The Making of
SWISS ALPINE CHEESE
A cheese may only be designated as “alp” or “alpine” cheese when the milk production and curdling take place on the mountain, above 3000ft – this can only happen during the short summer vegetational season. The designation “Alpkäse” (alp cheese) is protected in Switzerland – other countries’ rules may be less strict. Genuine Swiss alpine cheese is made from raw milk that has undergone no treatment after milking. The milk is unpasteurised because pasteurising kills off not only all known microbes – but also the crucial flavour-conferring ones too.
Swiss alpine cheese is meticulously hand crafted from the best Swiss alpine milk.
The fresh milk travels only a few meters from the milking parlour to the cheesemaker’s copper vat. A bacteria starter culture is added, as well as a dose of natural rennet. Then, the wooden fire begins to gently warm the milk. After the bacteria and rennet have activated the coagulation, cheese harps are set in place to straddle the vat – nowadays mostly mechanically, but still manually in some smaller chalets. Once the harp has cut the granules to the required size – grains of rice – the cheesemaker swaps the harp for a paddle and stokes up the fire to a higher heat. At regular intervals, he measures the temperature – some still with their elbows – reaches in and scoops a handful of curds, squeezing the grains into a ball, then opening his fist to check for the right texture, consistency and grip.
Every day, the milk is slightly different, every day this moment is different – therefore, no automation can replace the cheesemaker’s skill and experience.
If the curd is right, a linen cheesecloth is leant into the vat, scooping up a load of curd. If the cheesemaker is on his own, he has to help himself with his teeth as a third hand to hoist the steaming and whey dripping cloth high up to transfer it to a circular cheese mould. He then leans on the curds to make sure they are well ensconced. The cheeses are pressed overnight to press out as much whey as possible, then put in a salt bath for 24 hours. For the first three weeks of their maturation, the wheels are brushed with salt solution and turned every single day to prepare them for the long time they will spend in the cellar to get their distinctive tastes.