By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
I remember my first taste of Appenzeller some forty plus years ago. I thought it was so interesting that the cheese production method included a 10-day bath made up of herbs and white wine. Wine and cheese already together, how good is that? This fact, combined with great taste, has made this cheese a long time favorite of mine. In addition to adding flavor, this herbal bath made from white wine, or sometimes cider, helps to create and preserve the natural rind found on the cheese. Just for the record, yes, it’s from Switzerland, and no, it’s not the one with the holes.
Appenzeller cheese dates back over 700 years. It is a hard, cow’s milk cheese made from untreated or raw milk and truly natural with no preservatives or additives. The spicy flavor comes from the closely guarded secret herbal bath given it during production and aging. According to the official Appenzeller web page, the exact ingredients of the original herbal brine involves a mixture of over 25 different herbs, roots, leaves, petals, seeds, and bark. The recipe is enhanced by the fact that the cows graze on lush herbal grasses and fresh hay – never silage. Great care is given to the animals. The cows are given regular and frequent visits to the grazing fields so everything can be as natural as possible for them, even in winter.
The cheese is named after the Cantons of Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerhoden. The production of Appenzeller cheese also includes the Cantons of ST. Gallen and Thurgau. Approximately 7,000 people live in Appenzell, the smallest Swiss Canton. This area is rich in tradition where people, cows, and the land work in harmony. The cheese is so important to the people because it creates an identity for the region which is part of the successful sustainability of the area. Future generations will remain in the area and continue to produce Appenzeller. I love the tradition of the ceremonial descent of the cattle in autumn for protection from the tough winter. It gives true meaning to the expression, “I’ll do it when the cows come home.” The valley is made up of natural meadows, pastures and beautiful rolling hills. There are many hiking trails for one to discover, which include great cross-country skiing. You will also find three great ski areas. Tourists will enjoy the shopping here in this unique car-free village that offers many stores and boutiques. During winter you will not find the noise or hustle and bustle of a crowded ski resort, just a perfect winter wonderland.
There are several Appenzellers to choose from. All are made from untreated raw milk. Most contain 48% fat in dry matter, which is specifically measured to ensure consistent taste. There are two other versions, a mild low fat cheese and a spicy low fat version. I have not seen them available in the United States. A slight eye formation is possible but it is common for the cheese to be void of holes. They weigh approximately 15 to 16 pounds and they all have a dated certificate found as a wrap or label to show proof of quality and production.
This version is aged for 3 months and is mildly spiced. The cheese is ivory-colored to light yellow with a yellow to reddish brown natural rind. It’s identified by its silver color label and it represents 45% of Appenzeller sales.
Strong spiced cheese aged over four months. It has the same ivory-colored appearance and reddish brown rind as the classic. The cheese is identified by its gold label and it represents 45% of sales.
This cheese is aged six months or longer and only the best ones are selected and handled by the best master cheese makers. The cheese is ivory to yellow in color but the natural rind is reddish to dark brown. It’s identified by a black and gold label. This cheese represents only 2.5% of sales.
This cheese was first made in 1996. It is similar the Appenzeller Classic. The only difference is that it is made from organic milk and it has BIO on the label which means it is produced with BIO-SUISSE guidelines for organic milk production. This cheese represents less than 1% of sales.
My cheese of choice is the Appenzeller Extra. It’s a great eating cheese as well as a great cooking cheese. It can improve the taste of a great fondue and can be used in all of the usual gruyere dishes such as quiche, French onion soup, etc. The cheese has a nice full, rich, spicy flavor and it really enhances any cheese tray. It also has a great shelf life. Appenzeller Extra is worth the hunt.