Decided to create a topic dedicated to this so it could be found easily.
The Alpine family of cheeses is an extremely broad and diverse group. There are hundreds upon hundreds of different cheeses in this family, and it may well be the largest single grouping of cheeses in the world. It may also be one of the oldest, with a history dating back thousands of years. The Alpine style of cheese was known to Pliny the Elder in the first century AD, and was thought to have already been ancient at that time.
However, despite the broad diversity of these cheeses, the procedures for their initial production are almost identical. There are a few slight variables that determine how one cheese will be different from another. A large part of the character of many Swiss cheeses arises from the brining and washing/rubbing practices post make, but what differences arise from the actual make procedures are a direct result on variations of one single part of the process: the cooking phase.
These cheeses are all cooked, that is after the curd has been set, cut, and stirred the 'Bruch' is raised to a higher temperature in order to contract the curds, expelling whey and altering their texture. Some are cooked directly (Emmentaler, Gruyere, etc.), placed over a fire and warmed very slowly to the desired temperature. Others are cooked indirectly (Raclette) by removing part of the whey and replacing it with hot water until the mass reaches the desired temperature.
During the entire process of producing an Alpine style cheese, this is the most important single stage. What we do here determines exactly how the final cheese will be, and the consequences of mistakes at this stage are irreversible. Assuming culture as a constant, this will determine how dry our cheese is, how hard it is, how long we can age it, how quickly the flavoring cultures will be able to work and precisely what flavor tones they will create.
In General, the rule is that a lower cooking temperature will result in a softer cheese while a higher cooking temperature will result in a harder cheese.
This carries on to result in a few additional rules. A softer cheese cannot be aged as long (a Mutschli cooked to 105 degrees should not be aged past 3 months) while a harder cheese can be aged over a long period (an Alpkäse, cooked up to 124 to 125 degrees, can be aged as long as 10 years).
This also shows another rule: A softer cheese will develop its full flavor much sooner, while a harder cheese is slower to ripen. Also, a softer cheese will develop a less refined flavor while a harder cheese develops a higher quality flavor profile. This means that soft cheeses are best mild while harder cheeses are more suited to high levels of ripeness.
A low cooked cheese will have much more flavor at an early stage, say 4 months, than a hard cheese, using the exact same culture, will have at that time or even later. A 6 month Alpkäse is bland, while a 6 month Mutschli is far over ripened.
So If we look at alpine cheeses as a single entity, with characteristics arising as a result of cooking practices, we see it is quite simple in theory to tailor our cheeses to our exact desires. Using the information here, we can pretty easily make a cheese of the texture and aging profile we want. But first, we need some more specific information.
When cooking cheeses, the time factor should be consistent, at least when starting out. That is, the cooking process, regardless of final temperature, should always follow about the same rate. So that means a lower cooked cheese is also cooked for less time. But this relationship is not linear, but rather it is a curve. This is because the cooking process must start off slowly. Not more than 10 degrees of temperature increase in the first 10 minutes of cooking time.
When we make the Alpkäse, we desire to increase the temperature slowly following this curve from about 90 degrees up to 124 degrees over a period of 40 minutes. To illustrate the time curve, lets use this for an example.
We are making a single batch of cheese from which we will draw out 3 different cheeses. We proceed with the cooking process as is normal for the Alpkäse. After about 12 minutes, we should have a temperature of about 105 degrees, and draw off part of the curd at this time to make a softer cheese. After the curd has cooked for 20 minutes, we should be around 115 degrees and will produce a semi-hard cheese. After it has cooked for around 30 minutes, it should be around 120 degrees and is in the range for an Emmentaler. After 40 minutes it should be around 125 degrees and is in the range for a hard alpine type.
Then we will also note from this that in the bottom part of the range, the difference of a single degree has minimal affect on the hardness of the cheese. However, once we near the top of the range, a difference of even half of a degree can have considerable affect on the hardness. A 124 degree alpkäse is much harder than a 122 degree Emmentaler. This means that the high end cheese are much pickier and harder to make, while the lower end cheeses are forgiving and easy to make.
Now we have assumed a constant time factor across the board of our cheeses here. This is a general guideline, and does vary to some degree. This is one area where a more advanced cheesemaker has the ability to adjust his recipe to fit very specific requirements such as hardness as it relates to aging time (if you want a harder cheese with a faster ripening time, cook it to a lower temperature but hold it there a little longer or take longer to get there.)
Again, the higher end cheeses are much pickier about this. When the temperature is high, a difference of a few minutes can dry the curd a lot. So again, higher end cheeses require more precision and are more difficult to master. Lower end cheeses are again not as picky. A few minutes extra cooking time at 105 degrees will have very little affect.
There is actually much more to it than this. But these are simple rules that will work. To be a master cheesemaker you need a little more knowledge than this (like, how these things affect the culture, how air temp and RH enter into the mix, how the age of your milk affects things, etc). But with this knowledge you can get good results.