As artisan cheese continues to become a more common staple of social gatherings and snacks, more and more cheese novices and experts are branching out into different styles of cheese. One of these styles is alpine cheeses, many people may have had an alpine style cheese and not realized it, classics like Gruyere AOP, Emmental, Comte, and Fontina come to mind. So what makes these cheeses distinctly alpine style?
Traditionally, this style of cheese was produced through the process of transhumance, in which the herd would graze higher up the mountain in the summers as the snow retreated. This increased the amount of wild herbs and flowers the cows would be grazing on, as well as a richer grass, all of which bring out the nutty and grassy flavors these cheeses are known for.
To make these cheese, the curds are cut very fine in order to promote the expulsion of as much whey as possible. Curds are then cooked at high temperatures and placed in a mold where further pressure releases more whey, leaving behind a cheese that will be low in moisture. The elasticity of the cheeses paste and the sweet flavor notes come from the slow, low level acid production during the cheeses ageing, which also contributes to the formation of the holes or eyes in the cheese’s paste. The eyes are formed by the production of carbon dioxide which is given off by Propionibacterium shermanii, which thrives in low acid environments. Combined with the washing of the cheeses exterior throughout the ageing process, the low acid environment in the cheese also promotes the growth of Brevibacterium linens which brings out some of the more intense flavors in the cheese and promotes the growth of the cheeses’ natural rind.
Be on the lookout for alpine cheeses and be sure to include them on your next cheese plate!
Daniel McElligott, Oldways Cheese Coalition Research Consultant