The first time that we visited the Fort Saint Antoine and tasted Comte was in 1999. Jason Hinds introduced Ihsan and I to Claude and Phillipe- who we have worked with since, via another friend Pascal Trotte from Paris. Tasting with Claude and Phillipe was a very intimidating first experience, and we certainly had to be approved- we had to show we knew what we were talking about and were serious about representing and selling the cheese. Shortly after getting this approval, we began to import Marcel Petite Comte.
This weekend I sojourned into the Swiss Alps with a group of cheese enthusiasts, headed by Rolf Beeler, champion of Schweizer Käse. About an hour and a half outside of Zurich in the Muothatal region is Alp Dräckloch. From this, the Föhn family derived the name for their cheese, which they have been making for the past 16 summers in the most traditional fashion and setting. We started at 7 a.m. at Klöntal lake, which was the most vibrant shade of cyan I have ever seen. From there we were retrieved by an antiquated jeep that we piled into the back of - like in an old army movie! - that took us up the base of the mountain, though a two hour hike still awaited us. We were rewarded with a visit with the cheesemakers at the top. When we arrived they were warming the morning milk in a copper cauldron over a fire - which made for some very atmospheric pictures! - and were preparing the mules to fetch the afternoon milk from their herd of around 40 Braunvieh cows.
A couple years ago while attending an ACS conference, I sat in on a tasting of a cheese called wildheuer. This cheese from Switzerland was from the milk of cows that were fed wild mountain hay of the Swiss alps. More interesting is the story of the men who cut the wild grass and transport it from the top of the steepest mountains to the base, store it for the cold winters, and feed the animals with it. Wildheuer (or wild haymakers) are now a dying breed but there are still those who carry out the old methods and traditions. Below is a short video (in Swiss with no subtitles, I'm afraid) depicting the life of a young wildheuer, his family and the breathtaking land and work.
May 10, 2012
The excitement of being chosen to participate as official Jasper Hill tasters was then surpassed by the thrill accompanying the prompt arrival of the first box. We didn't really know what to expect and were very happy to see how much cheese was in the first shipment. We hope this generous trend continues in the future! We had plenty to do a thorough tasting on the day of arrival, with enough left over to do a second round of tasting in grilled cheese sandwiches a few days later.