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Danish bacon and hot dogs could cause cancer

UPDATED: Processed meats including those found in hot dogs and bacon have been listed as potential causes of cancer by the World Health Organisation (WHO) but Danish food officials told The Local that it is unlikely that Denmark will issue new dietary recommendations.

Danish bacon and hot dogs could cause cancer
Will the report make Danes think twice about visiting the nearest pølsevogn? Photo: Colourbox
Eating hot dogs and bacon may constitute something of a national obsession in Denmark, but according to the WHO, those types of processed meats can lead to more serious health risks than previously thought.
 
The organisation's latest report suggests that having just 50g of processed meat a day – less than two slices of bacon or one hot dog – increases the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
 
It is the first time that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that there is “sufficient evidence” to make the link.
 
“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer's (IARC) Monographs Programme said in a statement following the report's release on Monday.
 
“In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance,” he added.
 
The IARC Working Group considered more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets. 
 
It concluded that there was also “limited evidence” to suggest that the consumption of red meat could cause colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer, but said that more research needed to be done in this area.
 
The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (Fødevarestyrelsen – DVA) told The Local that it was unlikely to change official dietary recommendations based on the WHO report.
 
“It doesn't immediately appear as if the WHO report has recommendations that are significantly different than those we have given on meet products since 2013. When the researchers behind the report now put processed meats in the same risk category as tobacco, it doesn't mean that they consider processed meat more dangerous than before,” Else Molander, head of division at DVA, said. 
 
Molander added that the WHO's recommendations to eat no more than 500g of processed meat per week is in line with the official Danish dietary guidelines. She did however say that DVA would take a closer look at the WHO report and determine if Denmark should adjust its recommendations. 

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FOOD & DRINK

Why does Denmark produce so much cheese?

From Danbo to Danablu and the Danish feta that can't be called feta - Denmark produces over four hundred thousand tonnes of cheese each year and exports it across the world. So why is Danish cheese so popular, and what are the country's best-loved cheeses?

Why does Denmark produce so much cheese?

Cheese-making is a serious business in Denmark. In 2021, the country produced a total of 454,500 tonnes of cheese and Danish cheese has won awards at the World Championship Cheese Contest.

The tradition goes back to the Viking era and today, the country’s climate and pastoral land make it ideal for producing cheese (ost). About three quarters of the country’s milk production is turned into cheese, butter and milk powder.

Not only is cheese popular in Denmark, where it’s eaten with pretty much any meal and snack (can you even have a bolle [bread roll] without ost?), it is also eaten around the world in countries including South Korea, New Zealand, Canada, Nigeria and even France.

In 2021, Denmark exported a total of 401,845 tonnes of cheese, making it one of the top cheese exporters in the world. The biggest importer of Danish cheese was Germany (94,419 tonnes), followed by Sweden (52.924 tonnes) and the UK (42,905 tonnes). 18,097 tonnes of cheese was exported to Japan and 5,657 to the United States.

What types of cheese does Denmark make?

The different types of cheese in Denmark can be hard to distinguish and there are a lot of them. You can quite easily end up with a fridge full of strong smells that you weren’t expecting. 

Danbo, often called ‘Denmark’s national cheese’, is the most produced and consumed cheese in Denmark. It has Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, meaning it can only be made in Denmark to specific Danish standards.

Danbo is sold under various trade and brand names, including LillebrorGamle Ole, and Riberhus. Lillebror (meaning Little brother) is very mild and often sold in childrens’ packs, whereas Gamle Ole (meaning Old Ole) is matured for a long time, which means it’s strong and smelly. Caraway seeds are sometimes added to this cheese.

Esrom also has Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status and is made from pasteurised cow’s milk. It is semi-soft with small holes and is pretty pungent.

Havarti is one of the most famous Danish cheeses. It’s a bit like a cheddar in that the taste can be mild, but the longer the cheese is stored, the stronger it gets. 

Danablu is a Danish Blue soft blue cheese, similar to Roquefort. It has a strong aroma and a sharp and a little salty taste. Danablu is often used in America to make blue cheese dressing for salads and blue cheese dip for chicken wings. 

A dairy farm in Klemensker, Bornholm has twice been named world champion in cheese making. Photo: Morten Juhl/Ritzau Scanpix

Mycella is a veined blue cheese made from pasteurised cow’s milk on the island of Bornholm and is similar to Gorgonzola. It goes well in a salad or cheese platter or even crumbled on top of an open sandwich.

Blå kornblomst, meaning ‘blue cornflower’, is a creamy blue cheese with a mild, slightly salty taste. The cheese is white to yellowish with blue tinges and is made from pasteurised cow’s milk on North Jutland.

Danish rygeost, meaning ‘smoked cheese’ is mild, light and smokey. It originates from 19th century Funen, with some believing it dates back to the Viking Age. 

A dish of potato, monkfish and smoked cheese.

A dish of potato, monkfish and smoked cheese. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

Vesterhavsost, meaning ‘North Sea Cheese’, is a semi-hard cheese with a slightly salty taste as it is ripened in the sea air of North Jutland. It’s referred to as the Danish version of Gouda. 

Fyrmester or Fyrtårnsost, meaning ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’ or ‘Lighthouse Cheese’, is an extra-mature version of the vesterhavsost, aged for at least 52 weeks.

Samsø cheese is similar to Emmentale and made on the island of Samsø in Kattegat.

Hvid ost, meaning ‘white cheese’, is Denmark’s equivalent to feta cheese but uses cow’s milk rather than the goat or sheep’s milk used in Greek feta cheese. It’s milder and doesn’t crumble like Greek feta cheese because it’s made differently, using something called ultrafiltration.

There have been debates as to whether this actually makes it feta cheese. Earlier this year, Denmark lost a case at the European Court of Justice over its farmers exporting cheese outside the EU labelled feta, something only Greece can do. The cheese is sometimes labelled in supermarkets as ‘salad cubes’ (salat-tern).

There is, perhaps, one thing that unites almost all Danish cheeses: they are sliced using the characteristic ostehøvl (cheese slicer), the quintessential Danish kitchen utensil.

There are two types of ostehøvl: a wire-based type and a version that looks a bit like a trowel, with a raised edge and a gap in the middle for the sliced cheese to pass through.

Cheese vocab:

Blød ost: Soft cheese

Halvfast ost: Semi-soft cheese 

Fast ost: Semi-hard cheese 

Hård ost: Hard cheese

Ekstra hård ost: Extra hard cheese

Frisk ost: Fresh cheese

Ostehøvl: cheese slicer

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