Cultivation of a Cheesemonger

A Blog of Cheese Culture and Cultures


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German cheese adventure!

Hello, gang

My brother has been in Italy looking into necessary paperwork for inheriting a house. While that has been going on, he took a trip up to Schwäbisch Hall in Germany to say hello to some friends and while he was there, he passed through a couple farmer’s markets. Being my brother, he looked for, and found some great cheese and sent photos!  Now I want to share my brother’s cheese with all of you and take you on an adventure through this German cheese.
VitoCheese1

The district of Schwäbisch Hall is the capital of the district with the same name.  The district lies in the northeast of the state of Baden-Württemberg itself located in southwest Germany. The town of Schwäbisch Hall is in the Kocher valley, named after the river that runs through it. The Kocher river runs from the Swabian Alb mountain range which creates somewhat of a southern border of the Schwäbisch Hall district. The Hohenlohe plain (Hohenloher Ebene) and the Swabian-Franconian forest hills cover the northern landscape.  Confused?  The map images below will help…

Political map of Germany, Schwabisch Hall

Political map with the district of Schwabisch Hall circled in red

Relief map of southeast Germany

Schwabisch Hall, in the Kocher valley, is set between the Hohenlohe plain to the north and the Schwabisch Alb moutain range to the south.

With such an interconnection between the names of both geographical and political features, it becomes apparent that a strong “sense of place” has developed within Germany. As a sense of place becomes part of the tradition of a region of people (or perhaps it’s the other way around) it seems inevitable that food becomes part of that tradition. Methods of preparing certain foods and meals, certain foods grown, animals bred and kept on farms – over time, the landscape, weather, climate, geology will dictate what local and unique foodstuffs will thrive in an area. For example, the Schwäbisch Hall region is very well known for their Schwäbisch swine – a pig that is only bred and raised in the 573.00 sq. mi area of Schwäbisch Hall.  

The famous Schwabisch Swine with its distinctive markings

The famous Schwäbisch Swine with its distinctive markings

Because the location of an area is so important to the cultural food identity of a place, I want to begin to get to know the farmer’s market cheese from Schwäbisch Hall through knowing the landscape of the district. The geographical area gives an idea of the weather patterns and vegetation. Settled in a valley with the strong Neckar river, the Schwabian alb range to the south and the Hohenlohe plain to the northeast, the Schwabish hall region encompasses a wide variety of elevations and soil types. This gives way to a variety of vegetation – food for cows when grazing out in pastures or among the foothills. This vegetation varies in water content and minerals present, affects milk composition which in turn affects the flavors of the cheese.

The Hohenlohe plain (Hohenloher Ebene) and the Swabian-Franconian forest hills are dotted with small sedge communities, spring swamps, woodland spring mires, and lots of trees. It is actually at the intersect of subalpine-boreal, frost-sensitive atlantic and sub-mediterranean biomes, which means that spring water remains rather cool in the warmer parts of the year and during the cold months is relatively warm and never freezes.

The geology of the Kocher valley is predominantly of non-metamorphic calcareous sedimentary rock. Calcium and magnesium observed in the water (making this area one that has “hard” water).  This is an interesting note because an abundance of calcium present in streams and vegetation definitely makes its way into the cow’s diet and can affect the cheese.

The weather, geography, vegetation, and geology of the area all contribute to “sense of place” a familiarity with a locale and all of which play a big role in cheese production and taste. These factors set the stage and provide the fundamental parts of cheese make procedure and give us a better idea from where this cheese is coming.  Next time you buy cheese, ask yourself – is this from Vermont? Italy? Denmark? Wisconsin?  What is the weather like there? the geography?  And taste the cheese. Allow yourself to experience the sense of place through taste – tasting the mineral-laden soil, the cool spring waters, the damp, wooded forests – because all of that plays a part in taste and experience.

So, for now, let’s enjoy the image of us standing in a field, faint scent of wild flowers, a soft warm breeze keeping us cool from the hot sun overhead. If you stand still enough, you can hear the cow bells clanging…

KocherValley

A gorgeous photo of the Kocher valley (and also the tallest automotive bridge) but seriously, wouldn’t you want to know that the cows that produce the milk to make the cheese you eat are grazing in this valley??

Bibliography

Ellenberg, Heinz. Vegetation Ecology of Central Europe. Cambridge University Press, 1988.  https://goo.gl/stcmuK

Karl Höll, Helmut Peter, Dietrich Lüdemann Examination, Assessment, Conditioning, Chemistry, Bacteriology, Biology. Walter De Gruyter Incorporated, 1972 https://goo.gl/bRXRgI 

As much as I hate doing this, I had been to so many pages I forgot to document them, so most of the general information came from “The Internet”

Images

Relief Map: http://www.georelief.de/isotope/d/detail-4280000002020_big.jpg

Political Map: https://goo.gl/r93yXx

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Fine Vacherin is Available Again

“There is a cheese produced with such high regard for tradition that it is only available from September to April. Welcome to the unique world of Vacherin Mont d’Or.”

~ the official Swiss site for Vacherin Mont-d’Or

The cheese is produced in the period from August 15th to March 15th and may only be sold to consumers between 10 September and 10 May.

Culture

This seasonal limitation is due to the fact that, traditionally, the cows were brought down from the Jura mountains to spend the winter in the stables.  This form of pastoralism or nomadism organized around the migration of livestock between mountain pastures in warm seasons and lower altitudes the rest of the year is called transhumance; and this tradition is still maintained in Switzerland today.  When the grazing season is over, the Montbéliarde and Simmental cows are kept indoors and are fed hay, silage and grain and are generally in the second stage of lactation, giving less milk and producing milk rich in fat.  What makes Vacherin Mont d’Or unique is that unlike most of the other major cheeses of the world, which achieve their depth of flavor from spring and summer milk (considered the creamiest and most desireable), this cheese is exclusively made from the milk of cows fed on cold-weather vegetation.

Production

Vacherin Mont-d’Or Switzerland AOC is a soft cheese made from whole raw cow’s milk.  The milk is quickly curdled with animal rennet at the same temperature of the milk inside the udders (more than 33 °C).  Quick renneting time, together with the high fat content of the milk, results in ‘soft’ curds. The cheese is lightly washed with a brine solution and develops a creamy consistency that is white to ivory in color with a  yellow to light brown rind.  The minimum maturation period is 21 days from the day of renneting.  Immediately after the cheese is removed from its forms/ hoops, it is ringed with a spruce band and placed in a spruce box.  Local woodworking expertise led to the production of soft bands made of stretched bark from spruce trees native to the area.

The cheese continues to mature in the box and takes on a wrinkled appearance. The pine wood band also serves to give the cheese its characteristic woody flavor.  The band and the box are an integral part of the production requirements for the designation of origin ‘Mont d’Or’.  The size of the box must comply with certain rules.  Each cheese is in the form of a flat cylinder and its weight, including the box, ranges from 480 grams to 3.2 kilograms

Tradtionally, Vacherin Mont d’Or  is made from raw milk, but there is some that is produced with thermised milk and mixed with cultures of lactic acid bacteria to comply with USFDA cheese importing regulations.  Also, modern production techniques have further reduced renneting time by increasing the renneting temperature.  However, the pine box still serves to conserve the moist, fatty cheese.

Fast Facts

Origin: Switzerland — Vaud
Type: Cow’s milk, pasteurized and unpasteurized; very soft; washed rind (edible)
Availability: Illegal for export to U.S. (raw cow’s milk cheese aged less than 60 days); pasteurized versions are exported to U.S., but rare
Form: Varies from saucer-size to dinner plate-sized rounds; always in lidded wooden box
Dimensions: 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick, 9 inches in diameter; also 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, 4 to 5 inches in diameter
Weight: 5 to 7 lbs. (2 1/2 to 31/2 k); also smaller rounds, 1 lb. (500 g)
Fat Content: 45%
Characteristics: Wavy, reddish-beige, velvety rind; supple texture; big, fruity, faintly raw, woodsy, buttery flavor with slight bite; unique aroma (smells like new leather); thin strip of resinous bark encircling rind contributes balsamy flavor and aroma
Appropriate Wines: Swiss and French Vacherins improve the flavor of many less than-big light, fruity wines, such as Beaujolais, Swiss Fendant, Dole; Alsatian Resling, Tokay, or Muscat
Related Cheeses: French Vacherin du Haut-Doubs (also called Vacherin Mont d’Or); no other cheese is quite like it, although French Reblochon is similar

 

Vallée de Joux, Switzerland

Affineurs in the Vallée de Joux selected to age and refine the cheese

Resources

http://www.myvalleedejoux.ch/en/gastronomy/vacherinmontdoren

http://www.vacherin-montdor.ch/en

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/602685/transhumance

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2012:302:0016:0023:EN:PDF

Cheese Primer. Steven Jenkins. Workman Publishing Co., New York, New York. 1996