ou may not be aware of the fact that August 1 is World Swiss National Day to celebrate this day we're celebrating Swiss Cheese. And this doesn’t just include the famous cheese with the holes. Rather, it’s a day for celebrating Swiss cheese in all its varieties, from the mild raclette to the pungent gruyere.
Tom Merkli is a man with a plan to ensure that Melburnians have access to the best in Swiss cheeses. He runs The Red Cow, a supplier that specialises in importing cheeses from the Sélection Beeler range from master Swiss cheesemaker Rolf Beeler. Merkli had the good fortune of being family friends with Beeler, and in choosing Swiss cheeses to bring to Australia, he never had any doubt that he wanted them to be Beeler’s. “When you taste his cheese, you don’t want anything else,” says Merkli.
The Red Cow is particularly interesting in terms of its patronage of raw milk cheeses, a product that – due to our strict food importation laws – we don’t see a lot of in this country. “The benefits of a raw milk cheese is that the production is more natural,” says Merkli. “Due to the high altitude, the food fodder is more expressive, the cows have the best grounds to graze on and this comes out in the floral aromas of the cheeses.” Raw milk cheeses are also less standardised in terms of flavour and are affected by the seasons and changes in nature more so than other cheeses, making each individual cheese subtly different.
In terms of what to look out for when buying Swiss cheeses, Merkli recommends being on the lookout for controlled origin cheeses. Like wine regions, there are cheeses that only come from particular areas. With a controlled origin cheese, not only are you getting a higher standard of quality, but you also get the story behind the cheese.
The age of the cheese is also important. Depending on how long a particular cheese has been maturing, it can drastically affect both the aroma and the flavour. The Red Cow has a tendency to let its cheeses mature for longer than other cheese suppliers, resulting in a more complex cheese. The Sélection Beeler Emmental AOC extra, for instance, is matured for 18 months rather than the six to 12-month standard, while The Red Cow’s high altitude Sbrintz is spring matured over four years, resulting in a “very herby” palate.
And where should you buy your Swiss cheeses? Along with Bill’s Farm at the Queen Victoria Market, which is the flagship provider of The Red Cow cheeses, Merkli recommends Richmond Hill Larder. “You can walk into the maturing room and be among the cheese,” he says. “The staff are very knowledgeable, and you can also sample the cheeses.” Walma’s Continental Butchery in Bayswater is also a good place for cheese beginners to start. “They have quite a few Swiss cheeses, and they focus on affordable options with a good selection.”
So this August 1, indulge your inner gourmet and satisfy your cheesy longings with a good Swiss.