Alpage Gruyere is here! This incredibly rare, handcrafted cheese comes to us from the Swiss Alps, rich with notes of brown butter, sweet cream, and the wild herbs abundant in mountainside pastures. If you’re searching for a cheese that embodies alpine terroir, look no further.
More than just a fancy label, the Alpage designation is a promise of both milk quality and tradition. Only wheels produced in traditional chalet style with raw milk from the peak of grazing season are allowed the carefully guarded designation, in part to distinguish from cheese made from cows that are fed on hay or silage through the winter months. Although still delicious, these gruyeres do lack the depth and intensity of flavor that free roaming, pasture fed cattle bring to a cheese.
The first few wheels of the season are relatively mild and fruity, and far more supple than their late season counterparts. One of the highlights of carrying alpage cheeses is watching the way they mature and develop over the course of the season-much like watching Alpine pastures turn from summer to fall. By January the wheels have taken on a dense texture, crackling with tyrosine crystals, and deep, meaty flavor.
Gruyere, originally a way for the Swiss to store nutritious milk over their long winter, has a place close to this Minnesotan’s heart. My family has gathered around a pot of fondue to celebrate the New Year as long as I can remember, and Alpage gruyere is the star of our pot. Nothing lifts spirits in the middle of a long, dark Minnesotan (or Swiss) winter like a glass of Riesling and a delicious pot of melted cheese. (View our FONDUE page.)
The turn of the seasons brings another stand out cheese back to our case: Pleasant Ridge Extra Reserve. Although Rush Creek, Upland’s traditional winter staple, is not available this year [http://surdyks.com/rush-creek-runs-dry/], Pleasant Ridge Extra Reserve highlights everything that is special about their cheesemaking. Aged for at least fifteen months (hence the Extra), Pleasant Ridge Extra Reserve is only made from spring and summer milk, just like an alpage cheese. Unlike an alpage cheese, it’s made in Dodgeville, Wisconsin!
Extra Reserve is rich and comforting, with notes of olive oil, dried fruits, and just a little lactic sharpness so it doesn’t get too rich. With a dark, caramel colored paste and lightly speckled, dun colored rind Pleasant Ridge Extra isn’t just delicious, it’s a looker, too. Perfect with a glass of rye or a malty beer, this is a cheese that can stand up to some robust flavors.
So, as they days grow shorter and the weather nippy, don’t despair. There’s delicious cheese to eat, and you know where to find it.
-Nora Last, Surdyk’s Cheese Shop