What kind of cheese is available in Iceland? Where can you taste and buy Icelandic cheese? Cheese connoisseurs visiting Reykjavík need to look no further than the gourmand’s paradise that is Ostabúðin (‘The Cheese Shop’) nestled in the heart of the city centre.
Not far from Reykjavík’s iconic Hallgrímskirkja church, on the busy boutique street, Sköluvöuðurstígur sits Ostabúðin; your one-stop shop for everything cheesy.
Not only does this long-established delicatessen offer an excellent selection of Icelandic and international cheeses managed by a staff of enthusiastic aficionados, but there’s also a wildly popular restaurant adjacent to the deli offering delicious dishes guaranteed to satisfy your hunger for a reasonable price.
Until recently, the variety of cheeses in Iceland was quite limited; although cheese is a fundamental ingredient to many Icelandic dishes and creature comforts, the cheese scene has largely been dominated by simple cheeses such as Gouda and Mozzarella.
This is now changing and Icelanders are becoming more adventurous in their cheese choices.
Since it opened in 2000, family-run Ostabúðin has been catering to Reykjavík’s cheese needs and has played a fundamental role in expanding the variety of cheese available in Iceland as well as supporting small-time Icelandic cheesemakers.
An expert and enthusiast, as well as daughter to one of the proprietors, cheesemonger and shopkeeper Unnur Björk Jóhannsdóttir, is an integral part of the Ostabúðin family. We caught up with her to pick her brain about cheese in Iceland.
What are your thoughts on the Icelandic cheese scene?
I find it to be quite interesting. Iceland has such potential to be a leader when it comes to cheesemaking as it has been recently within the craft beer scene.
Traditionally, Icelandic cheeses are inspired by the varieties made in Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, France, England etc.
I often get the question “what is the typical Icelandic cheese”, and of course, the answer is Skyr, a cultured dairy product that has been around in Iceland for hundreds of years. Although technically a cheese, it’s eaten more like yoghurt and it’s not exactly what springs to mind when people are looking for a cheese that you might want to eat after dinner with some nice wine.
One would have thought that we’d be making sheep’s cheese by now but we haven’t been breeding our sheep the same way other countries have for centuries. We don’t go up to the mountains to herd them for milking, plus we get way more money out of their meat and wool.
More often, the milk we use for cheesemaking is cow’s milk.
Apart from cow’s milk, we have dabbled in goat cheese, but since the Icelandic goat was at one point at risk of dying out, it didn’t take off. Now, thankfully, we have about 1200-goats in the country and we’re seeing somewhat of a goat cheese renaissance.
One name comes to mind when thinking about goat cheese and it is Jóhanna at Háafell; she has a goat farm and has been making some Icelandic goat cheeses, namely brie and feta. You can support her by going to her website www.geitur.is.
You can also book a trip to see her goats and even taste some of the cheese! I always highly recommend supporting artisanal cheese makers!
What role does Ostabúðin on Skólavörðustígur play in the cheese scene?
Ostabúðin’s role is getting the cheese to the people, introducing different varieties to people who don’t realise the scope of the cheese scene.
We get a lot of curious tourists in here, which I love; they have so many interesting questions and stories of their own to tell. They support the scene and that makes my cheese heart melt.
Best Icelandic cheese?
In popularity, I would say it’s Svartur Goudi 26% (Black Gouda) which nowadays is often called Sterkur Goudi (Strong Gouda). A lot of Icelanders buy this cheese, mostly in big blocks.
What I find to be personally the best? Oh goodness! That’s always a hard one to answer. I find myself to be drawn mostly towards any one of these bries when they’re at their best:
All white-mold: Gullostur (The Golden cheese), Höfðingi and Auður.
Gráðaostur, which is a blue cheese 6-12 weeks in age is also a favourite.
What’s the most favoured cheese by Icelanders?
Hands down, it’s the Primadonna (maturo), a Dutch hard cheese. Any Icelander coming into Ostabúðin to get more than one cheese always leaves with a piece of Prima Donna.
Can you try Icelandic cheeses at Ostabúðin without buying a whole block?
Of course, you can! As a cheesemonger I will be helping you articulate and understand what it is that you’re actually looking for, and to do that you always need to have a taste along the way. You can buy as much or little as your cheese loving heart pleases!
What about cheesy Icelandic souvenirs?
Whether it is smelly or not, you can easily travel back home with some Icelandic cheese as we can vacuum pack any product for you! If you have any further questions about travelling with cheese we can help you out with that too!
We also have a vast variety of Icelandic jams and our very own jams that we make here at Ostabúðin. We also cure and smoke a small selection of tasty meats which are available for purchase.
Catch up with shopkeeper Unnur and her fellow cheesemongers and try some delicious Icelandic cheese at the Ostabúðin delicatessen on Skólavörðurstígur 8, 101 Reykjavík. Visit their Facebook here.
Delicatessen opening hours
Mon – Thurs 10:00 – 18:00
Friday: 10:00 – 19:00
Saturday: 11:00 – 16:00
Restaurant Opening Hours
Mon – Fri: 11:30 – 22:00
Sat – Sun: 12:00 – 22:00
What are your experiences of cheese in Iceland? Have you been to Ostabúðin? What were your impressions? Be sure to leave any comments or questions in the Facebook box below.