We continue our winter hibernation, but bring you this cold-weather cheese from Switzerland today. Enjoy!

Maybe it has something to do with temperatures that can’t seem to climb above freezing around here, but I’m still craving hearty mountain cheeses. Appenzeller, another Swiss classic from Rolf Beeler, is a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese brined in a centuries-old secret blend of herbs, wine and liquor.  Remarkably smooth, ideally suited for melting (think fondue), the Appenzeller has a sweet, fruity flavor and supple bite, with a spicy aftertaste. The buttery cheese has a few characteristic large holes and a hard reddish-orange rind.

Appenzeller is ideal for cooking, or serve on a cheeseboard with sausages and bread. I layered thinly sliced Appenzeller with stone ground mustard and Pinot Grigio salami on a wheat baguette, served with cornichons on the side. Perfect for a slightly gourmet, yet still hearty, Super Bowl appetizer. Enjoy with beer of course (a German bock would be nice), or pinot gris.

Check out this travelogue from Appenzell for a look at the cows responsible for this wonderful cheese.

— originally posted 1/27/09

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Summer isn’t the season I typically think about Swiss cheeses – to me, they belong in a mid-winter fondue or on a snack plate when you’re cuddling in front of a fire. But there is a Swiss for all seasons, and I found the one perfect for warm-weather days: Challerhocker.

Challer what? I don’t blame you for asking – I had never heard of this cheese until it appeared at the Cheese Shop at France 44 a couple of months ago. (The name means “sitting in the cellar,” according to Cowgirl Creamery.) It’s produced by Walter Rass, the maker of Appenzeller, which you may recognize from the Wine Spectator list. Like Appenzeller, Challerhocker is a washed-rind cow’s-milk cheese, but it’s smaller and aged longer (at least 10 months). In her post 19 months old, Colleen noted Appenzeller’s smooth texture, fruity flavor and spicy finish. While Challerhocker is likewise very silky, its flavor reminds me more of clean, fresh straw, with a slightly caramel-like and nutty finish. It doesn’t demand hearty accompaniments like cured meats or cornichons, though it would certainly pair well with those foods. Challerhocker would be just as pleasing with a chilled glass of white wine or, as Janet Fletcher suggests, sherry or Madeira, and a few crackers on the side.

As an interesting aside: Challerhocker also keeps in your refrigerator (well-wrapped in cheese paper, of course) exceedingly well. I bought a hunk back in June before I went dairy-free, and it was still delicious today when I nibbled it again.

Though my cheese drawer is chock full of cheeses from the Wine Spectator list, I recently made room for several off-list varieties for a Heavy Table story I was writing about Rochdale Farms cheeses. Made in Wisconsin from the milk of more than 325 Amish farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota, these cheeses have starting appearing in co-op dairy cases in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in the Upper Midwest. All are good, some are fantastic, so seek them out if you live here or will be visiting these parts!

Trugole

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Trugole before. I hadn’t, but now I’m glad I found it. This Alpine cheese is made in Italy’s Asiago region – ah! you say, I’ve heard of Asiago – but it’s nothing like the cheese you find on bagels at Bruegger’s. Instead, it has a creaminess typical of cheeses made from cows that roam rich pastures. Way better than those stale bagels.

Trugole is a raw-milk cheese that is aged and washed for at least two months, but it has no funkiness or yeastiness. In fact, the taste is so smooth and mild that you’d think I’d be bored with it a la last week’s experience with Morbier. But there’s something about that creaminess that keeps me coming back for more tastes. I can imagine Trugole melted over a rich, brothy soup like French onion or draped over a piece of nutty toast alongside a mug of tomato soup. Suggested wine pairings are Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco, but to me, this cheese tastes so pure and basic, I’d skip the wine and focus on food pairings instead.

The first in a series of tasting notes from our New York Summer ’09 Cheese Tour. We made a quick stop in Brooklyn the day before, but our real day of cheese grazing (#chzday09) began Sunday morning at Artisanal Bistro in Midtown. As this was our first joint cheese expedition in NY, we started by visiting the classic landmarks. We got some great tips from new friends for our next visit, and the day culminated in a truly inspired dinner at a new favorite spot. You’ll have to stay tuned for that review, however.

Back to our brunch. I had been to this original Artisanal bistro several years ago, and while we were tempted to check out the newer Bar Artisanal we decided to stick with the classic this time. While the food was satisfactory, the overall experience was underwhelming. The service was indifferent at best, and the cheeses were well-cared for but served naked and forlorn on a stark white plate.

We opted for the seasonal cheese plate and received two traditional European cheeses, Pierre Robert (France) and Monte Enebro (Spain), and one from our list, Thistle Hill Farm’s Tarentaise of Vermont. Of course we couldn’t resist peaking in to the well-lit cheese cave, where you can actually reserve a table to dine in the midst of the cheese. The cheese counter had a nice array of cheeses available for purchase. 
Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thistle Hill Farm is an organic-certified small family farm in North Pomfret, Vermont. They use raw, organic milk from their herd of grassfed Jersey cows as the base for this Alpine-style cheese. Check out their website for the full story of their cheesemaking education. They use a custom-made Swiss copper vat and cultures imported from France in their labor-intensive process. The curds are scooped by hand, pressed and molded and then aged four to six months in an aging room used solely for this cheese. The finished cheese is very smooth, golden in color and meaty but sweet. It has a soft, full-bodied flavor with notes of sweet hay. You’ll notice just a few of those crystals found in true Alpine cheeses (like Appenzeller). We found it too sweet for our brunch cocktails, but would suggest a medium-bodied red wine. 

Next stop: Murray’s.

Since Jill is our resident Wisconsin expert, I’m working on becoming the Vermont cheese guru — as several Vermont cheesemakers are represented on the Wine Spectator list, and they seem to be more readily available in DC area cheese shops than in the Midwest. (One of these days I’ll actually get up there myself, but in the meantime you can join me in living vicariously through Cookography‘s Vermont cheese tour. ) If you do spot Vermont’s fine cheeses in your local shops, definitely give them a try. The crisp Vermont air adds something to our East Coast dairy state’s milk that you generally only find in Europe’s Alpine cheeses. This week’s Vermont Ayr is a fine example.

This semi-hard aged cheese has the sweet, musty aroma of ripe pineapple, and the sweetness is evident in the flavor as well. The Crawford Family Farm’s small herd of heritage-breed Ayrshire cows – meet a few of their cows on the website – graze on a blend of clover and alfalfa, and produce a high quality, high butterfat (and rBST-free) raw milk used solely for their signature cheese, Vermont Ayr. The Crawfords, three siblings who took up cheesemaking to save the family dairy farm, carefully choose only the highest quality milk from a select few of the cows for each batch of Vermont Ayr. The curds are cave-aged three months, resulting in a sweet, slightly nutty, smooth cheese. Delicious on its own, or with a crisp Riesling that balances the cheese’s sweet notes.

I understand the FDA has a purpose, and a very important one at that, but it does stand in the cheese lover’s way sometimes. It prohibits those delectable, young raw-milk cheeses from entering our fair country, so Americans have to travel abroad to taste some of the very finest cheeses, like France’s Reblochon. I have no plans to travel to France anytime soon, so instead I’ll make do with Fleur des Alpes, a pasteurized version of the French classic, and then dream of the time Colleen and I can spend two weeks in France gorging on forbidden cheeses. (If anyone would like to fund said trip, please contact us immediately.)

Hailing from the lush Savoie region of France, Fleur des Alpes is a nutty cow’s-milk cheese that’s easy to enjoy. Yes, it has that earthy, funky smell most washed-rind cheeses emanate, but that’s partly what makes it so good. That stinky-cheese smell usually signals to me that this cheese means business. After sitting at room temperature for an hour or two, Fleur des Alpes doesn’t develop a runny interior, but the toothy, even rubbery texture is still pleasing in the mouth. Paired with a hearty bread and some fruit, the cheese would be a satisfying snack before a hike – or a serious day of shopping.

As for wine pairings, Wine Spectator recommends a dry Riesling from Alsace or Austria. Steven Jenkins suggests a fruity red for its counterpart, Reblochon, so I assume one would also be suitable with Fleur des Alpes. The butteriness of the cheese might be too much when paired with a sweet wine. If you want to add a sweet note to your snack, choose fresh berries as an accompaniment.