Life On The Wire: For Funk's Sake
Life On The Wire consists of dispatches from our ever resourceful "curdologist" and cheese wiz, Emilie.
The French have a phrase for super smelly washed rind cheese renifler les pieds d'angles, which translates to “sniffing the feet of angles.”
They were talking about Epoisses, but I’m talking about Aarewasser and Raclette Natür, new Swiss cheese that just landed in the case.
Both cheeses are made by the Eyweid Dairy in the Emmental Valley also in the Emmental; and yes they are technically an Emmentaler but it is not the Emmentaler you might be thinking of, they’re new cheeses on the Swiss cheese scene.
The Udderly Important Details:
Ok, some background. Up until 1999 both dairies could only make the Emmentaler because the Swiss dairy trade was controlled by the Schweizer Käseunion (Swiss Cheese Union) which was a holdover from both world wars. It controlled how much cheese (only Gruyere, Emmentaler, and Sbrinz were allowed) was made, when, and how much it could be sold for; supposedly to keep the price and supply stable. The cartel, aka the monopoly, aka the Swiss Cheese Mafia was toppled when they were caught taking bribes and breaking international trade laws.
Now, Swiss cheesemakers can make and sell any cheese in any quantity and for any price; which brings us back to Aarewasser and Raclette Natür.
After 85 years of only Emmentaler production the Glausers got creative and now produce over a dozen cheeses (without a Gruyere, Emmental, or Sbrinz among them) from the raw milk of sixty neighboring families. Aarewasser is named after the Aare River which is the source of the water for the dairy, and the water used to make the brine that washes the cheese for three months.
Raclette Natür came into being because Housi Glauser (one of the many cheesemaking Glauser cousins) got itchy feet and wandered over to the otherside of the Alps and learned how they made Raclette. But it wasn’t the same raclette he’d grown up with so he decided to fiddle around and over a decade came up with a recipe that he was happy with, and then he got homesick. After going home he started making his Raclette alongside the other cheeses at Glauser Dairy. If you want a behind the scenes look at the dairy watch this video (note; its not in English and doesn’t have subtitles) and you’ll see them making these cheeses and more.
That’s all well and good, but what so great about them? What’s the point, and why is this post called “for funk’s sake” huh? The point, and the reason for the title, is that they two new kids on the block are funky. And by funky we mean that they’ve got a little bit of stink happening. But don’t turn your nose up at them, this style of cheese is one of the coolest styles out there. But how do they get the funk, do they blast James Brown as they make and age the cheese? I wish.
Funky cheeses, officially called Washed Rinds or Smear Rinds, get their funk from repeated washings, that’s right, the cheese gets a bath. By washing the cheese with a mixture of water and salt it creates an environment for the friendly bacteria brevibacterium linens and Corynebacterium to grow and thrive on the rind of the cheese, and those two are the main culprit are what makes them odorous.
And the more alive the rind is, the more flavorful and nuanced it is. Though keep in mind just because its a washed rind doesn’t mean your cheese is gonna smell like a frat boy’s carpet. The Raclette Natür which gets a milder and less frequent wash and therefore is a milder cheese, Aarewasser get a stronger more concentrated bath more frequently which makes its funk louder; and both cheeses are only three months old.
That’s all well and good but what do they taste like, and what am I supposed to do with them? To answer the last one first, our favorite thing to do with them, melt ‘em. Apply a little bit of heat and they’ll be melting like us in this weather; they make killer cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, or grate them on fire roasted potatoes.
Raclette Nantür is the milder of the two, milky and lactic with a hint of funk around the edges from the wash, with a hint of aged butter and hay. It likes to party with large groups of people because its a people person with a quirky quality. The Aarewasser is a puncher, it’ll punch you in the nose if you approach it wrong, and the flavor is bigger too, it coats your mouth until every breath you take tastes like cooked cream and a freshly milked and hayed barn of cows. Aarewasser tends to be a loner, but when it parties it parties hard with people that like to have fun and tend to ignore the rules.