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Swiss Alps Ricotta

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See how we make sérac, the Swiss ricotta, up in the Swiss Alps and learn about about Swiss cheese botanics with a field trip to see what the cows graze up there.

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Today I'll show you how we make ricotta in Switzerland, using the whey left from regular cheese. But not any cheese, fromage d'alpage, that gorgeous cheese made during those three glorious summer months when cows are grazing alpine pastures with the cheesemakers shacked up at 2000m/6000' to make cheese every morning.

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I went up the Sanetsch path in the Swiss Alps, right on the border between French and German, Valais and Berne. If you were to sit for a moment on that path, weeping for the dwindling truffle production, half of your tears would end up in the Mediterranean, and half in the North Sea.

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We stop shortly before the path at Le Tsanfleuron, a large dairy chalet. When we arrive around 9h00, Mathilde Martin, mother of four, was pulling out her last cheese for the day. Her last regular cheese, that is. But as soon as the fromages d'alpages were out of the whey, she started making sérac, a very popular Swiss whey cheese very similar to ricotta.

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When you curdle milk to make cheese, you only use the solid white matter floating on the surface - the curds. The rest is called whey, and many cheesemakers discard it or feed it to the pigs. In some places they make butter with it by adding some cream. But you can make as second cheese from the same milk - ricotta if you will, which means literaly recooked. In Switzerland we make a semi-soft whey cheese called sérac.

Mathilde covers her cauldron to increase the the whey's temperature to 90°C (195°F).

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The cheesemaker adds back some of the whey that drained off the cheeses she made in the morning. The whey is collected in a drip pan and fed into a bucket.

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After half an hour, she checks the temperature, looks satisfied and opens the cauldron again to pour acid ferments dissolved in a little water.

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Now all that's needed is wait for the whey to curdle a second time. The rennet will make the protein left in the cheese coagulate a second time. Contrary to the first cheese where the casein was coagulated using rennet, this second cheese is made through the denaturation and coagulation of the proteins left in the whey using an acid solution. I have read that you could obtain this using lemon juice or vinegar.

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After a few minutes a layer of white curds rises to the surface. Mathilde now skims off patches of unappetizing white foam...

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... then sprinkles salt on the cheese.

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There is always a bit of curds stuck at the bottom of the cauldron, she explains, scraping the huge copper cauldon with a wooden stick.

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Mathilde dives in ...

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... and with her might copper sieve scoops out the curds from the steaming cauldron ...

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... and pours the curds into mould-resistant plastic moulds.

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Each mould is covered with a disc ...

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... then with a stone.

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Sérac differs from ricotta in that it is pressed and quite hard, much like ricotta salata used for pasta alla norma.

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like one of the giant pythons visiting an underground lair to greet its inhabitants, Mathilde set a large rubber hose inside the rubber cauldron to syphon remaining whey off, while she goes out for a bit of fresh air.

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I finish principal photography while Mathilde cleans her instruments. Then we all sit around the kitchen table and drink some Fendant, the local white wine, while we taste an intriguing hay-infused cheese I bought from Martin Pilcher in Südtyrol.

Next page, see the cheese cellar and learn all about Swiss Alpine cheese botanics

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