Planet Cheese is a weekly blog devoted to everything cheese: products, people, places, news, and views. James Beard Award–winning journalist Janet Fletcher writes Planet Cheese from her home in Napa Valley. Janet is the author of Cheese & Wine, Cheese & Beer, and The Cheese Course and an occasional contributor to culture. Visit janetfletcher.com to sign up for Planet Cheese and view Janet’s current schedule of cheese appreciation classes.
A-may-zing. A terrific aged raw-milk cheese from Switzerland for $20 a pound. If you’re accustomed to paying at least half-again as much for the best Swiss cheeses, you may be asking yourself, “How do they do that?” I know I am. I asked the importer, who had one answer, but he also warned me that the price would likely climb. So now’s your chance.
Château Heitenried is a new creation from a 150-year-old Swiss affineur, Lustenberger and Dürst. The company matures and markets traditional Swiss cheeses like Emmentaler, Appenzeller, Gruyère, and Tête de Moine. A lot of the product is pre-cut and pre-packaged for sale in grab-and-go environments like supermarkets.
But San Francisco-area importer Michele Lanza wasn’t interested in pre-cut cheese. He sells to fine cheese shops and higher-end markets, and he knows his picky customers want whole wheels. The first shipment of Château Heitenried just arrived, in its beautiful whole 12- to 14-pound format, and retailers are loving the astonishing quality for the price.
I had always assumed that Lanza, who owns the importer/distributor Fresca Italia, was a native Italian. But he was born in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and spent the first nine years of his life in Zurich. The cheeses he snacked on in childhood were Swiss. “I am half Swiss,” he says jokingly, in a thick Italian accent. “I have always had an inclination for these cheeses.”
Lanza says he can offer Château Heitenried at such a good price because there are “fewer hands” on it—by which he means fewer middlemen with their inevitable markups. He is buying direct from the affineur. Still, he made it clear that the introductory price is just that. Once we all fall in love with this aromatic cheese, the tab will rise.
Produced with raw cow’s milk and matured for at least five months, Château Heitenried smells like French onion soup. It is richly beefy, with the scent of concentrated meat stock, roasted leeks and toasted walnuts. It has a thin, tacky, flesh-colored rind and a few pea-sized eyes in its golden paste, and the texture is creamier, softer and more supple than Gruyère.
A malt-forward beer, such as a brown ale, doppelbock or maibock, would be a good match. Wine drinkers, open a rich white—an Alsatian Pinot Gris or barrel-fermented Chardonnay. More retailers will surely pick up this cheese, but for now, look for it at Market Hall Foods in Oakland; Gus’s Market and Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco; Atelier by JCB in Yountville; Mollie Stone’s (multiple locations); Oliver’s Markets (multiple locations); and The Truffle Cheese Shop in Denver.