Over at TableMatters.com, Tenaya Darlington — aka Madame Fromage and author of the blog of the same name — discusses the glories and benefits of Alpine cheeses, and how they can compliment any cheese slate or snack plate:
When I was a kid living back in the Midwest, my Swiss mother used to set out a cheese board every Sunday for lunch, along with crusty bread, cured meats, fruit, cornichons, and nuts. It connected her to her childhood, she always told us, but it served another purpose, too: real Swiss cheese was her end-of-the-weak antidote to the many American products that made her scowl as the trolled the grocery, starting with Velveeta.
In our house, you had to eat Swiss cheese on Sundays. Or else. “The Frau,” as people often called our mother, taught us that strong flavors build strong character.
In the cheese world, the mountain cultures of Switzerland, Italy, and France are known for their robust wheels. Think of Gruyère (Switzerland), Fontina (Italy), and Beaufort (France). You’ll find gentle Bries and mellow soft cheeses like mozzarella as you move inland, but the bold stuff? It originates in the Alps.
Practically, there’s a good reason for strong mountain cheeses. They contain very little moisture, a trick that shepherds developed so that their horses had less weight to carry down rocky slopes into town. Genius. Pressing the moisture out of cheese, and letting it evaporate during long ageing periods, also concentrated flavor notes. The result: a smooth-textured, wildly interesting style of cheese.
In Switzerland, Alpine pastures are highly prized – the best grasses grow in spring-fed mountain valleys where minerals enrich the soil, and thus the milk. Swiss cheesemakers learned to play up these vibrant grassy tones by pressing local herbs into the rinds of cheeses as they developed, or washing the wheels with herb-infused liqueurs.
Check out the full post for some of her top varieties of Alpine and more.
(Photo ©2012 TableMatters.com)
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