One of only ten cheeses made in Switzerland with the AOC (name protected) designation, this version of Berner Oberlaender Hobelkaese is produced by cheesemaker Christian Hauerter at his dairy located 4900 ft above sea level, at Morgeten in the Swiss Canton of Bern.
Christian Hauerter is a member of an Alp-Coop belonging to the community of Oberwil. The co-op consists of seven houses, one dairy and one restaurant all working together.
The rules governing the production of Berner Oberlaender Hobelkaese are strict. Cheeses can only be made using raw cow’s milk from the Simmentaler breed during a period of about one hundred days during June, July and August, when the animals are grazing on the upper pastures of the Alps. These pastures contain certain varieties of herbs, flowers and grasses, all of which are essential to the character of the cheese. Hauerter's herd grazes on the area known as “Leiternweide”, which literally translated means the "ladder meadow".
Regarding the treatment of his cows, Christian Hauerter goes one step further than most producers. He’s convinced that cows that have not been de-horned (ie. are allowed to naturally grow their horns) are happier, more peaceful animals, who therefore produce better quality and more nutritious milk.
Cheesemaking takes place in the small mountain huts adjacent to the pastures. This is also where the cheesemaker lives and sleeps while the cows are grazing on the upper slopes. This system ensures the cheesemaker uses the freshest milk possible and is also aware of the exact conditions under which the milk was produced – ie. what the animals have been eating, the weather conditions etc. Cheeses are made within eighteen hours of milking.
The milk is heated and animal rennet added. At this point, the curd is heated again to 122˚F in order to expel more whey, before the curds are transferred to molds and pressed.
The finished wheels start their maturing process at the individual Alpine dairies while the families and the cheesemaker are still living on the upper slopes. At the end of the summer, when both humans and animals return to their lower farms, the cheeses are transferred to a cellar where they will continue maturing. During this time, cheeses are used both for the table as well as for cooking.
After eighteen months of age, the cheese is used mostly for grating and cooking. This is also the point where cheeses are graded and some are are set aside for further aging into Hobelkaese.
Maturation takes place at a temperature of 53-54˚F and humidity of 70-75%. According to AOC rules, Hobelkaese (which means “grating cheese”) must be matured for between 2-3 years before release.
The paste of Berner Oberlaender is hard and slightly waxy in texture and studded with white dots of crystalized amino acids that give the texture a pleasant crunch.
The interior color is of pale straw in the center of the cheese becoming a darker golden towards the outside. Flavors are extremely rich, with notes of herbs, grasses, bacon and smoke. When shaved, the cheese forms itself into striking rolls or "cigar" shapes so is best used as a table cheese.