Some dishes sweep in and become a natural part of the tradition in only a few short years. That’s the case with Västerbottensostpaj, a pie made with Västerbotten cheese. According to food historian Rickard Tellström, the pie is the Swedish version of the French Quiche Lorraine, which became a big hit in the 80s.
The Västerbotten cheese pie is easy to make and to prepare in advance. You can guess how it sneaked into the hearts of the Swedes, right? Yes, it was through smörgåsbord. Today, you can expect to find this golden pie at buffet tables at parties and celebrations such as Midsummer. It is pretty much mandatory for a Swedish crayfish party.
However, the Swedes seem to have a hard time agreeing on what the pie actually is called — Västerbottenpaj, Västerbottenostpaj, Västerbottensostpaj… I’ll let the cheese producer settle the matter, meaning that the correct Swedish name is Västerbottensostpaj.
Whatever you choose to call it, here it is, in stop motion:
The story of Västerbottensost
Västerbotten cheese is a hard cow’s milk cheese with a somewhat strong flavor. According to the producer, the cheese matures for at least 14 months before you eat it.
The history of the cheese starts with a woman named Ulrika Eleonora Lindström, who was in her 30s when she used an inheritance to train as a cheese maker in Västergötland. She learnt how to make the popular Västgöta cheese, and took her knowledge with her back to the Gammelbyn dairy in Burträsk in the county of Västerbotten in the North of Sweden.
The cheese “happened” one day in 1872. The origin story suggests that Ulrika Eleonora might have been busy flirting and forgot to pay proper attention to the large cheese vat. At first, it looked like the curdle was ruined. You can imagine the delight when they tasted it and discovered the unique flavor!
Ulrika Eleonora died in pneumonia when she was but 56 years old. Luckily, she had documented her cheese making process meticulously and the way to make Västerbottensost passed on to a new cheesemaker. Ever since, the exact recipe is a tightly guarded secret.
You better believe that the manufacturer is doing everything they can to sustain the idea that the One True Cheese only can be created at the original location in Burträsk. The cheese producer muses innocently: is it because of the milk from the local cows, something in the soil, or maybe the unique bacteria culture in the dairy houses? Regardless, it is a very nice cheese — in a pie, on a piece of crispbread, or on a cheese platter.
How to make Västerbotten cheese pie — Västerbottensostpaj
I realize that many people would call this a tart rather than a pie, but Swedes tend to call them both paj. This pie is perfect to prepare the day before the party. Make an extra, and you’ll thank me when you find a leftover piece in the fridge or freezer. Don’t serve it too warm, or it loses some of its consistency and flavor — I tend to go for lukewarm. Makes 1 pie.
For the pie crust:
3 dl (1 1/3 cup) flour
125 g (1/2 cup) cold butter
1-2 tbsp cold water
For the filling:
1 dl (2/5 cup) milk
1 dl (2/5 cup) cream
200 g (7 oz) Västerbotten cheese (or another flavorful cheese such as Cheddar)
1/2 tsp salt
1 pinch white pepper
Fish roe sauce (optional):
2 dl (4/5 cup) crème fraîche
3 tbsp fish roe
2 tbsp finely chopped dill
1 tbsp finely chopped red onion
salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste
- Prepare the pie crust by mixing together the flour, butter, and one tablespoon of water in a large bowl until it comes together into a dough. I do this with my hands. If necessary, add another tablespoon of water, making it two in total. Wrap the dough in cling film and place it in the fridge for 20-60 minutes.
- Set the oven to 200°C (390°F).
- Make the filling by whisking together the eggs, milk, and cream together. Add the grated cheese. Season with salt and white pepper and stir until it is all well combined.
- Take out the dough and press it out into a pie pan. Pick it with a fork and pre-bake the crust in the oven for 10 minutes.
- Add the filling to the pre-baked pie crust. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the filling has set and become a bit golden. Be careful so it doesn’t burn — add a bit of aluminum foil on top and bake the pie a bit longer if the surface is ready but the filling still loose when you move the pie. However, the pie will set a bit more after cooling. The pie is best served lukewarm.
- If you want to make a simple cold fish roe sauce, take a small bowl and stir together crème fraîche with fish roe, chopped dill, and chopped onion. Season with salt, pepper, and a squirt of lemon juice according to your own taste.
The mature cheese gives the Västerbotten cheese pie its characteristic flavor, but Västerbotten cheese can be difficult to source outside of Sweden. Look for it in specialty stores that carry Scandinavian or Nordic food. You can substitute it with a hard, mature, somewhat grainy or crumbly cheese, such as a good Cheddar, or maybe a Gruyère. It’s not the same but it will still be tasty!
I often serve the pie with a simple fish roe sauce, but feel free to skip it. Vary the pie flavor by adding some chopped, fried bacon or chestnut mushrooms to the filling.