Schallenberg Cheese at the Deli

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

Magical mountain cheese from Switzerland

I have a high affection for mountain cheeses, and I really love this one from the Swiss Alps. Schallenberg cheese is made by Herr Hansruedi Gasser, who also produces an award-winning Emmental cheese. Unlike Ralph Fasanella, Gasser knew he was going to work with cheese even as a young boy. Coincidentally, painting played a small part in helping steer him toward his passion for dairy cows and the daily making of great cheese. Gasser explains:

I grew up as the fifth child in a farmer’s family in Röthenbach im Emmental. While I was at school, I participated in a painting competition on the subject of cheese, which was run by the village dairy. The work motivated me so much that I decided to become a cheesemaker myself one day. I never gave up on this dream and after finishing school I started an apprenticeship as a cheesemaker. To this day, I still practice my craft with love and passion.

When he’s not focused on crafting those terrific 180-pound wheels, Hansruedi puts his high-powered cheesemaking skills to work on other smaller—both in size and in production volume—side projects. Schallenberg is one of the wonderful wheels he’s developed.

Hansruedi’s dairy looks out at Schallenberg Mountain near the city of Thun. A winding road leads up to the pass at over 1000 meters above sea level where you get a wonderful view. It’s one of the highest paved mountain passes in the world—bicyclists take it on regularly as a challenge and often stop at the dairy to fuel up during their rides. The area is also home to the big, beautiful, and very lovable Schallenberg Bernese Mountain dogs (if you’ve been pondering the idea of getting yourself a lovely big beautiful dog for a long time now, a wonderful one who needs a loving home, check out Tammie’s most recent rescue, Zorro!) who used to accompany herdsman and cheesemakers as they traveled up and down the mountains, and now are favorites of large breed dog lovers all over the world. The cheese is aged in the Reichenbach mountain bunkers—military bunkers built in Switzerland during WWII but never used. It’s estimated that there are about 20,000 of them spread around the country. Schallenberg is aged in one that’s near the majestic Reichenbach Falls, south of Bern and between the towns of Thun and Interlaken.

The herds for Hansruedi’s cheese graze only in open pastures, so they’re eating a diverse diet of mountain herbs and grasses, meaning the complexity and character of the milk is very good. The dairy is really quite tiny by commercial standards. Just 10 farmers sell them milk, delivering both morning and evening. The Schallenberg cheese is made from whole fresh raw milk, with a touch of mountain cream added back to it—it’s the only Swiss mountain cheese that makes use of the cream. The wheels are washed and turned by hand regularly for weeks. If you like any of the aged Gruyeres or well-aged Comté from France, or even Piave from Italy, I’ll bet you’ll love Schallenberg. Dense, a tiny bit smoky, maybe even kind of oniony (in the context of freshly dug, sweet Vidalia), a bit of nuttiness, and a hint of fresh cream. One fan says it has a finish that reminds her of an everything bagel. Our supplier at Gourmino, Joe Salonia, creatively compares the flavors to “blond roux, chicken velouté, sweet onion, and peanut.” Food writer and friend Janet Fletcher says “brown butter, caramelized onion, and beef jus.” Quantities are very limited so we’re lucky to have some, and it probably won’t be here very long.

The Schallenberg cheese is fantastic just eaten in small pieces with a good glass of wine or beer. Particularly good on slices of Country Miche or Dinkelbrot bread from the Bakehouse. I like to spread the bread with good butter (try the Vermont Creamery cultured butter) and they lay on thinnish slivers of the Schallenberg. Really delicious! Former Deli cheese buyer and still friend Sean Hartwig says, “It’s a gift in many wheys!” (Wink wink!) Superfine for fondue too!