the appetizer:

Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager by Max McCalman and David Gibbons includes articles like Serving & Storing Cheese: Guidelines for Home; Organoleptic Profiling: Matching Cheese with Wine; and Tasting Plate: But There Are Swiss Cheeses.

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Tasting Plate:
But There Are Swiss Cheeses

by Max McCalman and David Gibbons

Swiss Cheese
A taste of Switzerland: clockwise from
the left, Tomme Vaudoise; Flixer; Stanser Roteli;
Vacherin Fribourgeois, Sbrtnz, Blaue Geiss.


This plate features some of the more modern Swiss artisanal delights—mostly cow, one sheep, and one very intriguing goat—in ascending order of complexity and persistence of flavors. Conspicuously absent is a Gruyere type, but we figured we had that covered elsewhere, particularly in chapter 11's exemplary nine-cheese tasting. Certainly, a well-aged 2-year-old Gruyere has the heft to offer the last word in many a progression and could be substituted for the Sbrinz. I feel compelled to feature Sbrinz here. And how could I resist including one of Switzerland's newest and most arresting artisanal cheeses: "The Blue Goat."

We start with Tomme Vaudoise, which you could call the Swiss equivalent to France's Brie de Meaux. The Tomme has a bloomy rind, soft consistency, gentle texture, and a balanced, welcoming profile. The dominant flavor impression is of fresh, raw milk. The Flixer that follows has a much harder consistency, which I'd term toothsome, and some nice nutty flavor notes. Comparing the Flixer to another superior sheep cheese, Spenwood, it's got some surface B. linens, which may explain why its flavors are more meaty than its English cousin. Although relatively mild for a sheep's milk cheese, the Flixer has a pleasantly lingering finish, a characteristic you'll note in many great Swiss cheeses.

Stanser Röteli brings us back into the cow's milk arena; it has just enough B. linens from washings to develop its flavors into one of the best-balanced, broadest, and most satisfying of any semisoft (and semi-stinky) cheese I can recall. The Roteli's texture is not unlike a fine Robiola Pineta. The Röteli has smooth, buttery, full, plump consistency and flavor without excess salt and really anchors the center of this plate, inviting you to taste it repeatedly at your leisure. Among other delicacies, I might compare it to L'Ami du Chambertin, a French artisanal cheese we don't see much in the United States anymore (it's essentially a variation of Epoisses); the Röteli is similar to L'Ami but is a bit larger and not quite as stinky.

The next item, Vacherin Fribourgeois, falls more into the category of pressed mountain-style cheeses, even though it's made in a relatively low-altitude part of the country, near Lake Geneva. Its consistency is firm yet moist, along the lines of Fontina Val d'Aosta; more frequent washings, however, encourage more bacterial growth in the Vacherin and give it more pungent aromas, leading to some really attractive deep, warm, savory flavors. The Vacherin is truly an artisanal cheese—with a fair amount of variation in textures and flavors, none of them displeasing—and for this reason I worry about its survival. Speaking of artisanal variability, it sometimes harbors mites, but we take care of those by simply scraping them off.

Blaue Geiss
Blaue Geiss

There are few cheeses with the volume and persistence of flavors to follow a Sbrinz. It's hard, crumbly, and strong, which is why it's presented in very thin slices. It magically disintegrates into mouthwatering shards and then a smooth, buttery-nutty blanket on your palate. Potentially arresting on the attack, a Sbrinz always seems to mellow gracefully and deliver a wonderfully elegant finish.

Among the Swiss elite, there's really only one cheese I would think of introducing after Sbrinz and that is the unique, modern creation Blaue Geiss, a trailblazer in the sense that Switzerland is famous for neither its blues nor its goat cheeses. The Blaue's attack is quite intense and broad across the palate, as you'd expect from a relatively young goat's milk blue, but it fades to a fairly gentle, pleasant finish and, coupled with its persistent moisture, ends this tasting of great Swiss cheeses on an appropriately polite, yet nonetheless memorable, note.


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This page created April 2011