Swiss Alps Cheesemaking (page 2 of 2) Home
My visit of a 8000'/2400m high cheesemaking chalet in the Swiss Alps where cheese is still made like 300 years ago - and not one tourist in sight!
FX, can you close the door, please?, she asks. As the door closes, I can barely see my feet. Fortunately a couple off-camera flashes to help me show you how the cheese is made.
A quick temperature check and Jenny removes the mixer. A hand in the cheese to see if it's really ready ...
... and she dives in like a bird of prey with a huge cheesecloth held between her teeth.
The young cheesemaker pulls up a huge sack of curds...
...and she rushes to the table while the hot whey pours out on the century-old stone slabs.
She places the cheesecloth full of curds inside one of the wooden forms and presses for more whey to come out...
... then covers it with a stone.
As the curds run out, Jenny works on the cheeses she made the day before. She swiftly removes the stones, then the wooden circles ...
... and unwraps the cheesecloth. Much whey has escaped and the casein has bonded again - the cheese is still soft but holds together...
... and can be removed from the form.
What happens next? The fresh cheeses are carried to a tiny stone hut (above) to start the salting and maturing process.
As I draw near, I notice a pattern on the wooden door. It has been carved 40 years ago by the shepherds who lived up there in Vorderdistel.
«German Lagger» are the first and last names of the head sepherd, formerly from Münster, now deceased. Nothing sinister here. Mr «Z'Hirt» was his helper.
Don't miss the 360° panorama of inside the maturing hut (Macromedia Flash, 2Mb). You'll see the salt bath where the cheese spend their first night on earth, then the wooden slabs where their wait for their daily rubbing. This will go on for a whole year although some people already eat the cheese 2 months after it's been made. During 90 days Christian and his crew produce nearly 1000 such cheeses from their 51 cows, and space soon runs out. Joseph, the farmer, comes up regularly to haul down as many cheeses as he can carry and stores them in a cellar down in the valley. When you drive through the Alps you'll see dozens of these places where you can buy such cheeses. Just stop when you see a sign - you won't be disappointed.
I'll show you the matured cheese next year.
The secret of these high alpine pasture cheeses incredibly complex taste is in the grass. Each plant contributes toward the final tastes. If your cows change pasture, you can taste the change in the milk. It is not mystery - milk is made from water and grass.
The herd is 51 cows strong, owned by 4 farmers in Münster. Most are the Swiss Bronfi cow and 3 are the famed Evolène fighting cow. They come up for 90 days in late June and visit 4 different pastures/chalet as they exhaust the grass. The rest of the year the cows are down in the village. The cowboys don't come down at all - it's a full time 7-days-a-week job. One farmer brings the food up by foot once a week. In 90 days they produce about 1000 big cheeses. The cheeses are sold privately starting in September.
Thanks to Jenny, Christian & the other cowboys up there in Vorderdistel for their warm welcome, to Joseph Werlen and Herr Imoberdorf for helping me plan this and of course to Johannes for his invaluable help on lighting.
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«Today, I came across a wonderful set of photos [...] by the very talented photographer François-Xavier. He travels and photographs and writes about food. His photos are so rich and varied and do that thing that amazing photographers do of capturing the moment and the feeling of that moment just perfectly. They have a painterly feel almost like a still life which somehow seems so appropriate for showing people working with food using methods they love.» FUCheese 15/04/2009
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