We Adopted an Alp!
Recently, the shop adopted an alp in southwestern Switzerland called Satteleggi. Yes, alp adopting is a thing! How it works is that we have agreed to buy a certain number of wheels from cheesemakers and farmers Ernst and Therese Reichenbach. They, their seven children, and their eighteen Simmental cows make the trek every summer to the pastures high up on the alp Satteleggi. Throughout the summer, Therese makes Berner Alpkäse (basically meaning cheese from the Bernese Alps). The best wheels of Berner Alpkäse are aged for three years, and at that point it is called Hobelkäse, which is what we have. This movement up into the alps in the summer and down in the fall is called transhumance, which started in Switzerland 8000 years ago. Like other ancient food traditions that take a lot of work but turn very little profit, the number of people who practice it is shrinking. So, to support the intrepid families who still bring their animal to high mountain pastures and work like crazy all summer making cheese, herding their cows, chopping wood for next season’s cheesemaking, repairing their houses, and more, we are happy to buy some unbelievable cheese.
Truthfully, when we agreed to adopt an alp, we had no idea if we would like the cheese or not, but we were not too worried because we are major fans of alpine cheese around here. Our “risk” was rewarded when we got Therese and Ernst’s Hobelkäse. Like most alpine cheeses, Hobelkäse has a distinct nuttiness that in this cheese, leans towards toasted almond. Therese heats the fresh milk in a copper pot over an open fire, which lends a light kiss of smoke to the cheese. And for all those cheese lovers out there who are fans of crunch, this cheese is crunchy crunchy CRUNCHY!
Sue Styles, a food writer based in southern Alsace, described a meal she had when she visited a Hobelkäse maker so beautifully, I am copying it here: the cheese was “[s]erved with gnarled bread from a wood-fired oven, home-made jam and lashings of thick cream skimmed straight from the milk, and accompanied by warm bovine smells and a gentle symphony of cowbells from the stable next door, the cheese makes a breakfast to remember.” In my dreams, I want to recreate this breakfast with our family, but since I can’t go gallivanting off to Switzerland (yet) to find the Reichenbachs on Satteleggi, I am going to find some A&J King bread, slice some Hobelkäse, grab a jar of strawberry jam, and go outside and smell the autumn. I’ll be sitting on the wall across from the shop watching the Halloween costumes go by, not on someone’s farmstead in the mountains, but I can pretend.
For the love of cheese and the Reichenbachs,