Imagine – a lush meadow high in the Swiss Alps where contented brown cows feast upon the verdant carpet of lush grasses, herbs and delicate alpine wildflowers; from afar comes the sound of yodeling. (On second thought, get rid of the yodeling.) It is a scene such as this that provides a snapshot of the genesis of the magnificent mountain cheeses of Switzerland. In summer, the cows graze in high altitude meadows producing rich milk redolent of all the flora they’ve ingested; in winter, their diet is hay from these same pastures. Individual dairymen join together forming coops, each employing a cheesemaker to process their milk. In turn, the importing firm Columbia Cheese partners with these cheesemakers and brings these sublime cheeses into America.
On Feb. 6th, Jonathan Richardson, the regional sales rep from Columbia, along with cheesemonger Stephanie Santos, presented a class on Swiss Cheeses At Central Bottle & Provision.
The Evening’s Menu
Le Cret Gruyere
Chällerhocker vs. Maxx 365
We began by establishing a benchmark for the tasting – sampling a piece of “supermarket” or industrial Gruyere. Though bearing the imprint of a reputable importer, the cheese was dull, dry and lifeless, perhaps a result of having been packaged in plastic. Fortunately, the cheeses that followed bore little resemblance to that unfortunate example. Several styles of “mountain cheeses” were presented – Gruyere, Appenzeller, Emmenthaler. However, the cheesemakers that Columbia partners with are an innovative lot, taking a standard recipe, tweaking it and producing an iteration that surpasses the traditional cheese. The cheeses ranged from the elegant and “feminine” (Ms. Santos descriptor) Heublumen to the rambunctious and brawny “wild child” Maxx 365 (which is undergoing a name change due to the concern of a certain large-scale grocer). To conclude the tasting, we left Switzerland and landed in Bavaria for another offering from Columbia’s portfolio – the Chirboga Blue. And not to be disparaging, the cheese is made by an Ecuadorean cheesemaker at an agro-turista “show” dairy. Basically a “double cream” blue modelled on Roquefort but using cow’s instead sheep’s milk with cream added back into the cheese. Wow! The cheese was all about butter and sweet cream with a mild flavoring of blue mold. Incredibly rich and delicious. As one of the tasters noted, it was appropriately like dessert.
The cheeses were paired with two beverages. First, from Switzerland the 2010 Romain Popilloud “Amandoleyre” Fendant, a lively and aromatic white that paired well with the lighter cheeses. Secondly, from local independent brewmaster Chris Lohring the Notch “Cerne Pivo”, modelled on a Czech Black Lager – perfect with the hardier cheeses.
Jonathan Richardson is an entertaining, organized and extremely knowledgable presenter. And of course Stephanie Santos offered her always trenchant insights into cheese.
There’s more to Swiss cheeses than just holes. Check them out at Central Bottle.