Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
One seriously fine mountain cheese from central Switzerland
In a Zingerman’s culinary world in which wonderful food is always, happily, in abundance, every once in a while something shows up that’s particularly special. And that is what happened this week. The cheese crew at the Deli got their hands on a 30-month-old (yes, it was made in the summer of 2019, six months before the start of the pandemic), 160-pound wheel of Bergkäse from Bernhard and Marlies Meier! I drove over to the Deli a couple hours after long-time cheese manager Sean Hartwig cut the wheel open—I have a big piece on the counter at home. It is marvelous! The Bergkäse has a buttery, nutty, beautifully salted, concentrated bit of umami flavor that reminds me of Swiss Gruyère, the L’Etivaz I wrote about a few months ago, French Comté, fresh butter, and Parmigiano Reggiano all rolled into one. Given its exceptional size (the usual wheels have been smaller) and age, it’s a rare treat that we can’t count on getting more of any time soon.
In German, “Bergkäse” simply means “mountain cheese.” This one is made at the Hüpfenboden Dairy which is on the western end of the Emme valley in central Switzerland, southwest of Bern, east of Lucerne. All the milk arrives daily from ten family-owned, local, farms, all of which located within a couple miles of the dairy. Master cheesemakers, and also husband and wife, Bernhard and Marlies still make their own starter culture (a rare thing in modern cheesemaking) in order to best highlight the exceptional terroir of the mountain flowers, herbs, and grasses. The dairy is located at just over 3000 feet above sea level. It snows so much at this time of year that even getting the milk to the dairy from neighboring farms can be hard to do.
Bernhard and Marlies have also long been making a world-class Emmental, a single 200-pound wheel per day. Theirs is the only Emmental that Slow Food has certified as their cheese for the Ark of Taste. Sadly, the Swiss government quota system severely limits how much of that cheese they can make; to use some of the exceedingly excellent local milk, they decided to try making the Bergkäse as a second cheese. It turned out to be just as special as their signature Emmental. Bernhard and Marlies send the young cheeses (3 to 4 months old) to be aged in the Lagnau Gourmino cellars in the heart of the Emmental, in high humidity, for another couple years.
You can eat Bernhard’s Bergkäse just as it is—make sure it’s at room temperature so you can access its full flavor. Grate it onto buttered noodles, or better still make pasta with it the way one would with Parmigiano Reggiano and soft butter, subbing in the Bergkäse for the Parmigiano. Shred a bit onto a bean or vegetable soup. Or add it to your salad. The other morning, I cut a thick slice of the Country Miche Bread (very dark crust is my favorite), spread it generously with cultured butter, and then lay on hand cut slices of the Bergkäse. It’s very good with the Vollkornbrot and the Dinkelbrot as well. The Bergkäse is beautifully accented by a sprinkling of caraway or cumin seeds, and its creaminess comes out nicely contrasted with a little of the wine-like loveliness of Tellicherry black pepper. The flavor is rich and complex, the texture remarkably creamy on the tongue, the finish long and lovely. As Tammie said when I first brought it home the other evening: “Wow! I could eat that all day!”