Etivaz, from the Vaud region of Switzerland, is a taste of the old ways of cheesemaking; crafted by hand, in small copper-lined vats over wood-fires, during the peak cheesemaking months of summer, in the tradition of the Alpage styles of Swiss Cheese. It could even be described as the original Gruyere: in the 1930’s, a collective of Gruyere-producing families in the canton of Vaud became frustrated with lax government regulations of the period, which they felt were allowing sub-par Gruyere’s to go to market and destroying the reputation of all Gruyere producers in the process. They decided to withdraw from the Gruyere program and created their own cheese, which they named L’Etivaz, after a village which was central to their region.
Etivaz is made in the summer months, when the cows are taken up into the mountains to pasture on the rich breadbasket of grasses, herbs and flowers carpeting the alpine fields. The cheesemakers travel up to huts where they stay for a few weeks before following the cows up to the huts at higher altitudes, and then higher still, until late in the summer, at which point they do the process in reverse, eventually returning to the valleys by the time the cold weather rolls in and the alpine meadows get buried in meters of snow. This is a process known as “transhumance”, the movement of animals and herders with the seasons, that is particular to agriculture in mountainous regions around the world (although not practiced as often these days, with the transition to modern agricultural methods).
Crafted into wheels ranging from 40-110 lbs in weight, the outer rind is amber-brown and stony gray, and the paste is golden-ivory in color, with only an occasional eye or fissure, dense and slightly moister and creamier than Gruyere. (in the picture above, the large opening is actually the scar of a cheese iron which had been inserted to remove a cheese plug, essentially a core sample, so the cheese could be sampled, after which the plug was reinserted and the rind resealed. If you look close you can see the outline of the trier scars, and that the plug, when reinserted, was pushed in slightly further than flush with the edge).
The flavor of the Etivaz is deep and complex, wonderfully nutty, fruity and smoky, with floral, herbaceous and toasted hazelnut notes. Given the handcrafted, highly local nature of the make process, there can be variations in flavor from one Etivaz to the next, depending on the grasses of that particular alpine meadows, the woods burned under the copper vats, even the altitude (certain alpine plants only grow within narrow bands above sea level; a drive up a mountain road can sometimes be marked by distinct transition-points, where the red, brushy flowers will suddenly vanish altogether to be replaced by a yellow lacy flower, which in turn will be overtaken by a violet teacup higher up).
Purchased at Murray’s.
Socheese.fr has a great photo essay about a young couple, Eric and Sophie Gutknecht, who are making the famed AOC cheese Etivaz, one small, wood-fire heated, copper vat at a time:
Eric and Sophie, both 30, are part of a young generation of 70 Etivaz producers and spend 110 days a year in high mountain pasture. They have a well organised work schedule: two weeks in the lowest alpine hunt (1,530m), then two and a half weeks in the next (1,715m) and 6 weeks at the summit. Before going descending the mountain again, 10 days are spent in the alpine hut half way down and then another three weeks in the lowest hut. Then, it’s back to Moulin, near Château d’Œx, the couple’s ‘base camp’. All of the alpine huts are at least 200 years old, and have been extended and done up according to what work needed doing and how much money the couple had at the time.
The season for high mountain pasture, authorised for this prestigious AOC cheese, is from 10th May until 10th October, at a height of at least 1000m. With this time schedule, they are able to make 210 rounds of cheese (25kg each on average, 17kg the smallest, up to 36kg for the biggest). In winter, the milk is provided by the dairy in Moulin, which makes organic Gruyère.
Check out the full story here.
One of the most common questions one gets asked as a cheese devotee is: “what’s your favorite cheese?”
I won’t lie; I hate this question, almost as much as being asked to name my favorite movie: which genre are we talking here, western, neo-realist, documentary, independent, experimental, comedy, sci-fi, Eastern European stop-motion? An accurate list of “favorites” would end up being two pages long to cover every area of film, and the same applies to cheese. That being said, if you asked me to name one of my favorite Swiss Alpine cheeses, Chällerhocker (pronounced “Holler-hocker”, the name roughly translates to “sitting in the cellar”) would definitely be at or near the top of the list, and has been there for a few years now, which is why I was surprised to realize that I’d never actually posted about it here until now!
Walter Rass, of Käserei Tufertschwil in Toggenburg, in the canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland, is the cheesemaker behind Chällerhocker. The region is also known as “Appenzellerland”, and Rass’ original expertise is in the making of Appenzeller (you can read my post about his Appenzeller Extra-Aged here).
Rass’ Appenzeller’s are considered some of the best, and several years ago he took an unusual step for an established swiss cheesemaker and began experimenting with the Chällerhocker, raising the milkfat from the levels usually used in Appenzeller, changing the curd size, increasing the aging time and washing the smaller wheels with a distinctive blend of wine and herbs. I say unusual because, while Switzerland is undoubtedly one of the great cheese nations of the world, until recently the governmental and industrial focus, through subsidy and marketing support, has overwhelmingly been for the classic, large format styles — the Gruyere’s, Emmentalers, Appenzellers etc that we traditionally think of when we think of “Swiss Cheese” — at the expense of the smaller, artisanal and experimental cheesemakers who might produce excellent cheeses but do so in styles and formats which are less export-friendly. Thankfully, that’s now changing.
At around 15 lbs, the Chällerhockers come in a smaller format than their Appenzeller siblings. For such a complex-flavored cheese, I was surprised to hear that it was made with heat-treated rather than raw milk, although in this case it’s thermalized — heated to 140-150ºF rather than the full pasteurization at 160ºF+ — which in theory provides a gentler treatment that preserves more of the natural cultures in the milk.
The outer rind is textured, slightly sticky and gritty, with an amber-golden color with washes of pink, and a distinctive four-faced logo imprinted on the top of the wheel (“super-creepy”, as Chällerhocker devotee Gordon Edgar affectionately puts it). The paste is pale gold, with a scattering of spherical eyes. The texture of the Chällerhocker is dense, creamy and notably velvety on the palette, smoother than traditional Appenzeller’s. There is a wonderful aroma as well, edging towards stinky, but with all of the cooked milk and floral notes of an alpine. In flavor the Chällerhocker is wonderfully complex; buttery, briny, nutty and earthy with a swirl of caramelized onions, cured beef, toasted almonds, grass and caramel.
This is one of those cheeses that I could eat every day, and works equally well eaten straight, sliced onto crusty french bread or melted over potatoes and is an excellent addition to a fondue (although it seems a bit of a shame to lose such a distinctive cheese to the melting pot).
If you’re curious about the rise of the New Swiss cheese, check out the amazing coffee table book “Swiss Cheese: Origins, Traditional Cheese Varieties and New Creations”, by Dominik Flammer and Fabian Sheffold, definitely the best book — in English at least — about the Swiss cheese world today.
Ever had a cheese platter which included little curled florets of cheese tucked in among the wedges and chunks? If so, what you were probably seeing was Swiss Tete de Moine cheese, and the tool used to make those florets was a cheese curler, the unusual device which you see pictured here, traditionally known as a “Girolle”. Boska, the maker of a variety of nicely designed tools and gadgets aimed at the cheese afficionado, recently sent me this cheese curler, along with a wheel of Fromage de Bellelay Tete de Moine, to give the girolle a whirl (literally and metaphorically).
The Boska Curler is nicely designed from an aesthetic perspective; it comes in a variety of bases (wood, marble, with accompanying glass dome), with stainless steel hardware that assembles quickly and easily. The pin in the center, onto which the cheese is seated, feels sturdy and punches through the wheel with ease, although you should give it a quick tighten before each use, as it does tend to loosen over time. The blade slides down and holds to the pin snugly, so that when you start turning the blade you don’t feel any wiggle. The blade itself is sturdy steel with a fine edge.
The actual operation of the curler is fairly straightforward: The cylinder of Tete de Moine is impaled on the middle pin, pressed down and snugly set into place against the teeth on the bottom, and the blade axle is then slipped down onto the pin until the edge of the blade just touches the top surface of the cheese.
Once you have the wheel set and ready to shave, you’ll want to give it a few turns to remove the top layer of rind from the Tete de Moine (you could also slice it off before mounting the cheese), as the first curls, if they’re all rind, will neither taste good nor look particularly appealing.
So, now that the cheese is on the curler, the blade is in place, and the top surface has been trimmed, we’re ready to start cranking out perfect cheese blossoms, right? Well…not exactly. The Cheese Curler is one of those devices that requires a delicate touch. You don’t want to apply too much pressure, as you’ll just end up with thick, heavy curls. Too light a touch, though, and you might not get a continuous sheet coming off the curler. You want to hit that sweet spot, where the blade is skimming the surface and the cheese is curling up, paper thin, without being too thick or thin. I’ll be the first to admit that it took a few tries to develop the perfect touch and my florets ended up thicker than I would have liked. I attribute this to user error though; the device itself worked well, I just need to perfect my technique, and by the end I was producing some florets that I was happy with.
In theory, you could use the curler to shave most any kind of cheese that could be seated on the pin. In practice though, Tete de Moine is ideally suited for this use; in fact, the format of Tete is specifically designed to be used with a girolle, and it would be fairly uncommon, in Switzerland, to come across a Tete de Moine that was served as wedges on a cheese plate (although it is available in cheese shops by the pound in the U.S., and there’s no reason, in theory, why it couldnt be eaten as such). However, the curling method allows maximum air contact with the surface of the cheese, allowing the flavors to develop and open up more effectively than they would as a wedge, and it definitely the recommended method of serving.
So what’s the story with the cheese itself? The name means “monk’s head”, a cheeky reference to the shaved pates of the monks of Bellalay Abbey, in the Bernese Jura region of Switzerland, who first created this cheese many centuries ago, and invented the Girolle as well as a way of slicing it. The outside of the cheese is pink and slightly sticky, with a washed rind pungency. The dense, semi-firm paste has a fruity, nutty flavor; this wheel was on the mild side, I’d love to try the Reserve version of the same cheese from Emmi, which is aged longer. (I’ll review the cheese itself at a later date).
The last photograph in this set is my cheese plate from Strasbourg, France’s La Cloche a Fromage, the best cheese restaurant in Alsace, with perfect Tete de Moine blossoms on display. I’ll have to keep practicing until I can produce that!
You can see a video of the Boska cheese curler in action here.
Via murrayscheese, cows are learning to text. Somehow this just seems so very Swiss:
texts from my cows dot tumblr dot com
When Christian Oesch was a boy on his family’s hog farm, cellphones were a thing of the future. Now, Mr. Oesch tends a herd of dairy cattle and carries a smartphone wherever he goes. Occasionally he gets an SMS from one of his cows.
Stanser Rotelli (translation: “little red from Stans”), a washed-rind, soft-ripened raw cow’s milk cheese made by Josef Barmettler in Stans, Switzerland and affinaged by Rolf Beeler. Similar in style to a Reblochon, with the trademark pungency of a washed-rind cheese. The rind is rosy-orange in color, with white bumpy mottling and waves, especially as it ripens (this wheel was a little younger and firmer). The paste is smooth, velvety and creamy, heavy eyed with irregular openings. If you can get when it’s really ripe it can be runny to the point of spoonability, like a fine Epoisses, and at that point it will give Epoisses a run for its money in the “holy crap what is that smell” department as well!
The aroma is first thing that hits you, the wonderful (for some of us) smells of barnyard, wet hay, complex and multilayered, thanks to the quality raw milk that goes into this cheese.
The flavor is milder than some washed rinds but still quite assertive, sweet, meaty, milky, even spicy, with nutty and herbaceous notes and a smooth finish.
Purchased at Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington, MA.
Mont Vully cheese, made by Fromagerie Schafer in Cressier in the Fribourg Canton of Switzerland. Historically, the cheese plant had produced Emmentaler, but when Ewald Schafer took over in 1993, he felt that Emmentaler should only be made in Emmental, and set out instead to create a new cheese to honor their unique terroir.
From that came Mont Vully — named for the mountain on which it is made and upon which the grapes for the wine wash is grown — which proved so popular that they were soon able to stop production of Emmentaler altogether and focus on this new cheese.
Mont Vully is in the vein of the classic Swiss alpines, made with organic milk from the grass-fed cows of Müller & Sahli Bio-Milch. During aging it is washed several times a week with Pinot Noir from neighboring vineyards, giving it a distinct red rind. The paste is semi-firm, smooth and creamy, strong in aroma thanks to the washing but milder in flavor, meaty, grassy and with a nice nuttiness and fruity notes.
Buffalo Blue, another cheese from swiss master Willi Schmid (see my previous posts about the Hölzige Geiss and the Jersey Blue). Schmid is an influential figure in the new wave of small-scale Swiss cheese making (Newlyswissed.com had a good profile of him, and Schmid recently held a talk and tasting at the new Bedford Cheese Shop location in Irving Place which I sadly couldn’t attend). Willi’s creamery is located in Lichensteig, in the Toggenburg valley of the Thur River, in the Swiss Canton of St. Gallen.
The Buffalo Blue is made from pasteurized Water Buffalo milk — much more common in Italian cheese making and a decided rarity in Switzerland, particularly in the German-speaking cantons which are famed first and foremost for their mastery of the thermophilic cow’s milk cheeses (aka Alpine cheeses).
As with the Jersey Blue, the yellow-ivory paste is shot through with thick, kelp-like strands of blue mold with occasional white-mold coated pockets dotting the landscape. This is a deceptivel mild cheese up front, sweeter and creamier even than the Jersey Blue, with a wonderful smokiness and caramel’y notes, but with a strong peppery blue cheese bite that comes roaring in at the end (and in the back of your mouth).
All in all another Schmid cheese to seek out. (Although I couldn’t help but wonder if Willi is aware of the associations that “Buffalo Blue” brings up in America: Try googling this cheese and see how many recipes you get for blue cheese dips for buffalo wings!)
Purchased at Bedford Cheese Shop, Irving Place location.
Hölzige Geiss, aka Wooden Goat, from cheese maker Willi Schmid, maker of the previously reviewed Jersey Blue and a somewhat legendary figure in the new wave of small-scale Swiss cheese making (Newlyswissed.com had a good profile of him, and Schmid recently held a talk and tasting at the new Bedford Cheese Shop location in Irving Place which I sadly couldn’t attend). Willi’s creamery is located in Lichensteig, in the Toggenburg valley of the Thur River, in the Swiss Canton of St. Gallen.
The Hölzige Geiss is a bark-wrapped wheel, similar to a Vacherin Mont d’Or (or Rush Creek Reserve, Jasper Hill’s Winnimere, or the many other Vacherin-inspired cheeses now dotting the landscape), in appearance if not in flavor. It is in some respects an unusual cheese; I’m not sure if this is always the case, but the bone white, lightly eyed paste is much firmer than one would expect from these style of cheeses and has a slightly spongy, even — as fellow urban cheese maker Jon Bonanno described it — marshmallow’y feel to it. this is not a girdled cheese that you would slice the top off of and eat with a spoon, although that being said, you might plow through the wheel just as quickly once you sample it.
In taste as well it’s hard to quantify: with a pungent washed-rind, sticky to the touch and aromatic, it is mild up front but with a sweet, tangy, complex flavor, with hints of nuts and grass, and with a distinctly arboreal flavor from the fir bark, especially at the rind, like standing in a pine grove with the smell of the pine tar wafting off the trees. There is a slight bitterness as well, almost like a vegetable rennet cheese but attributed in this case, I suspect, to the bark, as I’m pretty sure this is an animal-rennet cheese. There’s very little goatiness at all in this cheese. Like all of Schmid’s cheeses, a delicious, if slightly unusual, specimen.
You can see video of Willi Schmid at work in this segment from Swiss television (in Swiss German only unfortunately). At 3:35 you can see him girdling the Hölzige’s with bark.
Tonight at Bedford Cheese Shop in Manhattan, Willi Schmid, highly respected artisan Swiss cheese maker, will discuss his craft. (The photo above is from my previous post about “Jersey Blue”, one of his best known cheeses):
Willi Schmid has been coined a “A Hero of Swiss Cheese” and rightly so. He is a cheese maker from the Toggenburg Valley in Switzerland devoted to upholding the integrity of raw Swiss cheese making. In this class, we will focus on his cheese making technique. Schmid decides what cheese to make depending on the batch of milk he collects from his local herdsmen. Using his sense of smell and taste, he lets his “yellow thumb” guide him. Schmid’s approach to making cheese is similar to an artist’s approach to producing art. Just wait until you hear him talk about “cheese bug” philosophy. Class includes a tasting flight of a selection of his cheeses and classic Swissbeverages.
“I will happily leave the large-scale production of pasteurized pseudo-Alpine cheeses to the factories. I personally fetch my milk from the farmers and bring it to the dairy. It only takes minutes from there into the cauldron.” -Willi Schmid
July 11, 2012 7:00 pm—8:45 pm
Venue: The Homestead
67 Irving Pl, New York, NY, 10003, United States
More info here.