Tag Archives: alpine cheese

Alpine Cheese-O-Rama

I bragged the other day on facebook about us having the best Alpine section in the city. Since then people have been asking me about what we have so I thought I would just convert my internal department notes into a blog post. I know most people reading this aren’t close enough to shop here – so this isn’t really a commercial – I am just in love with these cheeses and the holidays are the only time I can buy all this at once and be reasonably sure we can sell it all. In fact some of these are going quick.
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So, Here we go (in alphabetical order):

Almkase 1 yr
This is the best deal in the Alp section. Amazing flavor – a bit more oniony that the Cousin but similar texture – for the price. This is the best cheese I tasted in Austria and it is co-op milk and co-op made.
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Beaufort 18 Month -- Rodolphe Meunier

Better than the one we had last month even though it is not Alpage. This is selected by Rodolphe Meunier and is Summer milk (i.e. grass-fed) just not from the highest elevation of the Alps. About a year and a half old. Complex, buttery, nutty and grassy.

Bergkase
This is from Austria and is mild, grassy, milky and nutty. Mostly it’s a good price. Almost as cheap as our standard 4-6 month Comte but more buttery.

Chiriboga Blue (Blauschimmelkase)
Probably my favorite blue in the whole world. Some disdain this blue as being too mild, but they are just overcompensating for something because this is a perfectly balanced, perfectly textured, sweet, grassy, fruity blue. Seriously, you need to try this unless you think Cabrales is a good blue or something.

Comte 28 Month – Jean D’alos
This is the best Comte we’ve ever had. We tried a 3 year aged Meunier Comte at the Food Show a couple of years back but were never able to get it in. This one is right up there if not quite as aged and is the oldest Comte we have ever sold. All the buttery, nutty, grassy notes with a little more power than the Essex Street. Summer milk.
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Comte -- Essex Street
We are almost out of this Comte for the year and it is usually the best we carry. All Comte has one of the best name-controls in the world: the amount of land for each cow is specified, it is required to be made at village co-ops, etc. Tasting notes like the above but subtract a year in age.
(Technically not Essex St Comte, but you get the idea)
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Le Cousin
This cheese is so underrated. Made in Switzerland, aged in France – thus underlining the meaningless of borders in the Alps – this has all the flavor of a well-aged Gruyere but the texture is semi soft. Oniony, grassy, nutty, and moist!
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Edelweiss Emmental (the only cheese in this section not actually from Alps)
I don’t know how he gets away with calling this Emmental – It’s made in Wisconsin – but Bruce Workman makes this cheese just like they do in Switzerland. 200 lbs wheels… copper vats… yes. There has been no distributor for this cheese in the Bay for years so we haven’t had this in awhile but it is far better than most Emmentals at this price. Oh yeah, Bruce is committed to grass-based dairy, even help for a grass-based co-op in Wisconsin.

Forsterkase
Raw milk, bark-wrapped, like a firmer Vacherin Mont D’or. Firmer so that it can be a legal cheese here in the US. This is the actual inspiration for Winnimere, btw, not Vacherin Mont D’or. If bacon references weren’t so clichéd I would say that we used to refer to this cheese as “a walk through the bacon forest in fall.”
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Hoch Ybrig
This cheese was once so hard to get I had a waiting list to call every time we got it. Aged by Rolf Beeler, it’s only 6 months old but has huge flavor. Beefy, nutty, big and a touch pungent. Very complex and awesome.

L’etivaz Alpage
Remember the L’etivaz story? Fed up with the commercialization of Gruyere this village dropped out of the Gruyere consortium… in the 1930s! This is an Alpage wheel aged about 2.5 years. Holy crap, we have never had one this aged before. This is a little more bitey than the Beufort, Spicherhalde, or extra-aged Comte. (Will be gone by the end of this weekend.) This truly may be the best Alpine cheese we have ever had.
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Spicherhalde
True Alpage production is very rare, really hand-made, and amazing in its complexity of taste. This is an 11 or 12th generation cheese made by one family that is the best example of this we currently can get. Only 80 wheels made all year, how lucky are we to be able to get one 10,000 miles away in San Francisco? This is one of my favorite cheeses of all time.

Sternschnuppe
Name means “Shooting Star.” This is from Evelyn Wild at Kaskuche Isny in the Bavarian Alps this is an unusual cheese with a heavy wash (including local wine and herbs). Big mushroomy flavor, not much of this available in the USA.

Vacherin Fribourgois
Most Vacherin Fribourgois is nasty by the time it gets sold in the states so I special ordered this. More French Tomme (lighly cooked, lightly pressed) than Gruyere, this is super rare, once extinct cheese that should be buttery, grassy, and beef soup-y. This cheese was once extinct, but was brought back by a traditional cheesemaker about 20 years ago.

We also have a few others that are more well-known and that we have year-round: Bodensee, Comte (4-6 month aged), Challerhocker, Gruyere 1655, Krauterschatz, Maxx Extra, and a little Tete de Moine. Plus the American Alp-style cheese: Tarentaise Reserve (ACS 2014 winner! The only wheel in the Bay Area?), Alpha Tolman and Pleasant Ride Extra Reserve (almost out). Oh, and in a week or so we are having Tomme de Abondance on our damn sample table.
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And geez, have you folks tried Kinsman Ridge this year? These batches right now are amazing: the best ever. I’d buy these over the best Tomme de Savoie any day.

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10 things about my cheesy life.

Clearly I do not have enough time to make consistent blog posts. I think I will have to resort to lists until the end of the year.

1. I got asked again by a customer “Who ghost wrote your book for you?” Because I know you are curious, usually people ask because they want a recommendation on who to hire to help them develop a personal brand. And no, they usually have not read my book.

2. Not that there’s anything wrong with not having read my book. Most Americans have not read my book.

3. We adopted an Alp from the awesome Caroline Hostettler. Program info is here. Basically, this is a program to support cheesemakers who are still doing the traditional seasonal migration of animals up and down the Alps (also known as transhumance). Our cheese is awesome. Made between 6500-8000 ft, it is buttery, grassy, nutty, and milky sweet. It is on the younger side so it doesn’t have the onioniness pungency of a more aged Swiss Alp Cheese, but it is much more complex than most of the young Swisses that come into the US.

4. We got the party Alp, Obern Galm. Here’s the party alp theme song (I don’t know why I cannot get it to embed)

5. Here’s cheesemonger Andreas with the first two wheels:
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6. Here’s my selfie with the adopted Alp cheese.
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Don’t forget to post your cheesemonger selfie here:

7. Cheesemonger gatherings are awesome. I think cheesemongers everywhere should have them. Cheese is not necessary for the event.

8. It is feeling like the holidays in the cooler.

9. Here is one of my current favorite cheeses. Amazingly low price for what you get:
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10. Here’s some more cheese pr0n for you filthy people:
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Tomme d’Abondance

I’ve always thought this cheese was underrated and super cute. It’s in that Alpine cheese category that I love so much, but it’s less well known than many others from that region, at least here in the U.S. Though it varies by producer, affineur, etc. it can be about the spiciest of the French Alp cheeses with that aged sweet onion taste I associate more with cheeses from the Swiss side of the border.

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Supposedly the history of this dates back to the 14th Century when Monks made this style of cheese. But you don’t need to study up on this cheese to enjoy it. I’m sure this is not true 100% of the time,* but, generally, darker the wash on the outside, the stronger the cheese. This actually holds true with the Vermont versions of this cheese – Tarentaise by Thistle Hill and Spring Brook – and there is a scientific basis for this so I’ll stay with it until proven otherwise.

Right now we have about the strongest Abondance that we’ve ever had but I like it in all its permutations. The blonder rinded ones are incredibly nutty and grassy, the dark pink sticky ones are big, intense, and powerful. And cute.

Did I mention cute? Look at these indented rinds with the little lips:
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As Mojo Nixon would say, That’s “not no fool Billy Idol lip either”**

*We’ve never regularly sold this cheese so I do not consider myself an expert on it. In 19 years of mongering we’ve probably sold less than 2000 lbs.
**

Comte: always an obsession

I love Comte. Why not re-start my Purely Arbitrary Cheese Obsession of the Week entries with a cheese I love so much?

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There are lots of good Comtes. We almost always use a 4-6 month Comte as our basic Alpine cheese and we often have a more aged one as well. Right now our 15 month (from the Fort Des Rousses which you can see lots pictures of if you scroll down to “Day 6”) is stellar. Nutty, grassy, milky-sweet…. I rarely use anything else for cooking anymore.

The basic difference between Comte (sometimes called Gruyere de Comte)and Swiss Gruyere besides the border line is that (at least from what I saw) the Swiss is brined and the Comte is hand-salted. From our vantage point 10,000 miles or so away from both producers, the Swiss is usually more pungent and onion-y, the Comte more nutty and sweet.

The other difference is that – due to the name-control regulations – Comte preserves the land where it is made by legally recognizing the importance of pasture. Though the milk of over 100,000 cows is used to make Comte, the average herd size is only 35 and each cow must have almost 2.5 acres for grazing. The local cooperatives that make the cheese are also limited in the amount they can produce.

I even used it as a submission for an article that an environmental organization was going to do on eco-friendly cheese. I thought it was perfect because it’s the best example I can think of to show how a cheese can be mass produced (at any given time there are about 50,000 wheels of Comte aging in Fort Des Rousses, which is a large, but not the only, aging cave for the cheese) but still be hand-made with the same quality of a small-production cheese and with explicit regulations regarding the protection of the environment and animal welfare. Amusingly, it wasn’t used because they chose to use a more esoteric, pricey,harder-to-find Alpine cheese example instead. Stay (upper-)classy, big environmental groups!

Anyways, Comte is my Purely Arbitrary Cheese Obsession of the Week. I’m going to go eat some right now.
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(And hey, don’t forget to “like” my new facebook page before the “Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge” one gets phased out.)