Discovering Swiss cheese with Style

November 8, 2011, 1 Comment

Swiss and cheese. Those two words together conjure up an instant image of giant slabs of rubbery stuff with holes in. And for many people, that is the extent of their knowledge of one of Switzerland’s most famous products. But once you’ve lived here for more than a day, you quickly realise that there are countless different types, very few of them with holes. So the big question is: how do you know which ones to try? With 450 or so to choose from, it’s a daunting task but luckily there’s now a wonderful book to help you. Not only does it pick out 28 of the best Swiss cheeses, but it reveals how they’re made and introduces you to cheesemakers across the country. I was lucky enough to go to the book launch last week. so here’s an inside look at Cheese: slices of Swiss culture by Sue Style.

The first thing you notice is how beautifully it’s illustrated; I wasn’t expecting a travel book about cheese to be so colourful and so visual. What makes it even better is that the illustrations are not just great modern photos, taken by Nikos Kapelis as he accompanied Sue on her pre-dawn visits to rural dairies, but also reproductions of old paintings and etchings. As Sue says, they show how integral cheese is to Swiss culture.  And we’re not just talking about fondue. Alongside the pics are Sue’s words, and I was constantly amazed at how many different ways she found to describe essentially the same thing – transforming milk into cheese. Then again, she has spent years writing about food and wine so is probably a walking thesaurus for gastronomic terms, as her website shows.

The real meat of the book is the selection of cheeses and the story of each one. Naturally, we meet old friends like Emmentaler, Appenzeller, and Le Gruyère, and ones which are Swiss favourites, such as Tilsiter or Sbrinz. But what I loved was discovering some tasty newcomers – Stanser Fladä, Schafnidelchäsli and Vivienne (the last named after the cheesemaker’s daughter). Best of all was realising that Bleuchâtel is not the only blue cheese in Switzerland. For a country that produces some fine cheese, it’s sadly lacking on the blue front. At the launch, I experienced Jersey Blue, from Willi Schmid in Lichtensteig, named after the local herd of Jersey cows that provide the milk. Absolutely fantastically divine. Soft and creamy yet tangy and rich. No wonder it won a cheese gold medal last year.

With traditional cheesy recipes at the back, and a cover made to look like a typical Swiss farmer’s shirt, it’s definitely a very Swiss publication. Not least because it is in fact published here, by Bergli Books in Basel, meaning that the book is already available in bookshops all across Switzerland, or online from Bergli. Even if you’re not a turophile (that’s a cheese lover to you and me), this is a fascinating book. I know what my foodie friends will be getting for Christmas this year!

My biggest problem while dipping in and out of it wasn’t my mouth watering but my brain going off at a tangent and remembering a section of my book. Ever since a certain encounter (retold in this blog post), Swiss cheeses have never had the same meaning for me. Thank goodness this book is simply called Cheese, in the singular.

One Comment on "Discovering Swiss cheese with Style"

  1. Janie Tuesday November 8th, 2011 at 10:01 PM · Reply

    I really love your post. This one was about something I have always wondered about. Cheese….how am I suppose to know what all that cheese tastes like and if I will like it? What kind of cheese is that? etc. So now I know of a book that give information about cheese,well Swiss cheese. (not Swiss Jesus) I had a good laugh. Thanks.

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