We have so far been very lucky with the weather in Switzerland- a couple of clouds, no rain, and picture perfect skies and sunshine.
Which, for when we’re travelling up the high Alps over 1600m, is rather useful.
Today we visited Andreas Gut, or Rez Gut, as he is known, who’s speciality is Sbrinz Alpage. Sbrinz is an absolute Swiss classic, and through Italian traders in the Middle Ages, is the likely forerunner of Parmigiano.
The approach to his dairy was something with which we are now becoming familiar - the windy, death defying roads, surrounded by soaring snow capped mountains. Familar, yes, tired of, no.
Rez lives up on the mountain all year round, and so the dwelling part of his dairy is larger than most that we’ve seen. It’s the most visible building as we approach, but soon the restaurant and finally the cheesemaking hut appear. The cows, of course, are scattered in the fields above, chiming their bells as they roam around the beautiful green fields.
We catch Rez making 7 wheels of Sbrinz. The curd was in the moulds and hooked up the the presses. His bright red and healthy cheeks expressed a life in good sunshine and of hard work. His hands showed a life in hot water and of wood working. And of course he smiled all the time. He even sang and yodelled as he cleaned up, and only when he cleaned up after a day’s work.
Rez gave us some curd to taste, taken from a mould, and it was the richest, most flavorful curd that I’d ever tasted. Normally curd is quite bland and milky, here the flavour was rich and grassy. And then the whey! The whey! From a bucket we drank fresh whey, and the only way I can describe it is a cross between yoghurt and a milkshake and tea. Full-bodied, flavourful, refreshing. Just incomparable to the whey that I’ve ever tried before.
Of course, all this flavour comes from the wide biodiversity found in the grasses and herbs in his fields near to his cheesemaking hut. But, Rez has another trick - his high Alp meadow.
So we hopped into his 4x4 and drove up a loose gravel track to reach a high meadow, where the variety and quantity of flowers we saw was even greater than the lower meadow.
Not only that, but he showed us an example of ‘wild hay’, where wild means both ‘crazy‘ but also ‘untouched‘. This wild hay is harvested by hand on incredibly steep slopes on the top of the Alp where you would have to be ’crazy’ to stand, and placed into forms called trischte (see the photo).
It is sold at a premium price because it is believed (and has been shown) that
the wild biodiversity is even greater than the rest of this high meadow.
Back down near the huts, Rez showed us his ageing cellar full of Sbrinz and Bratkase. The Sbrinz wheels, due to their size, are aged for four months lying flat, but then flipped onto their sides, and aged vertically and rotated a quarter wheel at a time. This is required by the AOP.
The Sbrinz wheels are also given a salt bath for the first twenty (!) days after they come out of the mould (compare this to Alpkase which are salted for, between 4 h to 1 day). This helps them to lose moisture and oils, and start them on their path to being a hard, low moisture cheese.
Bratkase. Let’s talk about Bratkase. Many of the Alps that we’ve visited make Bratkase with their day’s extra milk. Bratkase is designed as a melting cheese, but unlike Raclette, is hardly known outside of Switzerland - and after Rez made us a Bratkase lunch, I really don’t know why.
Bratkase is grated and then thrown in a pan with a touch of wine and egg, and melted. You take this gooey, runny, cheesey mess, and pour it onto bread, and serve it with pickles. And a beer.
I hope that you are ready to experience this sensational alternative to Raclette. We will definitely be serving this, this coming autumn and winter in 2019!
After this very filling lunch of cheese and bread, we said goodbye to Rez, and headed down to the quaint town of Stans - where a legendary soldier, called Winkelreid, threw himself on Austrian spears to foil an Austrian attack and keep Switzerland as its own sovereign nation.
We made our way to the cheese shop owned by Sepp Barmettler, who is also one of the most creative cheese makers in the region. His family has owned the cheesemaking facility for 60 years - his father making just Bratkase and Alpkase. When Sepp took over, he (with the help of Swiss cheese idol, Rolf Beeler) started creating new cheeses.
He was generous and shared these with us, and they included two soft bloomy rind cheeses, one sheep milk (thermised), one cows milk (raw) a hard pecorino style sheep’s cheese, which has a very balanced creaminess and pepperiness; and the highlight
’Chueflada’ which is a Vacherin Mont d’Or style, but produced year round.
One of his newest creations that is still being developed is a rennet-less Brillat Savarin style, using creme fraiche.
It was a full day. It was a fun day. It ended on a high note and in a typically Swiss fashion - with bratwurst in a lakeside restaurant with a glass of beer, watching the sun set over Lucerne.