I’m 3/4 of the way through my cheese journey today! I have learned so much. There is so much left to learn. Much of the truth of cheese can’t actually be learned though, that’s the problem. Cheese is an emotional vector-it isn’t just about the substance, it is the intangibles-personal memories and connections. That’s why it’s challenging to review some cheese-particularly cheese with a long and storied history-it’s like telling you your grandma is ugly. Not cool, right? But maybe she is ugly. Is it so wrong to call it?
Speaking of ancient and emotionally poignant cheese, today’s cheese, Appenzeller-has been around for at least 700 years. It is thus, guaranteed to have quite the following. Appenzeller is another one of those cheeses I had only heard of before today. It turns out that it is one of the most important of the Swiss cheeses. Appenzeller, along with Emmenthaler and Gruyère form the Swiss triumvirate of cheese- also known as the classic Swiss fondue. I was excessively fond of Gruyère, but turned my nose up to Emmenthaler, so It will be interesting to see where Appenzeller places.
Appenzeller is made in the Swiss mountainous area between Lake Constance and the Säntis massif cleverly known as Appenzellerland. Happy Swiss cattle graze in the alpine meadows and provide the raw milk from which Appenzeller cheese is made. Interestingly, Appenzeller is a total hold-out to the designation process. By all rights it should be a DOP or AOC protected cheese. It’s ancient, made in a specific area with specific milk only-however, in order to get this designation the creators of the cheese would have to give up their secret brine recipe-and they steadfastly refuse to do so! Thus, they have attempted to trademark the name Appenzeller, it appears as Appenzeller® on their website, but it lacks the actual protection of the DOP designation.
I know I mention websites an awful lot here, but you really must check out the official one for Appenzeller-make sure you select English. It’s utterly fascinating with great photos, URL http://appenzeller.ch/#die-sennen/881. These are damn good-looking people making some cheese! You know that stereotype of the Swiss mountain girl and Swiss mountain lad, frolicking through the alpine and blowing on large wooden horns-perhaps saying “Riccola?” Those were, apparently, Appenzeller makers.
Although Appenzeller is a traditional cheese of this region, there are now just three local cooperative dairies producing it. The milk comes exclusively from the Simmenthaler cow. Appenzeller comes in both raw and pasteurized, so check with your label if it matters-although as an aged cheese, it shouldn’t be a problem either way. Once the curd is formed and molded it is then moved to the maturing rooms for aging. The young cheeses are regularly washed in the secret solution referred to as “mysterious herbal brine” a phrase which appeals to my inner hippie child. Each dairy uses a slightly different recipe for its mysterious herbal brine, and all are kept under lock and key. There are three types of Appenzeller :Classic-4 months old, Surchoix-6 months (this is my sample today) and Extra-over 6 months.
My large slice of Appenzeller has been keeping me company as I write. The longer it waits, the more I can smell it. I appreciate a cheese that announces its presence thusly. The cheese has a yellow paste with large eyes-it is, after all a real Swiss cheese-so they belong there. The cheese paste gets darker near the rind-it must be that mysterious herbal brine that stains the cheese body. The rind is thick and dark brown.This cheese smells fantastic, it’s strong and savoury-but not raunchy-it smells like a cheese’s cheese- like mushrooms and toes and locker-room towels-but in the very best way possible.
Your grandma is ugly. No, really, I don’t like this cheese. Sorry Swiss Mountain folk. It is quite savoury and piquant, but it lacks salt to close the taste. It brings you up, then leaves you hanging. It’s a tease. It’s a little bitter and strangely a little uric acid tasting (that means pee) and I say strangely, as this is a firm and aged cheese. Usually that nonsense is over with after a couple of months. Appenzeller also tastes a little like alcohol to me-it’s a funny aftertaste in the back of my mouth that’s just not working.
OK, I’m going to melt this to see if it helps-it is a fondue cheese, after all.Mmmmm, ok, melting it totally helps with the weird aftertaste. It’s just chilled out and melty and yummy. I could do this on a grilled cheese no problem.
Appenzeller, I appreciate you keeping it real, but I think I’ll stick with Gruyère if I’m having a hankering for a Swiss Mountain cheese.