Eleven years ago there were only a handful of small cheese makers in Norway. Today there are around a hundred of them, including about 15 in the north.
At the beginning of March, participants from six small scale cheese makers in north Norway met up for the first time at TINE's dairy in Storsteinnes in Troms. They'll get to learn from each other over the next year.
"We are both competitors and colleagues. It is very valuable to see what kind of marketing and product development other small scale producers are doing," says Anja Kastnes.
In December she moved back to the farm in Hattfjelldal in Nordland that featured on television this winter in NRK's series "Der ingen skulle tru at nokon kunne bu" (You wouldn't believe people could live there).
They make eleven different kinds of cheese on the farm, in all about 8 to 10 tonnes a year. They also have a fish farm, raising Arctic char, which they use to make the speciality product rakefisk. The farm is also licensed to serve alcohol and offers accommodation for around 20 guests.
Participants from several small scale cheese makers in Nordland and Troms have joined a network that started up in March. Representatives from TINE, Norway's largest producer of dairy products, are also taking part.
"The purpose of the network is to increase value creation and transfer competence. Farmhouse producers with their specialist cheese products are increasing the prestige of Norwegian cheese," says project manager Åshild Longva of Nofima Mat.
The network is organised by Nofima Mat and Innovation Norway and is the first of its kind in north Norway.
"Both the farmhouse producers and TINE are making cheese from the same milk. One makes high volumes, the others make exclusive products. We can all learn something from each other," says Einar Alme of Innovation Norway.
The network will meet several times over the course of the next year. In the autumn, they will go to France, to see how the smaller cheese producers work there.
Got the idea on a study trip
"If Swedish farmers can make good cheese, so can I," said farmer Knut Åland after a study trip to Sweden in 1996.
Today, his family farm on the island of Vestvågøy in Lofoten produces eleven different cheeses.
The farm has about 200 dairy goats. About 20 per cent of the milk is used for the farm's own cheese production, which totals about 5 tonnes a year. About 70 per cent of the cheese is sold locally.
Today, Knut's son in law is a full time cheese maker.
"The biggest challenge is to find out how we can do things more efficiently. We would love to make more cheese," says Gøran Rasmussen Åland, who is also hoping to establish contact with other cheese makers and get some ideas for new kinds of cheeses during the network period.