Will 2019 be the Year of German Cheese? You read it here first. France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland keep U.S. cheese counters bountiful, yet German cheeses account for barely a blip. (Let’s put aside Cambozola, the supermarket staple.) But if Alex, the exquisite cheese pictured above, is any indication, Germany’s cheesemakers have the milk, the know-how and the respect for tradition to create some real dazzlers.
Cheesemaker Albert Kraus uses the raw milk from his brother’s cows to make Alex and other cheeses. His creamery is in the Allgäu region, in the lower reaches of the Bavarian Alps, at an elevation of about 2500 feet. Kraus learned his craft apprenticing with a neighbor, and he still lives in the tiny burg where he was born. The Allgäu produces Germany’s only PDO (name-protected) cheese, Allgäuer Bergkäse—literally, the mountain cheese from Allgäu. It’s in the same general family as Comté and Gruyère, the beloved French and Swiss mountain cheeses. Alex is a family member with a few quirks.
Like all of these mountain cheeses, Alex is a large (25-pound) pressed wheel that receives frequent brine washing as it ages. Near the end of its seven-month maturation, Kraus adds elderflower syrup to the brine, along with a dark powdery ash made from hay. The finished wheel has a cinched waist, like Beaufort, and looks like it’s dusted with cocoa. Beware: the ash rubs off on your hands.
I’m not sure what this rind treatment contributes, but the cheese smells amazing: like sautéed onion, roasted hazelnuts and bacon, with hints of cooked cabbage, omelette and sweet cream. So many aromatic layers! The texture is firm and silky, and the golden interior has tiny eyes that weep little glistening droplets. The flavor is concentrated and beefy and just seems not to stop.
Kraus has other projects simmering, according to Jonathan Richardson of Columbia Cheese, Alex’s importer. The elegant flower-coated Alp Blossom will soon be made in Kraus’s creamery, transitioning from an Austrian producer. Same for the luscious Chiriboga Blue, whose German cheesemaker needs a new home.
“We’d really like to see Albert become the Jasper Hill of Germany,” says Richardson, referring to Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm, an industry innovator. In time, predicts Richardson, people will look at Kraus’s creamery “as a place for cool projects and good values.”
A German Riesling Kabinett or Spätlese would be a pleasing pairing with Alex, as would a malty doppelbock. Look for Alex at these retailers.