Just like its majestic Alps and lip-smacking chocolates, cows and cheese are yet other symbols associated with Switzerland. The latter reflects the age-old traditions and culture of the Swiss. Cows grazing on the lush green alpine meadows, their wholesome milk enriched by the rich variety of flora and the flavoursome cheese wheels that are dished out from dairies are a slice of the vibrant gastronomical culture of the country.
Legacy of cheese making
Cheesemaking in Switzerland is believed to have existed since the first century and the country today produces close to 180,000 tons of cheese a year, one-third of which is exported. The Swiss take their cheese-making business seriously with Swiss farmers being treated as not food producers but as custodians of the land. Coupled with the stringent hygiene practices and new-age technology, the cheese produced in Switzerland is definitely a class apart. The picturesque town of Appenzell located in the northeastern part of the country and at the foothills of the Alps is famous for its cheese production. The cheese known as Appenzeller is famous worldwide for its unique taste.
Native to Appenzell, Appenzeller cheese has a history dating back 700 years. This hard cheese with tiny holes and a golden rind has a unique piquant taste. With a typical aroma, it has a complex flavour ranging from nutty to mildly and strongly spicy. Manufactured under a highly regulated process, a wheel of Appenzeller cheese takes three to nine months to mature. During this period, it is continually treated and nourished with Appenzeller’s trademark secret ingredient – the herbal brine. The older the cheese, the spicier the flavour.
So, what makes Appenzeller unique?
- The idyllic hilly terrain of the Appenzell region blessed with rich herbal grass creates the optimal environment for the natural, strong raw milk that is the base for Appenzeller cheese.
- The incomparable aroma is a result of the herbal brine with which the cheese is cured. The brine includes cider, white wine, peppercorns and mountain herbs. The formula of the brine is a closely guarded secret for 700 years!
Regulation and Quality
- Inspection by the “taxation” commission which assesses and rates the taste, number of holes, the cheese curd and external appearance of the cheese. Each of these features has a maximum of five points and if a cheese dairy scores less than 18.5 points, the entire month’s production is de-classed.
- The cheese pass or the casein mark is a quality seal which protects against counterfeit products.
The genuineness of Appenzeller is guaranteed by the label of the Sortenorganisation, a board since 1942 that certifies its originality. Additionally, a special lactic acid bacteria developed by the Agroscope Research Institute is added to the milk in the Appenzeller cheese dairies which helps prove that it is a genuine Appenzeller cheese.
Text and images by Rashmi Gopal Rao