|Rolf with a wheel of "Mühlestein" (Millstone)|
The man behind many of these exceptional cheeses is the incredibly kind and knowledgeable Rolf Beeler. While not a cheesemaker, Rolf excels in the disappearing art of the affineur, allowing each cheese to ripen to perfection. While today Emmental, the classic "swiss" cheese, is often sold young (3-6 months) by dairies who cannot afford to "sit" on inventory, Rolf takes the enormous 80-100+ lb wheels and lets them slowly ripen to a grand 18 months. With cellars and caves across the Swiss alps, Rolf finds the most authentic cheeses, then pampers them to their ne plus ultra state of deliciousness. I've enjoyed eating his cheeses for several years, but it was due to the diligence of my wonderful wife Carla that I was actually able to meet Rolf in his workshop in Nesselnbach.
|Wrapping small tommes for market|
I was also impressed that this enormous wheel had a natural rind, complete with a small amount of mites, as every-other wheel of Emmental I've seen had a waxed rind. But this is Rolf's focus; to find the cheeses that best express the flavors of the land and milk. We also sampled Alp Dräckloch, a cheese made in a giant kettle over a wood fire, which gives the milk a gentle, natural smokey finish. "This is cheese making like it was 2,000 years ago," explained Rolf. He also let us try a "mile high" version, where the cheese maker walked a mile higher up the mountain than the cows would go, cut bundles of wild grasses, herbs, and flowers, then walked them down to feed the cows. This was a tremendous labor, and made for a very limited batch of cheese, but the taste exploded in your mouth. It was an incredibly memorable gustatory experience.
We also enjoyed a number of fresh and soft-ripened goat cheeses made by Susanne Klemenz, who shares the workspace with Rolf. From a sweet and tender chevre just days old, to aged ash-covered pyramids and Saint Maure-style logs, her raw milk goat cheeses were some of the most enjoyable and delicate I've ever tried.
Lastly, we also tried my favorite, Sbrinz, which is always a treat. Aged four years, Sbrinz is a whole milk cheese, made solely from grass-fed milk, and has none of the bitter, acidic after-taste you find in long-aged Parmigiano Reggiano. Rolf also pointed something out to me that I've never considered - his Sbrinz is always golden in color, while Parmigiano Reggiano is a off white, like bone or ivory. That's because the cows are fed maize, not fresh grass. They are not pastured.
Although it was only an hour or so, I felt like Rolf shared a lifetime of experience with us. I'm incredibly grateful to both Rolf and Susanne for fitting us in to their busy schedule and showing us the exiting and passionate energy they're bringing to the cheeses of Switzerland