Ostehøvel & a Nordic Sense of Practicality

Thor had a hammer, and was given thunder by Odin. Or something like that. Loki’s quite clever and Frøya is exceptionally pretty, we’ve heard. We mortals are blessed with the ostehøvel.

Despite their idiosyncrasies, the Nordic peoples are a deceptively clever bunch. In terms of aesthetic, functional and industrial design, one need not look further than the internationally renowned architect firm Snøhetta, functionalist furniture kingpins IKEA, fashion powerhouse Katja of Sweden; the list goes on. And it keeps going, because these nations aren’t just coincidentally blessed with a high concentration of talented individuals (although they probably wouldn’t deny that, either) – maybe it’s something in the water, the presence of mountains and the North Sea; who knows. As their clean energy industry booms and success in the public commerce blooms, it’s of little wonder that the Scandinavian countries are regularly polled as some of the best countries in the world to live in.

Most importantly, Nordics understand the inherent relation between form and function, purpose and pleasure. Their mayonnaise sometimes comes in a sealed plastic bag; cut a whole in the corner and it’s spread easily, neatly and with no waste. In the early 20th century, a Norwegian even invented a paper clip, though the claim that it’s originally a Norwegian invention is false – paper clips of a far more functional design existed long before any particular Norwegian with an abundance of ingenuity spent any considerable amount of time in the office.

But above all the names, titles, products and legacies stands an unparalleled, unprecedented cultural entity:

The Norwegian cheese knife

Referred to as an ‘ostehøvel’ (‘ost’ – cheese, ‘høvel’ – (wood) planer), the Norwegian cheese knife was invented and patented in 1925 by Thor Bjørklund; a carpenter from Lillehammer, Norway. Cheese produced in Norway is usually hard/semi-hard, boasting rather mild flavours. The Norwegian cheese knife allows long, wide cuts guided by the surface of the blade, without the slices getting too thick – perfect for those classic open-faced sandwiches. It also does the job without fail when slicing the Norwegian Brunost or Jarlsberg.

A form and function of such elegance and simplicity leaves a lot of room for creative design: many Norwegian cheese knives are produced as decorative silver; some use plastic or wood handles but there’s always a stainless steel base.


An ostehøvel currently employed at Baltzersen’s kitchens

The ostehøvel’s form is no doubt familiar: indeed, these tools can double as a vegetable peeler, for slicing a thin layer of anything, really – ideal for making your own crisps. As a result,  Norwegian homes can have several cheese knives, not all of them are necessarily regularly employed for cheese specifically.

You can find these cheese knives in many kitchen product stores – they’ve gained some popularity outside of the Nordic countries over the last few years. Industry giants Clas Ohlson (the only company to ever challenge the Germans in terms of catalogued efficiency) stick to their Scandinavian roots by carrying several models, classic and updated.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: an ostehøvel does a rather poor job on dry, crumbling cheeses, such as a mature cheddar – stick to regular knives for such materials and let your ostehøvel shine for the more self-contained products – gouda, red leicester and so on.

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