First Halal Cheese in Scandinavia

Norway’s first halal cheese is now being made in Ørsta.

manager Bente Reklev looks out her office window in the dairy in Ørsta.
The guests she’s waiting for have landed at the Hovden airport a few
kilometers to the south and are now on their way.

The group
consists of company head Per-Henrik Finnson of Tine, Mohamed Elmie of
Gilde’s (meat company) daughter comapny Al FAthi and the imams
Zulqarnain Sakandar and his student from the Islamic Council.

They have come to Ørsta to certify one of the few cheeses Reklev and the dairy haven’t gotten a diploma for yet: Norbo cheese.

In the area at the foot of the Sunnmøre mountains they will prepare halal cheese for Muslims in Norway.

dairy head must stifle a little laugh when she continued to tell of the
day they finally could being: They had taken position to meet them,
since as dairy head she wanted to greet her guests. when her turn came
to greet the imams she stuck her hand out, where it was left hanging.

It became quiet. From below you could hear the voice of the 50 employees who work in cheese production in the little village.

they eventually pressed their hands against their thighs with
unambiguous motions, bowed and smiled, she remembered that imams don’t
shake hands with women, she laughs.

After a detailed review of
the production facility, and ensuring that the cheese was free of pork,
wrongly slaughtered calf and alcohol, the little dairy in Ørsta is now
the first in Scandinavia to produce halal approved

Norbo cheese
was recently give the officiel Tayyibat halal certificate. This means
that all packages of cheese are marked with an internataional label of
certification, that is recognized by Muslims.

Hege Holter
Brekke, concern manager in Tine, says that the certification means
Muslim, vegeterians and Jews can now have a cheese that is guaranteed to
conform with the convictions and life view of these groups.

It also means Tine will get a lead in a steadily developing market.

to data from The Halal Journal, large American chains such as Burger
King, Taco Bell and KFC had increased revenues by 20% after they were
halal certified. Norwegian food producers want to join in on that.

Arne Paulson of Rema 1000 supermarket at Furuset in Oslo say that many
Muslim are uncertain as to which foods they can choose when there’s no
stamp that guarantees that the product is halal certified. By halal
certifying Norbo, they expect a meaningful increase in sales, that
today is only exceeded by Norvegia (cheese brand).

Bente Reklev
says that in the past they used rennet from pig stomachs. Rennet is a
necessary ingredient for making cheese from milk, and is the enzyme
that gets milk to coagulate. Today they use rennet from calf stomachs.
Muslim’s uncertainly is related to whether the animal was slaughtered
properly, or whether the animal had contact with an illegal animal.

explains that therefore the facility must be thoroughly cleaned, pipes
must be washed and the tubs must be scrubbed, in addition to using
rennet from fungus and not from calves or pigs.

Lars Egil Foldal
adds that it’s been a long time since they used pig rennet, probably
going back to the 50s and 60s. He’s been working in the dairy in Ørsta
for 43 years.

Aside from the rennet, there’s no difference in
the way they produce halal cheese or Norvegia. They don’t need to roll
out prayer rugs, to say it like that, he smiles.

Bente tells of
a dairy that wants to change. And everybody is very careful to observe
the requirements so that the cheese will be approved as halal.

says she admits there are rules here and there that she has problems
understanding. It’s not a practical issue, a nutritional difference,
but a purely religious commandment. But she thinks it’s a consideration
that it doesn’t cost much and is just a little adjustment that they
have made at the dairy without any problems.

Lars Egil agrees and says he’s happy his new countrymen now have a product they can be completely certain of.

says that when the imams were there, they had spoken of malnutrition
among Muslims. They said that many Muslims are afraid of buying in
shops, when they don’t know for certain what the different products
contain. They quite simply don’t get what they need.

There were
particularly interested in brunost (whey cheese) and told him that many
people they knew took back brunost back to Pakistan when they went on
vacation. They apparently thought that it was safe, but apparently that
isn’t so. Maybe they should start producing halal brunost as well.

Gangsøy adds in that they shouldn’t do that – they haven’t given halal
cheese any other name. They still call it Norbo, she says as she moves
on of the large machines in the dairy.

She explains the
functions of one machine after another, and proudly shows everything
from the view to the fjords outside to the ten kilo cheese blocks,
floating in salt water before they are packaged and sent on.

has worked at the dairy for three years, and is nervous as to what will
happen with the cheese after it’s halal certified. She thinks customers
can be strange and the gods know how they’ll react. But it’s a
unfortunate that halal certification means that people think the cheese
is only for Muslims, since it’s really one of their best cheeses.

the same time, she’s proud that the dairy is the first to have its hard
cheeses certified halal. Gangsøy thinks the adaptations that the little
dairy in Ørsta had to do, will pay in the long run.

the rules
are strict for products that want to have imam Zulquarnain Sakander’s
and Tayyibat Halal Certification Organizations’ official certification.

the cheese and the packaging must be free of forbidden substances, and
in addition the cheese must also be transported and stored separated
from other cheese types.