Land of mountain cheese in La Gruyère the ancestral way of cheese making is still carried out in the chalets and are only produced during summer when the cows are taken to high mountain meadows. Two of the most reputed mountain cheese are Le Gruyère and Vacherin. The summer season is ending and most of the Alpine cheese makers have descended from the mountains, but I was lucky to be able to meet the Piller family who were still staying in their chalet. Soon these cheese making chalets will be empty till the next summer season. We head up to the region of La Monse where the family were staying. The journey along the countryside was breathtaking, passing through green meadows with wooden chalets scattered among the hills and from time to time sounds of cow bells can be heard from afar breaking the silence of the serene mountainous landscape. We stopped near a path leading to their chalet then the rest of the journey was on foot, crossing through forest with running streams till we arrived to an open meadow. The chalet overlooks the beautiful hills of La Gruyère. Several cows graze along the fields surrounding the chalet. Recognizable through their black and white spots these specially bred Holstein dairy cattle are highly prized for their milk producing ability and are widely spread out throughout the region. From father to son, the Piller family shares the work, from looking after their own cows to milking and making the cheese. It is not unusual to find an Alpine cheese maker who makes cheese from their own cows, it just need more paid workers but when the whole family steps in, it could be a great help in reducing costs. As we arrived the family were already busy making the cheese. Fresh and skimmed milk are poured into huge copper vats and heated on log fire. The fact that the milk is heated on fire wood also contribute to its distinctive aromatic flavour. Alpine cheese is certainly one of the best. Béat Piller the cheese maker, was stirring the milk and assessing its quality while explaining the process of making Gruyère cheese. Rennet a natural enzyme is added during the heating period causing the casein in the milk to curdle. The curd is then cut into tiny grains using a tranche-caillé – a “lyre” shaped tool. Both the grains and the whey continue to be heated till 56°. The grains are taken, strained with a cheesecloth and placed in a round mold to be pressed, labelled and ready for the ripening cellar.
The Piller family …
Cheese making usually finishes by midday and before leaving, a moment spent with the family while savouring their delicious cheese and the freshly made double cream.
Another kind of mountain cheese is the Vacherin. The process of its making can be seen at the Fromagerie d’Alpage in Moléson. Smaller than Gruyère cheese, it is possible for the cheese maker to handle the process of its production on his own.
The 17th century alpine chalet in Moléson.
And its ripening cellar in Moléson
Categories: Alpine cheese