As a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen, I have seen a lot of change in the Swiss cheese industry over the years. Cheese is not only a way of life in Switzerland, but also a large industry for the nation. To ensure steady production, subsidies were created for their main five cheeses: Emmentaler, Raclette, Gruyère, Tilsiter, and Appenzeller. A “fruitière” or cheesemaker would receive milk from the surrounding farms in their co-op and use all of the milk for the production of one of those five cheeses, depending on where in Switzerland they were located.
Over the past few years, policy and subsidies have changed, creating new opportunities for Swiss cheese makers. Many cheese makers will now produce the staple cheese of their region, but also create new recipes. One of the best examples of this is Käserei Stoefel, which produces over 30 different varieties of cheese and 30 different types of fresh milk products.
Käserei Stoefel has been family-owned since 1983 and is now run by Thomas Stadelmann, his wife and his small staff of two. The dairy sits in valley of the town of Unterwasser, surrounded by large ice-capped mountains. Thomas Stadelmann works with 20 different farms, making goat, sheep and cow milk cheese. There are 13 cow farms, where the milk production is predominantly organic, and five goat milk farms and two sheep milk farms, where the milk production is entirely organic.
I started my visit in the shop, which is attached to the dairy. It is full of all of the cheeses Thomas produces as well as other local items, from pickles to honeys and preserves. Thomas came out of the cheesemaking room and introduced himself. He was very welcoming, jolly and passionate. He led me into his cheesemaking room where he has both large copper and stainless steel vats. The copper vats are used for his harder cheeses and the stainless are used for his soft ripened cheeses. We then descended two levels down to his maturing rooms full of humidity and sweet pungent aromas. This is where I saw some familiar faces — by that I mean cheeses that I see every day of my life: Bergkäse Unterwasser and Bergkäse Selun.
Bergkäse Unterwasser is a hard cow’s milk cheese aged anywhere from 6–12 months. The curd is finely cut, packed into its mold and pressed. The cheese is soaked in brine for almost a full day and then transferred to the maturing room, where it is washed with brine 2–3 times a week. As the cheese ages, it is flipped and brushed and washed less frequently. The texture of this cheese is similar to Gruyère — hard and slightly crumbly. The flavors vary depending on the time of year and the milk. I have had wheels with notes of chocolate, some that are nutty, and some that are like French onion soup. It is a true raw milk Bergkäse of the Swiss Mountains.
Bergkäse Selun is a soft washed rind cow’s milk aged for 6–10 weeks. The curd is cut into thick strips, which are loosely placed into molds. The cheese is then brined for three hours and transferred to the maturing room, where the washing begins. The cheese is washed every day until it develops an orange crust, and then it is washed twice a week. The result is a cheese with a soft, gummy texture and a pungent meaty flavor.
After being tempted by so much cheese what better way to finish the visit than with a nice hearty fondue made by Thomas’ wife using mostly Bergkäse Unterwasser and another cheese he makes called Bergkäse Heubleumen. Nutty, pungent, and winey – PERFECT! A big thank you to the Stadelmanns for the hospitality, the cheese and the fondue.
Kurt Gurdal is General Manager and lead cheese buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.