Hard Core Swiss Vacherin Cheese (page 2 of 2)Home >> Experiences
... and Clément pulls it out of the whey.
A cascade of white liquid falls back into the pot ...
... and the cheesemakers slide the hook on the rail until the heavy bag rests on the work bench.
The curds are placed into square wooden boxes to drain off.
When the boxes are full ...
... weights are placed on top.
Meanwhile, the junior cheesemaker cleans the cheese forms in the kitchen.
After a few minutes, the cheese curds have set and Yvan unmolds a huge white slab on his work bench.
One never tires of witnessing the magic of milk curds. After having be cut into pea-sized pieces with a guitar, then boiled for half an hour, they reconstitute into a solid block within minutes of being put in a form. Such is their mystery.
Yvan grabs a giant knife and slices the slab ...
... into four blocks.
The third armailli, Sébastien Goumaz, joins them. He is much younger but already a seasoned and passionate cheesemaker, proud of his trade. He just finished cleaning the cheese forms and comes to help him.
Each block is wrapped in cheesecloth ...
... then Yvan grabes a cheese form.
... and he presses the square cheese block into the circular form, with the cheesecloth on.
The cheeses are piled up and a weight is placed on top to press them into shape.
After only a few minutes, the curds have reset into their new, permament circular shape. The younger armailli removes the forms and piles the cheese, still wrapped in their cheesecloth, in a plastic tube with little discs to separate them. The cheese is ready for storage.
All of this cutting, pressing and squeezing produces impressive of quantities of whey that quietly drops into those milk vats they call boye in the Gruyère.
There is no space in La Hautachia to store the cheese heads the armaillis produce, so every day they drive the eve's production in a jeep to the first of the three chalets, the one closest to the Valsainte monastery. There, in a dark cellar the cheeses are piled up in a vat filled with brine. For the greated enemy of the cheesemaker is not the European union and its soulless hygienic rules, but homegrown molds and mites.
A day later, Yvan removes then from the brine and places them on the wooden shelves where, every day, his fellow armailli will come and brush them with more brine to keep the nasties out.
The armaillis work in the four chalets of the Hautachia alpage during 4 months every year with only 40 cows. The rest of Yvan's 100 cows stay in his farm down in the valley. From those 40 cows fit enough to climb the alpage, they make 250 Gruyère cheese heads, each about 27kg (60lbs) and 80 Vacherin of 8kg (17lbs) a piece. These cheese will first be matured in this tiny cellar, then moved to a huge communal cellar in Charmey where thousands of cheeses from all of the region's alpages are matured for a year.
Vacherin has more taste than Gruyère. More tart and less sweet, it sometimes has a tiny hint of ammonia in it, not displeasing in the least. You need to try this exceptional cheese. But please don't mistake it for the Vacherin Mont d'Or. This here vacherin is sometimes called Vacherin fribourgeois to distinguish it from its brother made in the Jura, the Vacherin Mont d'Or, sold in pine boxes. These are two different cheeses with similar names. And make sure you get vacherin d'alpage, not the vacherin they do from stay-at-home cows during the winter. You'd miss half the fun.
After a workday longer than the statutory French work week, the armaillis sleep in a spartan bedroom upstairs, directly above the stables. Only one of them will sleep here tonight. We have three chalets on the way up from the monastery, so we each sleep in one, explains Yvan. like this we can entertain whenever we want, jokes in colleague. It's a joke because the life of the armailli is monastic. They wake up at 4 to milk the cows and send them grazing, then do the cheese, then move the cows and milk them again. Sunrise to sundown, 7 days a week. A look at this room tells you what their life is about. On the wall, three decorated spoons they carve during their few spare hours. A poya, those traditional paintings of cow processions going up the alpage. A couple pictures of another photographer who visited them many summers ago to take pictures of the magic they work with the milk. A small bed where in the past the armaillis would sleep in with the stable boys. A bare bulb you need to screw in to turn the light on whenever the generator is running. This is a life of work and contemplation not totally unlike those of the monks at the foot of the mountain. This is the life of their fathers, a life they embrace like a religion, one they never quit.