Jarlsberg cheese is a mild, Swiss Emmentaler-style, cow's-milk cheese that has large irregular holes. It comes from Norway and has a yellow-wax rind and a semifirm yellow interior. The texture is buttery and rich, and the flavor is mild and slightly sweet. It is an all-purpose cheese, good both for cooking and for eating as a snack. It tastes somewhat nutty.
The history of this cheese can be traced back to the middle 1850s. Its creator, Anders Larsen Bakke (1815-1899), was a local farmer/entrepreneur and a pioneer in Norway's dairy industry. He produced the cheese in the Våle village in Vestfold county, some 80 km south of Oslo, and the cheese came to be named "Jarlsberg" because "Jarlsberg & Larviks Amt" was the name of the county until 1918, when it was renamed with its old name "Vestfold". The cheese (and Bakke's accomplishments) was first noted in the annual county report of Jarlsberg & Larviks Amt 1855. Production was discontinued in the early 1900s, and the cheese was only re-invented by professor Ola Martin Ystgaard of the Agricultural University of Norway in the late 1950s.
The oft-repeated notion that the cheese was invented or developed or even at any time produced at the Jarlsberg estate (some 20 km to the south of the village of Våle), is pure fiction. The origin of that myth might be explained as a simple name confusion, probably also enhanced by the vain idea that this noble cheese must somehow be related to the barons who once inhabited that impressive estate.
Starting in 1956, Ystgaard and some of his students tried to recreate the cheese. After many samples they came up with the recipe that is used today. The production of cheese began in the 1960s and today it is one of the best-known cheeses on the market. In the United States alone it is sold in over 30,000 supermarkets and 1 ton of Jarlsberg cheese gets eaten per hour.
The largest producer of Jarlsberg today is the Tine BA factory in Elnesvågen in western Norway. Jarlsberg accounts for 60% of Tine's total export. In addition to the exports, Jarlsberg is produced on license at Alpine Cheese in Ohio, the United States and Dairygold in Ireland. Jarlsberg®, has been exported to the United States for over 40 years and is America's #1 speciality cheese with more than 90% distribution. Jarlsberg claims the highest awareness among U.S. consumers over any other speciality cheese in the U.S.