After traveling Europe to study cheese-making techniques in the mid-1800s, Hanne Nielsen returned to her farm north of Copenhagen to experiment. She named her best creation after that farm, Havarthigaard. Havarti remains Denmark's most famous—and popular—cheese to date. Thanks, Hanne!
(If you want to experiment with cheese-making like Hanne did, or are just curious about the process, you'll find some directions for making havarti at culturesforhealth.com.)
Placed in molds and aged, havarti is a semi-soft, washed-curd, cow's milk cheese—which is to say, it's milder than some cheeses but full of character (much like a Tilsit or Gouda). You'll find some distinctions among havartis, too, depending on the age of the cheese. While most are aged about three months or longer, the older a havarti, the sharper, tangier, saltier and nuttier-tasting it becomes. Many aficionados compare an aged havarti to a fine Swiss.
Like other cheeses, havarti is a delicious source of calcium and protein. And if you're concerned about the fat content, there are low-fat versions available. On the other hand, you could indulge in a cream havarti, which is enriched with added cream. If havarti strikes your fancy, you might also want to give flavored varieties a try: look for garlic, caraway, basil, coconut, dill, cumin, cranberry, and jalapeño, for starters.
A good table cheese, havarti is a great addition to any cheese plate paired with contrasting cheeses and hearty bread or crackers. Try it on an antipasto platter; it partners perfectly with cubes of meat, other cheeses, and veggies, like these Garlic Poached Mushrooms with Fresh Basil. It's a wonderful dessert cheese, too, especially with fruits (pears, apples, figs, raisins) and nuts. To enjoy at a party or picnic (or maybe as a TGIF snack for yourself), serve slices or cubes of havarti with a Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir.
Havarti stacks deliciously in sandwiches, with slices of smoked turkey, roast beef, ham and/or salami, or a scoop of chicken or tofu salad—and is especially good on slices of sourdough or French loaf. And cubes of buttery havarti add melt-in-your-mouth texture and sublime taste to any salad.
The fact that havarti's a great melter cinches the deal. It also softens quickly at room temperature, which you may appreciate next time you need a nice, soft cheese option in a hurry. No cheese behaves better in grilled cheese, omelets, fondues and casseroles. You can sprinkle shredded havarti atop hot pasta, grains and potatoes, and it'll melt right in, or top freshly grilled burgers with sliced havarti for out-of-this-world cheeseburgers.