Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Happy National Cheese Lovers Day

It is the National Cheese Lovers Day today, January 20th, and I've thought it would be interesting to share a story about Swiss cheese that I came to know more about during a recent trip...

New Year and Christmas in Serbia translate to hard core post-holiday diet upon returning back home. Well, that would not have been so difficult, considering the vast variety of fresh produce in the sunny California, had there not been a glitch in the plan on the way back through Switzerland... I've read this interesting article about Swiss cheese on the plane and ventured straight to Coop to pick few varieties to try during my stay (which was inevitable to happen anyway, be it for the article or not). I typically buy more than what I can finish during the visit and have been accused in the past of leaving stinky cheese in the fridge... So this time I was careful and opened only cheese I ate, which means the rest had to travel back with me! Now it's the fridge full of cheese here at home and a sad prospect of a diet that is looming over... except that today is National Cheese Lovers Day and the diet will have to wait till tomorrow ;)

Before I jump to the article about cheese, I also wanted to share a great snack/dessert idea that I learned about recently while celebrating Christmas with my friends from Cuba. Yes, I celebrate Christmas twice :), on December 25th and on January 7th. My friend's father is 94 years old. He was born in northern Spain before he emigrated to Cuba. He came to visit and celebrate Christmas with us. I can only wish to be like him when I grow old, full of positive energy, jokes and love for his family and friends. He travels, goes for long walks, drives a car, cooks,... everything! So inspirational! He brought back many food goodies with him, including guava paste, special crackers, and a variety of traditional Spanish Christmas turron sweets. Not to forget original coffee, and a very special way I've learned from my friends how it is made in Cuba. :)
I have never ever tasted anything like guava paste! It is both sweet and salty at the same time, and is best paired with crackers and soft Mexican cheese. I don't know if it is because of the guava paste itself, or the special crackers that Papi brought, or the spirit of Christmas celebrated in such good company, but surely it was one of the best desserts I've ever had!
Just when I arrived back home from the trip, a package arrived and Papi sent me a can of original guava paste! Now I can't wait to try pairing it with the Swiss cheese that I've brought back!

Here is the article about Swiss cheese that I was referring to:

Page 98: 

Tradition and craftsmanship lie at the heart of Switzerland’s cheese manufacturing. The dairies of its villages and mountain pastures produce more than 450 varieties of cheese: pure natural products. Switzerland is a land of cheese, producing a total of around 185,000 tonnes a year.

Swiss cheeses such as Appenzeller®, Tête de Moine AOP and Le Gruyère AOP are very special because they are genuinely handcrafted.

There are around 600 small cheesemaking dairies all over the country. These businesses, mostly in rural areas, are often family run and process around 1.2 million tonnes of raw milk to make various different speciality cheeses. In contrast to industrial mass producers, these independent Swiss cheesemakers produce highquality wares in small quantities. A large number of small dairies are therefore involved in making famous varieties such as Appenzeller®, Emmentaler AOP and Le Gruyère AOP, which are among the biggest sellers with a combined production volume of 58,510 tonnes (in 2014). Take Le Gruyère AOP, for example, made according to a recipe that has been handed down over almost 1,000 years in more than 170 village dairies in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Written specifications state that dairies are only allowed to source their milk within a radius of 20 kilometres. This decentralised production structure has many advantages: short transport routes are environmentally friendly, the raw milk is subject to the least possible mechanical stress and it arrives at the dairies for further processing within a short time. In addition, this structure creates jobs outside the cities, thus supporting rural areas. Heritage and originality In addition to the village dairies in the valleys, there are many small ones on the Swiss mountain pastures, or alps, which produce around 5,000 tonnes of cheese a year. “Alpkäse” is a protected designation. To meet its requirements, the milk has to be produced and the cheese curdled – coagulated using rennet – actually on the alp. That means these unique specialities are only produced in summer. Thanks to the wide variety of fresh herbs on the alpine pastures, the raw milk is especially full of flavour, giving Alpkäse a characteristic aromatic tang. In some mountain dairies, the milk is still warmed by the original method over log fires whose smoke adds to the unmistakable taste. This is how true rarities are made, such as Le Gruyère AOP alpage and L’Etivaz AOP, which is produced by around 70 cheesemakers in around 130 chalets in the Vaud Alps at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 metres. Sustainable management of the mountain pastures also serves to maintain biodiversity: only a clearly restricted number of cattle are allowed in the mountain pastures, so that the pastures are healthy and intact even after more than 100 years of farming. Around a third of Swiss cheese is exported: in the year 2014, 68,255 tonnes in total went to a large number of countries. The principal customers were Switzerland’s European neighbours: Germany with more than 30,000 tonnes, Italy with around 10,000 tonnes and France with around 5,400 tonnes. The famous big three varieties of Appenzeller® (5,188 tonnes), Le Gruyère AOP (12,376 tonnes) and Emmentaler AOP (13,994 tonnes) accounted for almost half of Swiss cheese exports at 31,558 tonnes. Experience the craft of cheesemaking Would you like to find out more about the craft and the mysteries of Swiss cheesemaking? You can watch cheesemakers live at a wide range of Swiss dairies and look over their shoulders right into the cheese vat.

And here is another interesting read, in case you ever wondered how does Swiss cheese get its holes:


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