Today’s news brought the shocking end of a unique bit of everyday Norwegian life, in a manner of speaking. Newspaper Gudbrandsdølen Dagningen reported the bankruptcy of a national institution, the firm of Thor Bjørklund & Sons, the inventors of the ostehøvel, literally ‘cheese planer’.
The Bjørklund web site remains up and their range of products, including modern versions of the distinctly Norwegian cheese slicer, seem still to be available – this could be your last chance to get a genuine piece of traditional Norway.
Although the Lillehammer firm won the patent for the ubiquitous kitchen implement in 1925, the slicer in a variety of copied forms is available everywhere, so there is no danger of the tool itself disappearing. In fact, a Google image search for ‘ostehøvel’ is well worth a look, as designers have been playing with the look and form of the slicer for years.
Lawyer and trustee for Bjørklund & Sons, Svein Olav Bøen, told the newspaper that the company had ‘suffered a dramatic turnover failure’, which was the main reason for its collapse. Another casualty of the modern focus on economy over quality, and the practical difficulties of protecting simple, easy-to-copy intellectual property?
The company fought long to guard their patent, and when it expired cheaper copies proliferated. An article I wrote for Aftenposten’s News in English service in 2005 outlines Bjørklund & Sons struggles to keep the ostehøvel modern and Norwegian, and includes links to even earlier news. The Cheese Day design contest might raise a smile.