The most persistent defenders of raw-milk cheese are, in my view, the cheesemakers of Switzerland. “They see pasteurizing milk as a risk,” says Joe Salonia, a U.S. marketer of fine cheeses from Switzerland. “Why would you do that? Why would you hurt the most precious part of your milk?” With Raw-Milk Cheese Appreciation Day approaching (on April 20), I’ve been thinking about why it’s so critical to defend the right of cheesemakers to work with raw milk. Making the argument for me are the phenomenal cheeses from Gourmino, a Swiss marketing co-op that represents exclusively raw-milk cheeses. You don’t need to know the name Gourmino, but you do need to know its cheeses.
The Gourmino co-op, born in 2001, has 13 member creameries. Each creamery makes its own cheeses, then sends them at a young age to Gourmino for maturation. Gourmino operates the aging facility—paid for by all the members—and markets the cheeses in the U.S. and elsewhere.
All of the member dairies produce either Emmentaler or Gruyère as their bread-and-butter cheese. But they have a quota for those cheeses and, typically, they have more milk than quota. In the past, they used their excess milk to make “declassified” cheese that wasn’t worth as much as the Emmentaler or Gruyère. Now, relying on the marketing power of Gourmino, members transform their surplus milk into specialty cheeses—original creations that deliver a nice profit, if they succeed.
Hornbacher, Bio-Urchruter, Schallenberger, Brebidoux, Ur-Eiche, Rahmtaler. If you haven’t heard of these cheeses yet, you will. Brebidoux excepted, all are raw-milk specialty cheeses produced by Gourmino members, and they are delicious beyond words. Brebidoux is a sublime raw-milk sheep cheese that Gourmino markets but doesn’t produce.
We know that pasteurizing milk serves a purpose. The process kills pathogens (like Listeria and Salmonella) that might survive in young, high-moisture cheeses. But aged Swiss mountain cheeses are inhospitable to pathogens because they are made from cooked curds and are low in moisture and pH. The FDA did an extensive random sampling of raw-milk cheeses, both imported and domestic, between 2014 and 2016. They found very low incidence of pathogens overall and none in the Swiss cheeses they sampled. To my knowledge, aged Swiss mountain cheeses have an impeccable safety record.
Schallenberg (pictured above) is my newest Gourmino crush. Cheesemaker Hansruedi Gasser makes acclaimed Emmentaler, but Schallenberg is his sideline specialty, named for the mountain he can see from his creamery. The recipe calls for cream-enriched raw milk (unless the milk reaches his fat target naturally), multiple washings with brine and a 12- to 16-month maturation.
The beefy aroma and silky texture make me wonder how anyone could resist this cheese. Salonia describes the fragrance as “blond roux, chicken velouté, sweet onion and peanut.” Perfect. The cheesemaker finds hints of cauliflower, vanilla and toasted nuts. I get brown butter, caramelized onion and beef jus. You get the idea. On the tongue, expect a wave of sweet cream.
Schallenberg is just filtering into top cheese stores now, so nag your monger. In Napa Valley, where I live, I found it at JCB in Yountville.
Stores around the country will be honoring Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day with a variety of tastings and events. Find an event near you or celebrate with a raw-milk cheese course at home.