Although Germany has long been known as a cheese loving nation, you could be forgiven for thinking—as I did until fairly recently—that German cheese production is limited to the heavier, mostly industrially produced cheeses of the north.Well, I would urge you to think again. In recent years, largely thanks to the work of individuals such as Norbert Sieghart of Kaeskuche and author Ursula Heinzelmann, some of these amazing cheeses from Bavaria and the Allgäu region are finally gaining the wider attention and acclaim they deserve.
The Allgäu is a region that transends national boundaries. Geographically, it extends across the Swabian and Frankonian Alps from Bavaria in southern Germany into western Austria, its boundaries being defined as the area historically impacted by the local Alpine glacial activity. It is a truly spectacular area that has given rise to a host of small scale cheesemakers making some equally remarkable cheeses. Here, you will find some of the best examples of Alpine Bergkäse on the market, the only artisanal (& truly spectacular) version of Bavarian Blue. However, the other compelling aspect that sets this area apart, is its world class production of washed rind cheeses. For starters, many producers make their own version of Bachtensteiner that can range from the gently aromatic and soft to wildly pungent and assertive. From the joys of goat’s milk Zigorome to a superb Limburger, this region would sate the most hungry palate of any washed-rind cheese fan on the planet. So, in order to learn more about these little-known wonders, I joined Norbert Sieghart in his truck as he drove around many of these producers gathering cheese to sell at the Slow Food Festival in Bra, Italy, at the end of the week. Here, I will be giving an account of some of these unsung heroes of the cheese world as we gathered cheeses to take to Bra.
Kaeskuche Isny: Located in south-eastern Baden-Württemberg, Kaeskuche Isny was founded in 1998 by a group of ecologically-minded farmers and is an example of one of the most progresive dairies in Bavaria.The farmers created a cheesemaking operation to provide a consistent market for their milk as well as the opportunity to showcase its high quality. They hired cheesemaker Evelyn Wild to run the business and to be the first cheesmaker and the dairy has proved to be such a success under Evelynﾒs management that she has now hired a full time cheesemaker, Simon, to focus on production, allowing her to concentrate on other aspects of the business. Simon originally comes from Switzerland, where he trained as a cheesemaker.The dairy buys in 800,000 liters (211,337 US gallons) of milk from nine farms and now makes about 65,000 kg (143,000 lbs) of cheese. Kaeskuche Isny produces eight different cheeses, their best one being Adelegger Urburger, a 7 kg (15.5 lb) firm mountain cheese with a dark brown rind that is washed and brushed with brine and wine. They sell the cheese at three different ages of maturity.On our visit, we tasted through several batches in the search for the best one to take to the Slow Food Cheese Festival in Bra and finally selected one made in May 2010, which has a beautiful, full-bodied balance of flavors with great complexity and a long finish.In total, the dairy makes eight different cheeses including Bockshornklee and Sternschluppe.
Senneri Zurwies: Located in the tiny hamlet of Zurweis in Bavaria, Senneri Zurwies is an organic co-operative dairy founded in 1991 by two progressive cheesemakers, Anton Holzinger and Richard Kurzweil.The dairy was the first co-operative cheesemaking operation in Germany to specialize in soft cheese production and, in processing 1.4 million liters (369,840 US gallons), is still one of the smallest cooperatives in the country.Under the guidance of Holzinger and head cheesemaker Marco, the company produces an extensive range of soft cheeses from organic milk collected from 13 local farmers that, upon its arrival at the dairy, is pasteurized for production.Known for his innovative streak, Holzinger has successfully developed many of his own cheese recipes as well as drawing inspiration from other more traditional varieties and giving them their own identity. One of the most popular is his Limburger, which is completely different from its American cousin.Holzingerﾒs version is gently pungent and has a soft, unctious texture that melts in the mouth accompanied by subtle flavors of cream, earth and mushrooms.On the day we visited, we were shown around the dairy by Marco, who also introduced us to Anton’s newest experiment; a blue cheese based on a Roquefort recipe and although it was only ten days old when we saw it, already showing promise.