The Alpine tradition of cheesemaking is one of the world's oldest. Pliny the Elder wrote of the the Helvetii and their hard cheese in the mid first century, which in in his day were already a part of an old and well developed tradition. Considered by some to be the ancestor of all hard cheeses, the Alpine cheese type should not be underestimated. Berner Alpkäse is one of hundreds of Swiss cheese types developed from this ancient tradition. It is produced only in the Alps of the Swiss Canton of Bern and the name Berner Alpkäse is a protected label, having AOC status in Switzerland and protected by international treaty.
This cheese is produced in small batches only during the summer months when the region's cows are grazing on high mountain pastures called 'Alp' in Swiss German. Hence the name, Alpkäse.
This cheese is characterized by a spicy, nutty flavor, and rich herbal undertones due to the alpine grasses. It is a washed rind or smear ripened cheese. All Berner Alpkäse is produced in copper kettles, which the Swiss claim lends an added depth to the flavor that cannot be achieved with stainless steel.
This is an adaptation of the traditional recipe intended for small home production. The recipe is adapted from large-batch (relative to at-home production) practices as well as recipes for similar cheeses already so adapted.
This cheese is a notoriously difficult cheese to master. The production of Berner Alpkäse is a very skilled craft. The tolerances in this recipe are incredibly tight, and slight errors (especially during the cooking stage) can make a huge difference. This is not recommended as a first cheese, if you have no experience.
I give in the ingredients 1 gallon, I recommend you use more than this as it will yield a very small cheese with too much rind. But you can use this for scale purposes. At least 5 gallons I would say should be considered the minimum.
-1 gallon of Fresh milk. Raw milk if at all possible.
-3 oz. Thermophilic culture such as LH100 or C2. Alternately, 1/3 cup of active culture (I would recommend greek style) yogurt can be used, and yield very good results. I would personally prefer this over powdered culture.
-Rennet, dissolved in clean water. Measured in the proper amount to set the milk in 30 minutes.
-Take 1/2 of the milk aside and stir in the culture. Cover, and set apart. Do this immediately beforehand for powdered culture, or hours before if using yogurt. Milk and culture should both be at room temperature. It may be helpful to warm the yogurt slowly to incubating temperature (c. 100 degrees) before adding to milk.
-Warm the other half of the milk to 100 degrees.
-slowly add the cultured milk to the heated milk. These steps will help to replicate a traditional procedure, which affects culture development.
-heat the mixed milk back to 91 degrees.
- slowly add the rennet to the milk, stirring constantly.
-With a whisk, stir very well for several minutes. Much more thoroughly than you might think is needed.
-Cover and let sit undisturbed.
-After 30 minutes, test for clean break. The curd should be soft but still break cleanly.
During the Vokäsen and Brühen stages, it may be helpful (particularly with very small batches) to keep the cheese in a warm (c. 90 F) water bath so that the cheese does not loose too much temperature, affective the culture activity.
The Vorkäsen begins with the cutting of the curd and ends with the warming.
-with a long knife, slowly cut the curd. Make a clean cut down the center, and then make parallel cuts at about 1 inch intervals. Make a second series of cuts at 1 inch intervals at 90 degrees to the first cutting.
-With a bowl, saucer, large ladle, spatula or large spoon slowly stir the curd. Use the knife to cut any larger chunks of curd (in German, the Bruch)
-Continue stirring until the whey begins to change color from a pale white to a light yellow. This should take place about 10 minutes after the cutting began.
-With a whisk or harp (if you are fortunate enough to have one) stir the curd slowly and with an 8 pattern so that the curd is further cut until it is the size of a pea or a large coffee bean. Stir at such a speed that this takes about 10 minutes. It is important that the curd size be as consistent as possible. This makes a difference during the cooking stage.
-Using the same tool that was used to stir the curd the first time, stir the curds slowly for 30 minutes. This gives the culture the opportunity to develop, which will make the finished cheese better and help with aging.
It is important that at no time from the beginning of cutting until drawing out the curd the cheese be allowed to rest. This lets the curd clump.
-Still stirring slowly, begin to heat the cheese. The goal is to raise the temperature to 125 degrees in as close to 40 minutes as possible. During the first ten minutes, the heating should be especially slow and you should try and not heat more than 10 degrees during this time.
-As soon as 125 degrees has been reached, even if the 40 minutes are not over with, remove from heat.
-continue to stir for 5 minutes. (If you want a softer cheese, omit this step)
-Remove the curd as quickly as possible and knead into form. Press off excess whey with your hands. (Ausziehen)
-The form used should be such that the cheese will be no shorter than 4 inches. 5 inches is preferable. It should be no taller than 6 inches.
-Recommended pressing weight is c. 8 pounds of pressure for every pound of cheese being pressed.
-Either well covered or under warm (120 degree) whey, press with the following schedule, flipping each time:
10 minutes (If you add any labels, do so now)
40 minutes (after this point, it is no longer necessary to keep covered or under whey)
4 hours (at this point, it may be advisable the the pressing proceed in a cool room if possible)
Overnight,so that the cheese is pressed for 20 to 24 hours.
-Remove from press and place into fully saturated brine.
-Brine for 6 to 8 hours.
-Wash the cheese daily for the first 10 days, then weekly for 2 months.
-Let age, preferably for at least 1 year. This cheese should not be eaten younger than 6 months, it will not have the proper flavor and texture.
The washing can be in many forms. I use a solution of weak salt brine with white wine. Red wine can be used to get a dark or even black rind. Another approach is to rub with dry salt and then scrub with water (or vice versa). Also it can be smeared with b. linens. Generally you will find that a wine washed cheese will develop its own b. linens. If washing with just salt, it is recommend that you add b. linens to inhibit mold growth. Otherwise blue mold will likely attack early on.
During the drying and aging period, a white powder (geo) may form. This is usually left to grow as it wants, do not worry about it or try to wash it off.
If you want an easier alpine cheese, make Mutschli which is essentially the same recipe only in the cooking stage the target temperature is 97-100 degrees, this over a period of a 15 to 30 minutes. Tolerances are very loose, and you can vary as much as you want to. This cheese is not a protected name. It is produced across the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and everyone who makes it does so differently. Alpkäse is a hard to extra hard cheese, Mutschli is semi hard to hard and is only aged about 4 months.
You can also make Ziger if you wish. This is made by heating the whey to 90 degrees Celsius (don't feel like converting that right now) and adding lactic acid. Then you strain they resulting curd out and hang it up to drip.
You can mix herd with the curd, or you can hang it up and smoke it. A form of Ziger known as Schabziger is made by adding a certain herb in with the whey before it is cooked. The resulting cheese is green.
If someone who uses pH testing would like to try and figure them out, I would appreciate also being able to list the pH targets for those who want them, and don't know how to judge the acidity of the whey by sight.
Hopefully this adaptation is useful.