Sunday, July 21, 2013

Swiss Alp Cheese - only in Summer

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.

Since the 15th century, people living north of the Alps have been using rennet – a substance from the stomach of a cow – to make hard cheeses. This hard cheese was greatly appreciated because it was much more durable than the cottage cheese that people had been making before. It allowed them to create a milk supply for the winter. This is how the foundations of the Swiss cheese culture were laid...

Until the 18th century, hard cheese was made only in the summer in the Alps. The milk yields of those times meant that the cows were dry for a long time in the winter. This changed in the early 19th century, when the practice of intensive agriculture enabled cheese to be produced in the valleys and during the winter – i.e. at times when the cows were being fed hay. The cheese made year-round in the valleys in the mountainous regions is now known as mountain cheese - to distinguish it from Alp cheese.

The term Alp cheese is protected and may only be used for cheeses that are made in summer on the Alpine farms. The cows graze freely on the mountains and seek out their own food on the rich, lush Alpine pastures. Their summer home in the mountains gives them a culinary high, as here they enjoy eating hundreds of different herbs – as opposed to only a few dozen types in the valleys. This healthy food diversity, the great freedom of movement and the crystal clear mountain water creates tasty raw milk that can be gently made into cheese while still at body temperature and without the need for major transport routes.

The limited duration of production and the varying storage times mean that Alp cheeses are not always available everywhere. However, this makes it a very desirable speciality. The cheese may be directly obtained in the Alps during the summering season.

In Switzerland there are many smaller and larger cheese dairies, including many Alpine dairies. There you can not only watch the cheese makers at work, but often, under their expert guidance, you can lend a hand yourself. The cheese cellars are also worth a visit as here hundreds of cheeses can be stored in the one place and in the correct way.

Taste the Alp cheese yourself by hiking through the Piora Valley which is a synonym for the prestigious Piora cheese that you absolutely can't miss. This renowned cheese is attributed to the fodder quality of the pasture, as well as to the rich aromatic flora. During the summer you can find about 500 grazing cows in the Piora valley. The annual cheese production reaches about 3000 pieces (23'000kg). They are pressed in moulds for twelve hours and matured for six months. It is worth the hike! Buon Appetito!

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