I decided to put up an in-depth, detailed outline of the recipe used to produce Berner Alpkäse, a traditional Alpine Cheese made only in the mountains of the Swiss Canton of Bern. Even though I have a topic already, I decided to make this so there would be an easy reference, easy to find recipe up here.
It is VERY VERY important to note that this is the recipe according to local specifics, and if you follow these steps exactly with a small home batch, you WILL NOT get the same cheese. Following the steps as laid out here will work great for a large batch of about 120 to 150 liters, but certain alterations must be made if you are making a batch of say 10 or 20 liters. I will note that as I go along.
This is a good recipe to use if you have a minimum of equipment. You do not ever test for Ph, and so forth. The recipe itself is not complicated, but it does require a good deal of skill to master. There is a lot that simply cannot be learned by reading.
But for those willing to give it a go, here is the recipe:
- The evening milk is skimmed and the cream added to the vat. Often times butter is made with some or all of the cream. Otherwise, it is just added so that it can melt back into the milk easier.
- The morning milk is added directly from the cow to the vat
- The culture, incubated wey from the previous day's cheese, is added with the morning milk
- This is heated to 32 to 34 degrees Reamur, 40 to 42.5 Celsius, 104 to 108.5 Fahrenheit. . Timing here does not matter, it is very important at other stages
- The rest of the evening milk is now added, and the whole is then brought to 25.5 to 26 R, or 31-32.5 C, 89-91 F. The actual temperature depends on your air temperature. If it's cold, you need to bring it up a little hotter so that the culture can work properly.
- The rennet is added, and let to sit. Time depends on your rennet strength, milk quality, air temp, ph, and so forth but should be about 30 min.
- Once properly set, the harp is used to cut the curd into large chunks. It is cut first toward the cheesmaker, then across.
- The top of the curd is then turned over with ladles that look something like little dust pans, and then these are used to stir up and cut the chunks from the bottom of the vat. The whole mass is slowly stirred like this for about 10 minutes, at which time the whey should have turned from white to a nice green-yellow color. If it hasn't, then stir a little longer. If it never does, then your culture is not working.
- Using a careful technique, usually making an 8-shaped pattern, the vat is stirred with the harp. The speed depends on the size of the cheese, but you want to stir so that the desired curd size is reached after 10 minutes of stirring like this. For a large cheese, the grain should be the size of a large grain of wheat. For a smaller cheese it will be more like a coffee been or grain of corn. A smaller cheese will dry out more easily, so the curd is left larger. You can also customize the hardness of your cheese to your own personal preference at this stage by altering the size you cut the curd. smaller curd will make a harder cheese, and so forth. The cheese produced in this recipe is quite hard and very dense.
- Using another tool that will stir the curd but not continue to cut it, the cheese is stirred for about 40 minutes. It must be slow, but still rapid enough to keep the curds from clumping together.
- The vat is now placed over the fire again, and over a period of as close to 40 minutes as possible it is heated to 41 R (51 C, 124 F). It must be stirred constantly at this stage. It is very nice to have a motorized stirrer or an assistant for this task!
- After the proper temperature is reached, the vat is removed from the heat and stirred for about 5 more minutes.
- The curd is then pulled from the vat and kneaded into the form.
- The cheese is pressed and flipped several times, first for 5, then 10, then 20, then 40 min. etc. until finally it is left in the press overnight. The cheese should be covered when in the press so it does not lose its heat too quickly.
- The next morning, the cheese is placed into a salt brine where it will remain for 24 hours.
- The cheese is washed after coming out of the brine, and then flipped and washed each day for 10 days. The wash is a solution of saltwater, with some white wine. At this point, temperature is not important as long as it is 70 F or lower, and RH should be 85 % or higher (RH is vital, temp is not) If temp is too high, eyes will form which are not wanted.
- After the first 10 days, the cheese is then washed 1 or 2 times a week until the end of the season. This will be 1 to 4 months depending on when the particular cheese was made. The same conditions apply for RH and temp. Though here it is much more vital to ensure that temp does not exceed 70. 60 to 65 is ideal
- The cheese are then moved to the aging cellar. They are not washed any more but allowed to dry off. The temperature should ideally be around 55 F and RH around 90% or so. It is better to ere on temp being too low rather than too high. Proprianic Shermanii will grow if the cheese is too warm. We do not want that.
The culture is an heiloom culture. But you can make a very close cheese if you can acquire the following strains, or similar.
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis
Streptococcus salivarius subsp. thermophilus
Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis
Note that Proprianibacterium is undesired, and proprionic acid and the accomanying eyes are considered to be a major flaw in Berner Alpkäse. There is a misconception that all Swiss cheeses should have propriani, but very many of them strive to keep this strain of bacteria from growing. If a wheel of Alpkäse is cut open and many holes are found, it cannot be sold.
And if any of you take offense at my occasional use of holes instead of eyes, I should not that in German the term used is Locher, which translates to holes
If you want to make a small batch of cheese, there are special considerations.
-The curd should be cut much much larger
-certain measures may need to be taken to retain the proper heat at some stages where the cheese is worked away from the heat for long periods of time.
-Radical measures such as pressing under liquid may be necessary to retain enough temperature when pressing the cheese. The curd should knit together perfectly fine with the first and second pressing, but if temperature is not maintained than some of the higher range thermophilic bacteriae will not have enough time to work their magic.
This is a raw milk cheese. The character of the milk lends a lot of flavor to the cheese. If you can get grass fed milk, I highly recommend it. It has a more complex chemical structure, and in general will yield more cheese compared to the same volume of grain fed milk. It also tends to have a more complex flavor profile.
The Oberlanders who make this cheese like it to be very old. 1 year is considered to be the minimum age by many, and it will not develop its full flavor profile until after 2 years. The cheese is quite hard and dense, and as such it is very satisfying. It also is naturally lacking in Lactose, like most of the cheeses in its family, and can be safely consumed by those who are lactose intolerant.
If you can cook it in copper, you really should. It does not taste the same out of steel, and the Swiss never make cheese in steel vats. There is something about copper that affects the way the cheese processes.
I hope this helps someone. If you have any questions, just ask.
I make cheese in large batches, so I can't say how to size this for 10 gallons. Perhaps together we can come up with a small batch recipe. It won't be the same, but it will be close at least.
This cheese is my favorite cheese, it has a strong yet very pleasant flavor. It lacks the bitterness of Emmentaler and the hard bite of proprianic acid. It has a very complex, nutty flavor quite similar to a well matured Parmiggiano Reggiano, but more complex and better defined. It also will have some salt crystals throughout as a result of its extreme age.