Holy Jacob, Batman

Holy Jacob

A new Swiss cheese in the U. S. market is always something to celebrate, especially if the importer is Florida’s Quality Cheese. Caroline and Daniel Hostettler, who run the company, got their start 17 years ago with the impeccable cheeses from Swiss affineur Rolf Beeler. They made Beeler into a rock star here (he was already acclaimed in Switzerland) and have since expanded their line to include many other gems from their native Switzerland. 

Holy Jacob, an aged cow’s milk wheel from the canton Fribourg, is one of their most recent discoveries. I encountered it for the first time at January’s Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and thought it was the tastiest cheese I sampled at that enormous trade fair.
In fact, the winter show was Holy Jacob’s second debut, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron. The Hostettlers initially imported it in early 2013, but it didn’t catch on, Daniel told me. The year-old wheels were “a little too much for some customers,” says the importer—too intense, too strong in flavor.
For round two, they selected younger wheels—about nine months old—with a flavor profile that, apparently, is more in line with the American palate. Several West Coast retailers placed orders following the show, and I’m betting consumers will embrace it.
Holy Jacob is made at a cooperative that also produces Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois, the PDO cheeses of the region. The creamery is in the little village of Heitenried, which is a station on a pilgrimage route to the tomb of St. Jacob. About 10 years ago, when the coop had extra milk, cheesemaker Anton Bruegger decided to create a new cheese in a slightly different style, with different cultures.
Holy Jacob is neither as moist as Vacherin nor as hefty as Gruyère, but it has a similar aromatic profile. Made with thermized milk (the other two are always raw) and weighing about 15 pounds, it has a natural rind, a uniform butter color, few to no openings, and a firm, silky paste. The aroma is intense, suggesting roasted onions, brown butter, baked custard and pastry crust. No wonder I thought of quiche Lorraine when I smelled it. The flavor is concentrated, both sweet and salty, with great depth.
With spring wildflowers starting their show in Napa Valley, I’m fantasizing about a pilgrimage of my own with a wedge of Holy Jacob, some salumi, homemade bread and Anchor Brewing Brekle’s Brown in my pack. This Swiss import is a picnic cheese to savor, even if the picnic doesn’t leave home.
Look for Holy Jacob at Say Cheese in San Francisco; El Cerrito Natural Grocery; Browns Valley Market and Oxbow Cheese Merchant in Napa; Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Santa Monica; Cheese Addiction in Long Beach; and Surfas in Costa Mesa.