The air is crisp and cool, and we naturally start to gravitate towards warmer, richer flavors & textures. Here in the shop, this is the time of year we start to see the Alpine cheeses grow in demand, and for good reason - they are perfect Fall & Winter cheeses!
So, what is an Alpine cheese? Traditionally, it has been used to describe a cheese made in the Alps. Another common term for these cheeses is "Swiss", but it is not just Switzerland that makes Alpine cheese - France and Italy are also major producers.
Nowadays, the "Alpine" moniker is commonly applied to any cheese that is produced in a similar way to those traditional cheeses made in the Alps, regardless of their origin.
Alpine cheeses are known for their smooth texture and deep & nutty flavors. They are also renowned melting cheeses, and are the base of any great fondue or raclette.
One unique element to traditional Alpine cheese making is a process called "Transhumance" - this is the centuries old tradition of livestock grazing down the slopes of the mountains with the seasons. In the warm summer months, the cows graze in the lush "alpage" - the green mountain valleys - and they slowly work their way down the hills as the weather cools, until they eventually graze on hay during the winter.
Their human caretakers stay with the herd during this whole process, and live in small dwellings and make cheese daily with the fresh milk- it is a way of life.
Because of this constant shift, the milk and the cheeses produced from it are always slightly different, and exhibit a great deal of "terroir". The milk from the lush alpine valleys with all their wildflowers & grasses produces a more bright, floral and grassy cheese, while the winter milk is deep & nutty in flavor.
An "alpage" - a mountain valley - high in the French Alps.
Another unique trait to Alpine cheeses is their size - they are immense, sometimes weighing over 200lbs per wheel. The reason for this is also rooted in history - the large, big wheels were easier for farmers to produce and travel with as they slowly worked their way down the mountains, and their sheer size makes them more durable and easier to age.
A man carrying a large wheel of Emmenthaler - which can weigh over 200lbs!
It is also said that their massive size was clever way to avoid excessive taxation - many governments and municipalities across Europe taxed cheese on a per-wheel basis. So, naturally, it made more sense for the cheese producer & traders to just make larger wheels!
Alpine style cheeses can be enjoyed year round, and we always have plenty in stock in our shops. Here are some to try-
Cave Aged Gruyere: Probably the quintessential example of Alpine cheese. We carry Gruyere that has been cave aged for a long period of time, at least 1 year, which allows it to develop a deep and nutty flavor. If you've ever tried Gruyere in the past and have been unimpressed, give this a try - the younger varieties just don't compare!
Raclette de Savoie: We carry a very special Raclette cheese by the renowned affineur Joseph Paccard. Raclette cheese is typically associated with a dish that shares the same name and incorporates melted Raclette over boiled fingerling potatoes and served alongside cornichons and assorted cured meats. Yes, it is as delicious as it sounds!
Appenzeller: The Appenzeller we bring in is aged by Rolf Beeler, perhaps the most famous Swiss affineur. He takes already great cheeses and elevates them to new highs. Appenzeller is more powerful than typical alpine cheeses and exhibits some spicy garlic notes along with toasted hazelnuts & cream.
Ascutney Mountain: This is a great American take on the Alpine category, produced in Vermont using raw Jersey cow milk. Slightly firmer than most alpine cheeses, and with a bit of a sharp bite on the finish. One of our favorites, and a great cheese to exhibit seasonality - the change in color and flavors from spring, summer & winter batches is amazing.
Gooey melted Raclette over potatoes
We have many other alpine cheeses in our shops, so if you're curious, stop in and ask to try a sample. We love sharing our passion for these great cheeses.