From the cheese stand to the cheese dairy: after three busy before-christmas weeks at the Borough Market in London and relaxing holidays in Austria I’m back in Switzerland and just made my first trip to the Jumi dairies. It’s the early bird that catches the worm – and the early girl who catches a glimpse of how hundres of liters of raw milk finally turn into over 100 kilograms heavy Emmental wheels. Considering that not everybody is willing to get up at 5.00 in the morning and does get chance to walk right into a cheese dairy, I’ll sum up what I’ve learned during the day.
My day starts at the dairy in Oberhünigen which is run by Urs and Dora Glauser, the parents of Mike who is the „mi“ of „Jumi“. When I get to the dairy the milk from the evening before is already there, waiting in a huge copper vat. Just a few minutes later the farmes arrive with their milk cans filled to the brim with fresh morning milk, which is first weighed and controlled, then mixed with the milk from the day before and heated to about 31 degrees Celsius. One hour after the rennet and lactic bacteria have been added you can already tell the milk is turning into cheese. Then the curd has thickened enough to be cut into tiny grains using a cheese harp. In doing so the cheese is seperated from the whey which is pumped down and reused to produce biogas. When the curd is cut finely enough it is pressed into big moulds.
After a bath in saltwater and a few days of rest on wooden shelves in a cooler cave the wheels are taken to an about 20 degrees Celsius warm humid cave, where a second fermentation takes place and the Emmental gets its famous holes due to the gas produced by the bacteria. Afterwards it is either matured for about 5 months (mild Emmental) or up to 22 months (mature Emmental). Besides the most popular Swiss cheese the dairy in Oberhünigen also produces the semi-hard Aarewasser, the soft La Bouse and goats cheese like Crème Chèvre or Capriflocon as well as butter and yogurt.
The next stop on my cheese journey is the dairy in Steinen, where Schlossberger, Hanfmutschli, Àpres Soleil, Cironé, Appenberger and Raclette are produced. The first thing that attracts my attention is the huge cheese press in which hard cheese is pressed into form releasing water and whey. Mr. Glauser explains to me that the hardness of the cheese is determinded by temperature, intensity and compression duration. For soft cheese like the Hanfmutschli no machine is used. The cheese curd is simply poured into little buckets with tiny holes, through which water and whey are released by the own weight of the cheese. In order to release as much as possible the cheese curd has to be turned regularly. I learn that one third of the Emmental is made up of water, whereas a soft cheese even consists 50 % of water.
The third dairy I visit does not produce cheese anymore, the site in Längenbach is nowadays used for cheese maturation – which is acutally as interesting as the production process itself. Just imagine vast amounts of cheese wheels sitting on wooden shelves waiting to be smeared once a week by the artisan with pure water and then being returned to the shelves wet side up ripening in the cave for up to three years. The look of a cheese cave is surely impressive, but its smell is even more striking. The amount of ammoniac in the air gives me sort of a nose douche. Time to leave the cave and enter the kitchen for some lunch – artisan cheese production makes hungry.