An Accidental Norwegian Goat Cheese Fire Burned For Days
This year, we've seen forests catch fire and oceans catch fire. We haven't seen giant piles of cheese catch fire this year, but don't despair: It's happened already before, and not too long ago.
In 2013, a truck driver was transporting 27 tons of cheese through the Norwegian county of Tysfjord. He entered the two-mile-long Brattli Tunnel and got about 300 yards into it when he noticed his cargo was on fire. Maybe it was the smell of burning cheese that alerted him, a smell every responsible cheese hauler knows to recognize, so he abandoned the truck and fled the tunnel on foot before the fire could consume him.
To understand what happened here, you need to learn a bit more about Norwegian goat cheese than you ever realized you wanted to know. This particular cheese was Gudbrandsdalsost, also known as brown cheese or Brunost. In the 1800s, in the Norwegian valley of Gudbrandsdalen, a milkmaid named Anne Hov came up with this new way of preparing cheese. Most cheese is made from curds, which are the solid protein-y bits separated out of milk, but to make Brunost, she took the liquid whey and added a bunch more milk and cream. The world's esteemed cheese scientists say the resulting mixture is technically not cheese at all, but it's close.
Norway loved the stuff. People ate so much that the trace bits of iron in it (from cooking in an iron pot) made up a big chunk of the population's iron intake, so when cheesemakers switched to aluminum vessels, the government feared all of Norway would suffer from iron deficiency.
Brunost has more fat than regular cheese, and it has a bunch of sugar, much of it caramelized. The result is hugely flammable—the authorities taking care of the Brattli blaze noted that Brunost burns almost as hard as gasoline. It also releases a bunch of toxic gases when it burns (something to do with the goat milk origins?), so for four days, firefighters couldn't even enter the tunnel.
Unlike some food fires (like when flour and margarine burst into flames in the Mont Blanc Tunnel in 1999), the Norwegian goat cheese fire didn't kill or injure anyone. But in addition to shutting down the tunnel for weeks of repairs, it resulted in the loss of 27 tons of sweet goat cheese, a tragedy Norwegians remember to this day.
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