Traditional Swiss Tilsiter Cheese at the Deli

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

An amazing bio for a beautiful cheese

Stuck into an odd corner of Europe between Lithuania, the Baltic Sea, and Poland, is the Russian territory of Kaliningrad. Completely cut off from the rest of Russia on land (you’d have to fly or go by boat), it’s a good testament to the made-upness of modern nation-states. From a culinary standpoint, it’s also the home of the Swiss cheese known as Tilsiter.

Tilsiter was developed in the middle of the 19th century by Swiss settlers in the Prussian town of Tilsit. (For a bit of historical context, the cheese came into being at about the same time Emma Goldman was born in 1869, 100 miles or so to the east in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas.) While the settlers were essentially making a “Swiss” cheese, the different climate and cultures in the higher humidity of their new home resulted in a cheese that was creamier, denser, and maybe a bit more full-flavored than they would have found in their homeland. Honoring their place, they gave it the Prussian name of “Tilsiter.” Over the course of the next century, the town became part of the Soviet Union and the cheese migrated back to the country whence the original recipe had come. The city is now known as Sovetsk but the cheese is still, appropriately I would suggest, known by the name it bore back when it was first made: Tilsiter.

My excitement about this cheese isn’t just that its history is composed of so many historical anomalies or the coincidence of it being “born” so close to Emma Goldman’s birthplace. My driver is that, as of last week, we have a hugely delicious, artisan Swiss Tilsiter “Extra” in-house at the Deli. Not surprisingly, it’s also on the counter at my house as well! The cheese is one of many that we buy from our friends at Gourmino. As you’ll notice immediately, their philosophy is very aligned with ours:

Handicraft directly from our cheesemakers

Gourmino belongs to the cheesemakers. … Our dairies are family businesses that use fresh milk supplied daily by local farmers. The cheese makers not only care passionately about their craft, they also have the necessary experience spanning years of excellent work and life in cheese. The sale of our products provides an inspiration for the future of our cheese makers and their families. All our work together embodies the highest representation of Swiss cheesemaking.

The newly-arrived Tilsiter is a return to what its 19th-century Prussian predecessor might well have been. It’s hand-crafted by Roland Rüegg and the team at Wildberg Käserei near Zurich. It’s made as it would have been then, from raw milk (pasteurization was introduced by Louis Pasteur in France in 1864). The dairy is up in Zuricher Oberland at about 2000 feet in altitude—higher altitude generally means more flavorful pasturage. The “Extra” in the name is because it’s matured much longer than most Tilsiters. The six months of aging (over double the standard) help give the Tilsiter a wonderful intense flavor that almost reminds me of the umami I love in a well-aged dry-cured ham. Creamy on the tongue with a terrific finish, it’s really a remarkably lovely cheese. Its flavor is super concentrated! I left some on the counter to come to room temperature and Tammie—not knowing anything about it—cut off a very small slice to test it out. She was wowed! If you like full-flavored mountain cheeses anywhere near as much as Tammie and I do, the Tilsiter is for you.

The Tilsiter is terrific paired with apples, walnuts, or good beer! (That RoHo Joe Stout—which you can buy at the Roadhouse, Creamery, Deli, and Plum Market would be marvelous.) It’s splendid with one of the darker Bakehouse breads—Vollkornbrot, Dinklebrot, Country Miche, True North, or Roadhouse.