Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cheese Lover’s Dream Day in Switzerland

On the Sunday afternoon of my recent vacation visit to Luzern Switzerland, my hosts packed me and the kids in the car and drove 30 minutes to the postcard-worthy town at the base of Mount Titlis, a beautiful resort called Engelberg. We passed para-gliders and senior citizens frolicking in the glorious September sunshine. Our destination: the Cheese Factory at Engelberg Monastery. Now, I have visited a lot of cheese-makers, and in fact, I’ve visited a lot of monasteries. As we entered the factory, I thought to myself, this place reminds me of the Mars Cheese Castle. But my first impression was wrong. What struck me about Engelberg was that there was a man actually making cheese, taking us through the process from start to finish, in a glass enclosure in the middle of this touristy looking souvenir shop.

Step by step, live and in person, he warmed the local cow's milk, added the cultures and rennet, set and cut the curd, and hand ladled the curds into molds. A tiny temperature controlled demo cave showed the bloomy rind developing on the Engelberger Klosterglocke (a brie style cheese shaped like a bell) cheese at one, three and five days of age.

(For a great explanation of how they make soft-ripened cheese, visit this link:

Thus inspired, we sought fortification up the hill on the sundeck at the 200 year old Alpenclub, an old-school Swiss chalet serving local specialties like fondue, buendnerfleisch (air-dried beef) and speck overlooking the ski lifts.

Our next stop was 10 km up the mountain on a winding, single lane road that switchbacked through the Alpine pastures. As the big brown cows lifted their heads to see who was passing, the bells around their necks would clang. I thought Julie Andrews would run out singing at any moment. But instead we stopped when we saw this sign

on the side of a barn. Translation “Cheese for sale. Please ring the bell.” Yes. Inside, we tasted 3 year old Sbrinz, an Alpine version of Parmesan, and several other mountain style cheeses (Alpenkase) of various ages made on the farm.

Seeing that we were not just your average tourists, the frau showed us the cheese-making facility

and the aging rooms while the kids chased the uninterested cows.

When we got back to the apartment in Luzern, Andrew plugged in the raclette machine and cut huge slabs of Rolf Beeler’s Swiss Raclette, and we melted and scraped and ate cheese until sunset. A mountain cheese lover’s dream day.


Posted by Lisa Futterman. I run the wholesale cheese program at Pastoral. We sell artisan cheeses to over 40 Chicagoland area restaurants and retailers.