science of us

Butter Coffee? No, I’m on Cheese Coffee Now.

Kaffeost! Photo: Edith Zimmerman

I’m using the Wall Street Journal’s recent story on butter coffee — also known as Bulletproof coffee, which has been popular since 2012 — as an excuse to write about another carbohydrate-free coffee–dairy combination I’ve been curious about: kaffeost, or coffee cheese.

It’s coffee, with cheese. I came across it earlier this week in an understated, undated post on Atlas Obscura.

A northern Scandinavian tradition, kaffeost is a drink/meal in which cubes of cheese are released into a cup of coffee. They absorb it “like rich, moist cheese sponges,” per Atlas Obscura, and ideally it’s all served in a beautiful mug carved out of a birch burl (a knobby tree growth).

The cheese part of kaffeost is called leipäjuusto (or bread cheese) in Finland, and “Finnish Squeaky Cheese” in the United States — although you can also just call it “bread cheese.” It’s strictly cheese (there is no bread), but the idea is that it’s sturdy and soaks things up in a breadlike way. And while Scandinavian bread cheese is traditionally made from reindeer milk, I found a cow’s-milk variety from Wisconsin, at Murray’s Cheese, a few blocks from the office. (Although you can make bread cheese at home, too.)

The bread cheese I found — Carr Valley Bread Cheese — came in a plastic-sealed brick, slightly less than a pound, and I peeled away the wrapper, cut off a slice, and chopped it into cubes. It was dense but light — halloumi-esque.

First I microwaved these cubes to try the cheese on its own without coffee (and because that’s what the packaging recommended), and it was fantastic — like mozzarella mixed with cheddar, but springier and sweeter. Then, for the actual kaffeost, I sliced more unmelted cubes off the block and into the bottom of a mug, which I topped with hot coffee. The cubes didn’t float to the surface like I’d seen in some pictures, but when I fished them out a minute later with a fork, they’d softened and had picked up a smoky, delicious coffee flavor, while the coffee had in turn picked up a round, nutty, buttery flavor. It was like hot chocolate with marshmallows, except with hot coffee and cheese.

I enjoyed the whole experience and will be pressing kaffeost on my friends in the future. I believe this cheese would make a good holiday gift: tasty, with a fun and unusual ritual attached, which people can do together.

Butter Coffee? No, I’m on Cheese Coffee Now.