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Hoch Ybrig Alpage – made in the summer of 2012, imported late September 2013

Switzerland is made up of 26 Cantons.  [Think of a canton as being roughly the size of an American county.]  The original 3 cantons – Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden – lie at the very center of Switzerland, and the country takes its name from the canton Schwyz.

In Schwyz, in the heart of Switzerland, which is in the heart of the Alps, “our” farmer makes Hoch Ybrig every day during the summer alpage season.  He’s in his 70’s now, yet lean and hard, all muscle, no fat, skin reddish brown from long hours outdoors. 

He has outsize hands, formed from hard work over the years, all out of proportion to his body.  If you have ever seen the serving arm of a professional tennis player next to his/her other arm, you will have a good idea of what I mean.  At 70+, he still looks like a guy that you would not want to tangle with.

Get the farmer next to his cows, and he is like a grandparent with his grandkids, all love, care and pride.  He walks up to each and knows them well.  They lean into him as he strokes them.  The cows are Brown Swiss, but not like any I have ever seen before.  The cows are taller and have broader shoulders.  They also have long horns with a curl; big as any you will see in Texas.  The farmer calls the cows the “old race.”

The farmer tells us about studies that have been made in the last decade or two, where they scan the horns.  The scans show activity in the horns.  The farmer thinks the activity might be bone marrow at work, but he’s not sure.  To him, the horns are alive and no herdsman should ever cut them off.  He tells me that his family has never cut the horns off of their cows.  I snapped a few photos of the cows, but sadly they did not come out.

The farmer lives up on the Alp with his wife.  I saw two grandchildren who were up for a week on holiday.  There were no phone lines.  Their water source was a stream that runs right by the house. Other than the breeze through the leaves, the clap of cowbells, and the cows lowing, there was no noise.  It’s a place for the family to go each summer to live the simple life.

They milk the cows twice per day.  The evening milk sits in pans waiting for the morning make.  Cold water diverted from the nearby stream runs underneath cooling the milk. 

Here are the pans waiting for the evening milk:

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The farmer took me over to his make room.  It was tiny!

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They only make a few wheels each day.  What you can see in this picture is about 40% of the season’s production:

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We buy the large wheels.  They can age for over a year without drying out.  The cheese is well made and gathers flavor over time.  Usually it takes about a year to reach the flavor peak that we like.  Some years, when the grazing is especially lush and the milk is very rich, the cheese will gather flavor much more quickly.  This year’s cheese reached its peak at 12 to 14 months and is now in our warehouse waiting for you.

We tasted this year’s offering and find it that it has a profile that we find quite often: a very deep and pronounced meaty flavor.  Because the word is overused or misused so often, we shy away from the word “umami”, but that’s what this cheese has, a protein rich taste, with brothy flavor and nuttiness that lingered. 

In my mind, raw milk lends a tingle or brusque bite that overlays the underlying palate of taste. This cheese has that raw milk sensation.  Speaking of raw milk, it has come to my attention that some other Hoch Ybrig’s are made in large dairies using pasteurized milk.  Rest assured, the cheese that we sell is made from raw milk, in a tiny dairy, on an alp.©

Joe Zuercher

October 14, 2013©