Cheese with coffee may not be the first thing that comes to mind for fika. But what about cheese in coffee? That was the focus of a coffee break during the Kalevala and Finnish Folklore Class at the University of Minnesota during spring semester.

Students in the class pressed for the special coffee when Professor Tom DuBois of the University of Wisconsin-Madison came to their Minneapolis classroom for a visit. He is teaching a joint course between the two universities, and usually broadcasts from Madison. For much of the semester he sees the Minnesota students through a two-way interactive television screen, but a couple times during each term he visits them. This was the case in February.

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But why the coffee with leipäjuusto, or squeaky cheese? Some of the Minnesota students had participated in his dual college course a year ago, focused on Sami culture and history. He had introduced them to the northern Sami tradition of putting a chunk of cheese in the bottom of the coffee cup, where it warms, softens, adds a sort of cheesecake flavor at the end, and offers a little protein.

Sliced, fried or dissolved in coffee
While Minnesota students enjoyed the coffee and cheese experience, the Wisconsin students had to sit and watch. Professor DuBois promised them leipäjuusto coffee at another time in the semester. Minnesota students had one other advantage over their Wisconsin peers: they got to attend an orchestra performance about Kullervo, one of the characters in the epic poem. No doubt the Wisconsin students will find some way to enhance their class experience before the semester ends.

The current college course includes readings of the “Kalevala,” the national Finnish folk epic, plus Longfellow’s “Hiawatha,” Kivi’s “The Seven Brothers,” and Niemi’s “Popular Music from Vittula: A Novel.” Students will create their own epic using five songs important in their lives; they will illustrate a segment of the Kalevala and interview a character from the story to find out what they were doing after their participation in the epic ended.