L’Etivaz is a traditional Swiss cheese made in just over a hundred Alpine dairies in the Vaud region. It’s produced from May to October according to a traditional recipe, over an open fire in mountain huts. Because it’s a seasonal cheese and producers are mostly small and independent, L’Etivaz is made in small quantities; less than 20,000 wheels are produced each year.
The L’Etivaz Cooperative was formed in 1932 in response to a decline in the cheese’s production. The idea was to create a common aging facility that would lift the burden of affinage from small and independent producers, helping them to survive. Today the cooperative continues to mature the cheese in caves that have continuously expanded in size. The cooperative has also worked to guarantee production quality, helping the cheese to receive AOP (Appellation of Origin) status.
Cows spend their summers grazing in the high mountain pastures, where they’re milked twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Milk from the evening is left in small containers overnight. In the morning, the cheesemaker skims off the cream that has floated to the top and sets it aside. The remaining milk is then mixed with the fresh raw milk from the morning in a copper vat, inoculated with lactic acid bacteria, and warmed over an open fire to 90 degrees f. Rennet is added and the cheesemaker waits for the milk to coagulate. When it’s ready the curd is cut into fine grains by hand with a slicing tool, and the cut curd is scalded at a temperature of up to 135 degrees f. Finally a canvas cloth is slipped under to remove curds from the vat, so that they can be molded and pressed. Rubbed with salt, fresh wheels can be kept on the Alp for up to a week, after which they’re taken down to the cooperative’s caves.
At the cooperative, wheels are left in salt brine for 24 hours before beginning a 5-24 month maturation process. The process sends the wheels through a successive series of caves with varying levels of temperature and humidity. The first room’s conditions encourage the formation of a crust, while the second room encourages the development micro-organisms that give the rind its orange color. The third room is where wheels spend most of their time, being washed in a brine every five days and developing a yellow-ivory color. After six months, some wheels are selected to undergo a further stage of maturation in a fourth, much les humid room, where they dry out and eventually become the “rebibes” version of L’Etivaz after a 30-month maturation.
L’Etivaz AOP is ivory to light yellow in color. Flavors of the cheese vary from Alp to Alp depending on the flora eaten by the cows, but it is generally aromatic and fruity with a slight nuttiness.
Pair it with a chardonnay, a Chablis or a hard cider.