Norwegian Red cows take credit for world class cheese
As we move into 2019, what better time to reflect on the international success of one Norwegian dairy herd with 12 Norwegian Red cows.
Jørn Hafslund from Ostegården – and his herd of 12 Norwegian Red cows - took the supreme title at the World Cheese Awards in November 2018. His gouda, Fanaost came out top of 3,472 cheeses from all over the world.
The 25th World Cheese Awards were held in Bergen, Norway in 2018 and attracted entries from 40 countries. Category winners were down to 16 'super gold' cheeses and the judges selected the supreme award from these.
Jørn Hafslund has produced his own cheese since 2006. In 2018 he produced 20 tonnes - mainly of his award winning Fanaost cheese. Demand is driving the proposed increase in demand in 2019 to 30 tonnes and he and his wife Ruth have already invested in new cheese boilers to allow for this expansion. They also produce a Camembert and Brie cheese to order.
The annual cheese production is from around 80,000 to 90,000kg of milk from his 12 Norwegian Red cows plus 120,000 litres that he buys from TINE; Norway's largest producer, distributor and exporter of dairy products.
Cow is Queen
The cow is 'queen' on the tenanted farm just outside Bergen. A combination of 96ha of tenanted and rented land provides forage and grazing for the herd and heifers are on more extensive grazing land with GPS collars to determine their whereabouts.
"Our cows are our key resource and that everything else is built around them," says Jørn. "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."
A farmer at heart, Jørn breeds cows for his system. He has a lot of grazing but it isn't all good quality, and he avoids spaying weeds. He says that the old meadows give more complex milk and add to the taste of his cheese.
He makes silage – and uses an additive to avoid any risk of mould. This, plus hay and bread, is the staple winter ration for his cows.
Geno genetics score highly
The cows are pure Norwegian Red and Jørn is delighted with Geno's genetics program and the progress made. It has allowed his herd to progress in the right way.
Geno is the breeding organization of Norwegian Red, the main dairy breed in Norway. The co-operative system gives the farmer members the power to influence the development of the Norwegian Red breeding program.
Geno has developed a breeding program 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 in the past two decades.
As a result, sires from the Geno program are well-known for their high fertility and health status, good temperament and milk yields.
"My cows are very healthy animals that graze well and thrive in my system," he says. "The genetics progress made in these traits – and others – is very good, thanks to Geno."
Average milk yield for Jørn's cows is a commendable 8,000kg a cow average.
Antibiotic use is minimal in the herd – as it is in many of Norway's dairy herds thanks to genetics. "I rarely have to use antibiotics – in fact I'd rather milk a cow separately for a few weeks than treat with penicillin." Temperament is important too. "Geno has made great strides here too – in the past there may have been the odd 'fruitcake' but it would be a rare thing now. And they are such attractive cows – they are a pleasure to work with."
And for Jørn, the icing on the cake is the cheese yield that he achieves from his cows. "I think the combination of our system and the genetics contributes to our milk quality. We get 15 cheeses from 700 liters 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."
Early cheese making
Cheese-making started on the kitchen counter seven years ago. Jørn admits that he was completely clueless about cheese production when they started up. The first three to four attempts were unsuccessful. "Ruth and I went on a course, and then travelled around Europe to gather knowledge about cheese production," he adds.
Subsidies from Innovation Norway helped the enterprise take off, as it enabled Jørn to hire a person in production so he could promote sales. They now have six full-time employees to run the herd and the cheese-making business.
Jørn 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 nationally and internationally retailers. "There is a shop in London and one in Madrid that specialize in cheese. I might consider sending something overseas."
For now, Jørn will continue as general manager, with an overview of the herd and the cheese production business. "But I keep Fridays as free as possible to work as a dairy farmer; that's the bit really enjoy – tending to the cows and keeping they happy and healthy. If we achieve this then they reward us with top quality prize-winning cheese."
Commenting on Jørn's success, Geno's Lars Bredahl sees this as a positive for the breed and its genetics program. "Many breeds strive to position themselves as good for cheese production, but results speak for themselves," he says.