FAQs

Ordering and Delivery (from April 24 2017)

 How can I get free delivery?

Just order. As an introductory offer, all deliveries are free of charge for posting and packaging. Order now to be among the first to enjoy genuine Swiss alpine cheese.

 

 

 

Can I get free samples?

 

Cheese has to be tasted. We want you to experience a no risk cheese shopping. You can order your free samples in the Special Offers section. 

 

How do I know you have received my order?

 

After having ordered, you will be immediately notified by e-mail.

 

What will happen to the condition of the cheese if it is delayed? 

 

Please don’t worry if it is delayed by a day or so: it’s lovingly boxed with ice gel packs to keep the air cool and with low ambient temperatures the cheese will not be harmed.

  

Is there a minimum order quantity?

 

Small amounts of cheese dry out quickly and… frankly: once you’ve had a piece of one of our cheeses, you will want to have more. So, it’s better to order enough. The minimal size is 300 grams, smaller portions are difficult to handle. Every cheese is cut by hand fresh for you. 

So, yes, in theory, minimal order is 300 grams. But we are sure you will want to order more…

 

Can you cut to the exact required weight?

 

Cutting cheese accurately to a given weight is a real art. We don't use machines to cut the cheese - it is all done by our cheesemongers by hand. We always endeavour to get as close to the quantity ordered as possible, if we go "under" on one item we'll try and make up for it on another. 

 

Can I get a refund if I don’t like a cheese?

 

If you are not sure whether you will like the cheese, order a sample package. 

If you don’t like any of the cheeses, you will get a full refund for the nominal fee you paid for the samples. If you like them and order, the nominal fee will be credited on your next order. 

 

My items are faulty, how do I return them, and do I get a refund?

 

If for any reason you are not happy with the cheeses you have ordered, please contact us. 

If the cheese in question is clearly faulty and has been so before it left our premises (an unlikely event, though, because  every piece of cheese we sell is freshly cut by hand for every single order and therefore carefully inspected before it is shipped) you will get a 100% refund or replacement. To find out what happened with the cheese, we will ask you to send the cheese back, if possible in a chilled box via courier service. Alternatively, you will be asked to provide us with a digital photograph of the fault this might save you from having to return the goods for inspection, although you will get a refund for your postage costs. Returns are accepted only if the goods are damaged.

 

How do you make sure that the cheese arrives in good condition?

 

Every cheese is hand cut especially for you at the time you order it from us. It is immediately vacuum-packed. All cheeses are securely packed by us in thermopackages with ice which will stay cool for up to 36 hours. Depending on the weather conditions, we can do without the additional cooling to our own discretion.

 

Can I telephone my order through to you rather than place an order online?

 

Unfortunately we are unable to accept orders over the phone. If you would like to place a larger order or have any wholesale inquiries, please e-mail us (shop@alpages.co.uk)

 

I want to order a weekly or monthly cheese subscription but I can’t see how to change the delivery schedule.

 

Once you’ve made your subscription order, simply reply to your order confirmation email once you have one and let us know when you'd like them to go out. Otherwise you can just email us after you've made the order but please make sure you include the order number in your email. 

 

Do you ever substitute items if they are unavailable at the time of ordering?

 

Our cheeses are only produced in the summer months and all come from small cheesemakers. Furthermore, matured cheeses take time to mature, obviously. When we run out of stock, we’re out of stock. If this happens after your has been accepted, we will either substitute the out of stock item with a very similar cheese and notify you on your order note or contact you to arrange either a refund or a replacement. 

 

Can I order without a credit card?

 

If you don’t have a credit card, you can still delight in Swiss alp cheeses. Send us an e-mail with your request and we can see what we can do.

 

Can I buy these cheeses in a shop?

 

None of these cheeses are available in any shop in the UK at the moment, they’re mostly only available directly at the producers. And they are up on remote alpages in Switzerland, and this only in summer… 

  

Can I pick up my order at your premises?

 

Unfortunately not.

 

Can I get the cheese delivered to my work place?

 

Of course you can, please indicate the address details while ordering. 

 

 Do you sell wholesale?

 

Yes, we do sell to other retailers. Enquiries are welcome.

 

Can I get a gift order?

 

Yes, we send gifts in your name. Don’t forget to specify the delivery address. If you want to add a nice gift card: we are happy to do this for you. Just e-mail us the details. 

 

My order hasn’t turned up, what can I do?

 

Hmmm. As starving is not an option, we recommend you get something nice from your corner shop. Seriously: send us an e-mail, as soon as you think your delivery is over due. If this happens in London, we can react quickly. For every other location, we are depending on Royal Mail. We will track down your package and find a solution, according to the situation. 

 

When should I order for a specific date such as Christmas?

 

You can order any time from now and choose a delivery date to suit you once you're in the Checkout.

Tasting / Storing

Can I taste your cheese before buying?

 

We want you to experience a no risk cheese shopping. Therefore we provide you with free samples! See «Special Offers».

How long can I store the cheeses in the original vacuum pouch?

 

In the fridge at about 5°C, the cheese can last for at least three months in its vacuum pouch. There are no chemicals whatsoever in alpine cheese – not from the grass the cows had eaten, not in the milk, nor in anything else.

 

How long can I store the cheeses once opened?

 

They should, properly stored, last at least a week or two. We think, in contrast to other cheese experts, that cling film, applied tightly (!), is a good way to store cheeses in the fridge. Certainly better than, as often recommended, to store them in a damp cloth, because the dampness will accelerate the building of mould. A damp cloth might be ok for soft cheeses like Brie. Cheese has to be stored in the fridge, of course, at the driest possible place, ideally between 1°C and 5°C.

Don’t forget to make sure they're at room temperature before serving to get the maximum flavour.

  

Can I freeze alp cheese?

 

You can do whatever you like. You can swim from Tower bridge to London bridge. Or go barefeet in the snow.  It won’t kill you, but we wouldn’t recommend it either. And: why freeze if you can order at Alpages.co.uk at any time?

Packaging

 How are the cheeses wrapped/protected?

 

We deliver our cheeses in a vacuum pouch with an outer cardboard box. On warmer days, we use chilled and insulated bespoke packaging to maintain optimum condition. Gift packages come in a wooden box.

 

Do vacuum bags change the taste of the cheese?

 

We blind tested some samples, cheeses directly from the mountain cellar, compared to cheese which spent 3 weeks in a vacuum pouch. None of the consumers nor experts (cheese makers, farmers) could tell any difference.

Don’t forget to take the cheese out of the vacuum pouch some time before consumption.

 

Are your cheeses pre-packed?

 

No pre-packaging at Alpages.co.uk! All cheeses are freshly cut to order by hand, at the moment of dispatching. 

 

 

Product

Are alpine cheeses organic?

 

They are more organic than some products bearing one of the many different European labels for organic food. Unfortuntaley, there deosn't exist one single European law  for organic farming. There are many different organisations issuing different rules and certifications. Some organisations have lower levels than others. The Swiss government requires strict rules for mountain summer farming. For example, no herbicides, no fungicides are allowed, in situ produced cow manure is the only fertilizer allowed. Swiss alpine cheeses are therefore generally produced according to quite strict rules of organic farming. Some of them obtain a Swiss Bio (organic) label, if the cows are kept according to organic principles not only in summer, but also throughout the winter. But as many "alpages" also host cows from other farms, it is quasi impossible to have the operation certified, as the involved farms might differ from year to year. 

 

Why have I never heard of these great cheeses before?

 

Alp cheeses are only produced from May until September. The first ones can be sold only after about a month of maturation, some regions request a maturation time of at least 60 days, while they are tasting best after at least a year’s maturation in dedicated cellars. 

Therefore, even in Switzerland, alp cheeses are not always available. However, this makes it a very desirable speciality. The cheese may be directly obtained from the alpine chalets in which they are made during the summering season. Which means: you have to hike up there. And, second disadvantage: most alpine farmers only sell cheese of current production, i.e. young. It takes a good cellar with the appropriate humidity and  temperature as well as a dedicated «affineur» to mature them to perfection. As only 2% of Swiss cheese production is genuine alpine cheese, it is safe to say that also only about 2% of retailers have them in stock. 

 

How much alp cheese is being produced every year?

 

Alp cheese is only produced in the summer – with milk from the cows, goats or sheep that graze on the Alpine pastures. It is only when the milk production and cheese making take place on the mountains themselves that the cheese may be called Alp cheese. Therefore, the production is very limited – it amounts to less than 2% of the whole Swiss cheese production. 

 

  I’m in Switzerland next week. Can I somewhere watch alpine cheese making?

 

Yes, some alpine cheesemakers gladly show you how they produce their cheeses. But you have to get up early, as the process often starts as early as 5 am. And of course, you have to be there during the summer months. Tell us in which region you are planning to travel – we can provide you with contacts.

 

Why are these cheeses only produced in summer?

 

Alpine pastures can only provide grass and herbs in summer. Some meadows at very high altitude (6000 feet and more), provide the cows only for about ten days with grass – then the growth period is over again. In some areas, the cows are grazing on more than 4 stages – for instance, in May, they graze for 3 weeks on 3600ft, in June on 5400ft, at the end of July at 6000ft. Later, they  go back again to 5400ft adn 3600ft. This also means, that the farming family is dislocating several times throughout each summer.

  

What is the difference between alp cheese and mountain cheese (“Alpkäse” and “Bergkäse”)?

 

Alp cheese is very different to mountain cheese. Alp cheese is produced only in summer during the so-called summering on the mountain pastures. Mountain cheese, on the other hand, is produced throughout the year in the village dairies (or even small industrial cheesemaking factories) of mountainous regions, thus also in winter when the animals are fed in with hay in the barn or cowshed. The region in which cheese is allowed to be called mountain cheese is about four times the size of the region in which genuine alpine cheese production is allowed.

Most consumers are not aware of this difference, not even in Switzerland, although the difference in nutrional values (alpine cheeses have much higher contents of Omega 3 and Omega 6, for instance) and in taste are huge.

Some brands take advantage of that and show pictures of snowy mountains on the labels of their cheeses or call them “Bergalp” or something similar to make believe they are the real thing – while they’re produced on an industrial level, often with pasteurised milk.

 

Are there any other Swiss alp cheeses available in the UK?

 

We only know of an Etivaz and a Gruyère d’Alpage for sale in the UK. For our tastes, they are sold mostly too young to express their full potential. There are other cheeses with names alluding to mountain cheese production, like Bergheu, Heidi or similar. But in all cases we have encountered, they are not made in summer above 3000 feet. If you are looking for other alp cheeses, look out for the French Beaufort d’Alpages or summer Beaufort. The art of making Beaufort has been brought from Gruyère to the Savoie, so these cheeses are rather similar to a Gruyère d’Alpage. But be careful, descriptions like “Beaufort from the mountains” or the like don’t mean necessarily that they have been produced according to the strict rules the Swiss authorities have for their alp cheeses. 

 

How many litres of milk are there in a kilogram of cheese?

 

It takes about 12 litres of milk for one kilogram of alpine cheese. That’s for young cheese. Maturing, the cheese can lose up to another 20% of its weight after one year. Therefore, there’s even more milk in our aged cheeses than in the younger ones.  

During maturation, cheese is losing humidity – while gaining a lot of taste.  

 

How big is a wheel?

 

This depends on the region. In the very steep mountains of central Switzerland, the cheeses are mostly smaller, weighing 4 to 6 kilos. Especially in the old times, those cheeses were easier to handle than the big wheels (25 to 40 kg) made in the Gruyère area (like our Etivaz and Gruyère d’Alpage cheeses). Historically, this was a disadvantage for commerce, as custom duties on cheeses were on piece, not on weight. A clear advantage for Emmental cheese, which weighs up to 120 kgs (and could therefore only be produced in village or industrial dairies, because one man alone can not handle it. While in alpine cheese procuction, the cheesemaker is often on his own.)

Smaller wheels dry out quicker, therefore we tend to chose the bigger wheels (some producers make differently sized cheeses, by means of a flexible form).

 

 What is an "alpage"?

 

Alpage is the french expression for an alpine meadow, which is used to herd animals in summer, and only in summer. The German expression is “alp” which is even closer to the word Alp (as in the mountain range), confusing english speaking people even more. An alpage includes the meadows, the cowshed, the cheese dairy as well as a home for the "Senn"  (alpine farmer) and his workers (mostly a "Zusenn" and a cheesemaker). An alp mostly consist of three stages, one at lower altitude (mostly called "Maiensäss" = seat for the month of May), one at a very high altitude for the warmest weeks of the year and then another stage for the weeks in between. Most "alpages"  have a cheese dairy at every stage.

   

Why is alp cheese more “artisan “ than other cheeses?

 

Modern cheese production is based on pasteurised milk. Pasteurised milk is always the same, characterless, predictable. Therefore all the cheese making processes can be automated: Basically, at one end of the factory you fill in the milk, milk which has been mixed together from thousands of cows from dozens of farms, regardless of an individual cow's condition. At the other end, cheese comes out – cheese that tastes the same every day of its production. Alpine cheese making requires however a lot of manual labour and human involvement. As the milk is different every day (due to weather conditions, time of the season), the cheesemaker has to take different decisions to achieve his or her goal: to produce a great cheese. Alpine cheese making is always a small scale operation, many processes are still done by hand, because machines and automation would be too expensive for the short amount of time the faciities are in use. Furthermore, there is mostly not a lot of space for a lot of machinery.

 

 Why is Piora cheese so expensive?

 

First of all: it tastes really exceptional. Due to the unique terroir, it is nearly impossible to recreate the particualr Piora aroma (although Sorescia comes cvery close!). The alp is a cooperative, some 30 farmers from the lowlands have their cows grazing up there. The cheese is made in a functional modern dairy (which still involves a lot of artisan skills), it is sold from the different farmers cellars – first, you have to find one who is willing to sell a wheel or two of his cheeses, and – they don't negotiate the prices. 

 

 Are your cheeses suitable for vegetarians?

 

No, if you are a strict vegetarian, you're unfortunately banned from eating genuine Swiss alpine cheese, as natural rennet is used for their production.

 

I am lactose intolerant, can I eat alpine cheese? 

 

Hard, matured cheese is a great choice for people who want the good ingredients of the milk, but are lactose intolerant. This is because most of the lactose in the milk used to make hard cheeses is removed in the whey as part of the cheese-making process, making them virtually lactose free. Further more, during maturation, all lactose is turned into other forms of sugar.

 

All the cheeses are made with unpasteurised milk. Is this a health hazard?

 

No, and this for two reasons. First of all: Alpine cheeses are made with the freshest milk possible, the one produced directly at the cheesemaker's premises. No transports are involved, which means again less risk for contamination. Furthermore, the cheesemakers are aware of the risks involved and work therefore with extra high caution. The Swiss government's health authority, the BAG (Bundesamt für Gesundheit) says: "Fresh and soft cheeses made from raw milk contain rather listeria pathigenic than long matured raw milk cheeses like Sbrinz, Gruyère and other alpine hard cheeses. THese cheeses hardly ever contain any listeriosis. If, then in the rind. If you want to be extra careful, don't eat the rind." We agree with that: the rind of a matured cheese is not to be eaten, it is not a great pleasure – the rind is there to protect the cheese and to help it getting its great taste. 

 

Is alpine cheese good for my teeth and bones?

 

Calcium helps build strong teeth and bones. Hard cheese is a great source of calcium.  A 30 gramm piece of alpine cheese provides about 30% of an adults daily requirement for calcium.

 

Why do alpine cheeses have more essential Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids than any other cheeses?

 

The main reason is the quality of the grass: alpine flora contains more alpha-linolen acids  than lowland flora. These alpha-linolen acids are turned into essential Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, while also the ratio between Omega 3 and Omega 6 is very favourable.

 

 Why don’t you offer goat or ewes cheese?

 

We restrict ourselves to alpine cheeses made from raw milk. There are some great goat and sheep cheeses out there in the Swiss alps, but so far we haven’t found one which fulfills all our criteria: most goat and ewe cheeses are made of thermised milk (close to raw milk, better than pasteurised, but still… not raw milk). 

 

Why is older cheese more expensive than younger one?

 

Maturation of a cheese takes a lot of effort. We mature our cheeses by hand. Every single wheel is washed and turned weekly or bi-weekly, an occupation which equals any tough workout in the gym! (Most larger "affineurs" have robots to do this work. They lift the cheese from the shelf, wash it, and put it back again – all automatically. This is fine, but the robot can't take the different characters of particular wheels into account. Our affineur, Lee Aspinall, can do more than any robot: he sees how a specific wheel is maturing and is able to treat it accordingly. Furthermore, maturation needs space, space means costs: rents, energy, insurance and so on. And the biggest factor of it all is weight: during a year's maturation, the cheese loses about 10 to 15% of its initial weight (humidity) and turns into more tasty substances.

 

Why does raw milk make cheese so different?

 

Pasteurising might kill germs, but it also kills all the bacteria that are responsible for the taste. In every type of milk, the bacteria are different, which makes one part of the specific taste of a cheese.

 

What is the difference to other cheeses like cheddar?

 

Cheddaring is a specific way to separate the whey from the curd, otherwise, cheese making is similar everywhere. But the biggest difference to alpine cheeses lies in the milk.  In alpine regions, the cows can graze on meadows with more than 100 different species of herbs and grasses. This makes the milk very special, and every region, every area, has a different composition of plants. Therefore, the milk comes in many different varieties (but all with a lot of taste). It is practically impossible to have the same kind of biodiversity in the lowlands. In the lowlands, the variety is much smaller, therefore the milks are more unified. It takes a very skillful cheesemaker to create something distinguished out of it. 

 

Can your cheeses be tracked to their producer? 

 

All our cheeses are obtained directly from the producer. The producers all have an EU-certification. This certification shows you the exact location of the cheesemaker (also shown on our website). 

  

Are alpine cheeses safe to be consumed while pregnant?

 

The UK Chief Medical Officer suggests you avoid cheeses made with unpasteurised milk while pregnant. But the Chief Medical Officer does not make any distinction between soft cheeses and long matured hard cheeses – probably because they are not on his radar at all. The Swiss government's health authority, the BAG (Bundesamt für Gesundheit) advises for pregnancy: "Fresh and soft cheeses made from raw milk are rather listeria pathogenic than long matured raw milk cheeses like Sbrinz, Gruyère and other alpine hard cheeses. These cheeses hardly ever contain any listeriosis. If at all, then in the rind. If you want to be extra careful, don't eat the rind." We agree with that: the rind of a matured cheese is not to be eaten, it is not a great pleasure – the rind is there to protect the cheese and to help it getting its great taste.