the high-fat Danish Havarti and modified for the American palate.

“At that time, people weren’t that fond of grassy notes. They kept the buttery notes and made it a little more acid. They firmed up the body since they were going to use it for slicing,” Mode says. “In the ’80s when they started making it, that may have been the first Havarti many people saw in the United States.”

According to WMMB, Gary Grossen at the UW Babcock Hall plant is the only cheesemaker on record actively using the patented “Wisconsin Style Havarti” name. Others use a similar make but market it simply as “Havarti,” Mode says.

U.S. volume sales of fixed-weight Havarti (multi-channel retail plus convenience) totaled 12.7 million pounds in the 52 weeks ending Oct. 8, up 15.5 percent from the previous year, and sales continue on a 5-year positive trend, according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI) data courtesy of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).

Havarti is sold mainly in sliced (71 percent) and chunk (28 percent) forms, and sliced Havarti is gaining volume, up 27 percent from the previous year. IRI notes Havarti is found in 9.5 percent of total U.S. households, over indexing in higher-income households and those with children between ages 12 and 17.

It also achieves loyalty among Generation X shoppers, while it under indexes with young millennials.

Domestic varieties dominate at 98.4 percent of U.S. Havarti sales versus 1.2 percent imported, IRI reports. Most of the sales volume consists of regular/plain varieties (82 percent). Dill Havarti comes in second at 7.1 percent. Flavors that are gaining in volume growth include spicy varieties such as jalapeno pepper, jalapeno garlic, chipotle pepper and horseradish.

“The one that’s kind of crazy is the Horseradish Havarti. People want it, the stronger the better. If I take a platter of cheese somewhere, horseradish is the first to go,” says Steve Stettler, president of Decatur Dairy, Brodhead, Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker with a certificate in Havarti.

“Havarti picks up flavorings. It carries a condiment very well. It doesn’t matter what flavor you put in there, whether it’s pepper, ghost pepper, caraway — the cheese with its fat and moisture level carries condiments very well,” he adds.

Decatur Dairy, which produces a lot of Havarti for private label, makes several varieties of its popular plain version as well, including with extra cream, less cream or more or less acid flavor. Stettler also makes a specialty Havarti with a culture grown at Decatur Dairy that is sold exclusively at Decatur’s store.

“That cheese has gained popularity, and I may bring that to the market. It has more of a unique flavor than just a basic Havarti,” Stettler says. “Over the last 20 years, the culture development has gotten so specific, you can make several different types of Havarti depending on what kind of culture base you’re going to use.”

Lancaster says Arla’s most popular Danish varieties from the Castello brand are Aged Havarti and Creamy Havarti, while the most popular Wisconsin-made variety under the Arla brand is Sliced Havarti. Other Havarti flavors the company offers include Dill, Wild Garlic, Caraway, Jalapeno and Herbs & Spices.

“There will of course be small differences from cheese to cheese and dairy to dairy, but the procedures and recipes are the same, and the cheese produced in Wisconsin and the cheese produced in Denmark are developed to be extremely similar,” Lancaster says of Arla’s imported and domestic Havarti.

“Our flavored Havarti varieties, under our Castello brand, have been very well received by consumers,” he adds. “Our most popular flavored variant is our Castello Dill Havarti, a delicious blend of fresh dill with our traditional Havarti cheese. Dill is a very common herb used in Scandinavian cuisine, and its bright, herbaceous flavor complements the creamy, slightly tangy notes of our Havarti.”

Finlandia, Parsippany, New Jersey, offers a Sharp Havarti Wheel, a specialty cheese imported from Finland. The company says its Sharp Havarti, which is aged three months, offers a “pleasant piquaint” flavor and semi-soft texture.

“The Sharp Havarti Wheel is made in Finland, and it is made from the purest milk on earth, measured in somatic cell count and bacteria found in milk. The cleaner the milk the better quality the cheese,” says Emma Aer, CEO, Finlandia. “Our cows are never given rbST or GMO feed. They are grass-fed in the summer, and in the winter, when it is too cold for the grass to grow, they eat silage made from grass.”

Mode says she also sees a lot of people trying to move away from brining to direct salting Havarti. She notes that brining Havarti and other cheeses can present issues such as time, expense and figuring out how to dispose of the brine. Another challenge of making Havarti is controlling its moisture.

“When moisture gets too high, there is a pastiness of the body, and it gets bitter. It shortens up the shelf life and it can be hard to slice,” Mode says.

“As a judge, we like to see an authentic, open texture,” she says. “We want blocks to have a nice finish. The flavor, we want it mild, clean, butter with a hint of acid. It’s just a really lovely, approachable cheese.”

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