ALP-CHEESE: HANDCRAFTED TRADITION

BY MARKUS GMEINER AND KARIN FALTEJSEK

VORARLBERGER ALPKÄSE (ALP CHEESE) HAS A LONG STANDING TRADITION, ORIGINATING FROM A NEED TO PRESERVE FOOD FOR COLD WINTER MONTHS, WHEN NOTHING CAN GROW, OR FOR TIMES OF DISTRESS.
ALREADY IN THE 18TH CENTURY THE MAJORITY OF MILK FROM THE ALPS WAS MADE INTO ALP CHEESE. IT IS MADE DURING SUMMER MONTHS, WHEN COWS ARE BROUGHT UP TO THE ALPS, AND IS AGED FOR AT LEAST THREE TO SIX MONTHS. THE NAME ALP CHEESE IS PROTECTED AND CAN ONLY BE USED FOR CHEESE MADE WITH MILK FROM COWS, THAT GOT ALL THEIR NUTRITION FROM THE ALP GRASSLAND.


FOLLOWING THE TRADITION THE MILK USED FOR THE CHEESE REMAINS COMPLETELY UNTREATED, MEANING THERE ARE NO PRESERVATIVES OR CHEMICALS ADDED AND THE MILK ISN’T PASTEURISED.
PRODUCING ALP CHEESE IS A GENTLE FORM OF CULTIVATION AND PROTECTS COUNTLESS HERBS AND GRASSES BUT STILL GIVES THE MILK AN UNIQUE AROMATIC FLAVOUR. ALP CHEESE ISN’T ONLY RICHER IN TASTE COMPARED TO CHEESE FROM THE VALLEYS, BUT, BECAUSE IT CONTAINS LESS GERMS, IT LASTS LONGER.

ANTON IS ONE OF VERY FEW FARMERS LEFT WHO STILL FOLLOW THIS TRADITION EXACTLY LIKE OUR ANCESTORS USED TO LIVE IT. THERE IS NO ELECTRICITY ON HIS ALP FARM. THE COWS ARE MILKED BY HAND. FRESH MILK IS THEN PROCESSED USING TRADITIONAL METHODS, INGREDIENTS, UTENSILS LIKE A 200 YEAR OLD KETTEL IN A TRADITIONAL CHEESE ROOM. EVERY DAY OF THOSE SUMMER MONTHS HE TURNS FRESH MILK INTO A LOAF OF CHEESE.

ACCORDING TO EU-HYGIENE STANDARDS THIS ISN’T SUFFICIENT FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS ANYMORE. A CHEESE PRODUCTION ROOM NOW HAS TO HAVE TILES OR STONE WALLS, SO THEY CAN BE CLEANED EASIER. THERE HAS TO BE A WINDOW IN THE ROOM AND ANY WOODEN UTENSILS HAVE TO BE REPLACED WITH CHROMIUM ALLOY STEEL. MANY FARMERS CAN’T AFFORD TO REBUILD THEIR CHALETS. SO A LOT OF THEM GROUP TOGETHER TO BUILD PLACES UP TO THE STANDARDS. HOWEVER THIS MEANS A LOT OF THE UNIQUENESS OF THE ALP CHEESE GETS LOST SINCE EACH CHEESE GET THEIR FLAVOURS FROM THE UNIQUE COMPOSITION OF HERBS AND GRASS ON EACH MEADOW. NEW UTENSILS ALSO CHANGE THE TASTE OF THE CHEESE. ANOTHER DOWNSIDE IS THAT THIS MEANS THE CHEESE CAN’T BE PRODUCED RIGHT WHERE THE COWS ARE MILKED BUT THE MILK HAS TO BE TRANSPORTED TO THE VALLEY BY TRUCKS OR THROUGH PIPELINES.

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