On my way back to the US from the home of Cheddar cheese (Somerset County, England), I made a quick stop in Reykjavík to check out the Icelandic cheese scene. Iceland has a population of only 350,000 people, half of whom live in the capital city, and I wasn’t sure just how many of them had any interest in cheese. But a few of my cheese friends had surprised me with not one, but two Reykjavík cheese shop recommendations, so I was looking forward to exploring.
The morning I arrived, I popped into Slippbarrin, a chic bistro café within the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Marina, for some very good coffee and rustic bread topped with sveitaskyr (country skyr), a spreadable fresh cheese – not yogurt – and wild strawberry jam. Then I headed over to the Reykjavík’s historic harbor to check out the first shop on my list: Búrið, “The Pantry,” which a cheesemaker friend of mine had raved about…only to discover that it was unexpectedly closed. (Note for future travelers: Búrið is always closed on both Sundays and Mondays…but this was a Saturday!) Heartbroken, I headed across the street to Kaffivagninn, a popular dockside restaurant, to lift my spirits by nibbling on traditional eggs with Íslenskur Cheddar (delicious) and taking in the harbor view.
Discouraged but not defeated, I set off to find the second cheese store, situated across the city in the shopping district. I happened to have arrived on the day of Reykjavík’s Pride Parade, so I had the unforgettable experience of wandering around amidst the glittering festivities until I finally stumbled upon Ostabúðin, “The Cheese Shop.” Founded in 2000, this delicatessen and restaurant houses a very focused selection of charcuterie (cured horse or smoked reindeer, anyone?), specialty oils and vinegars, jams, crackers, and naturally, cheese. I was approached by the shopkeeper who introduced herself as Unnur Björk Jóhannsdóttir and told me she’d been working in the cheese shop for the last three years.
Gracious and friendly, Jóhannsdóttir let me taste many of the store’s cheeses, some from Iceland, some from other countries in Northern Europe, and some standard French, British, and Italian options. The offerings were fairly limited, but well curated, well cared for, and beautifully presented. Jóhannsdóttir was passionate and knowledgeable; she feels Icelanders are just beginning to take more of an interest in artisan cheeses (always good news to me!).
Before I left Ostabúðin, I settled in for a bite to celebrate having discovered at least one of my cheese destinations. (What better way to celebrate than with a minni íslenski bakkinn?) Next time I’m in Reykjavík, I’ll go give Búrið a second shot, and then I’ll come back to check out what new contributions Ostabúðin has made to the cheese culture of Iceland.