Cheese of The Week is a weekly feature on The Daily Meal, drawing on the expertise of internationally renowned cheese expert and consultant Raymond Hook. What follows is based on an interview with Hook.
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Along with Gruyère and Emmental, Appenzeller cheese is part of the trifecta of cheeses that go into what’s generally accepted to be the most traditional Swiss fondue recipe. All three of these Swiss cheeses are perfect for melting and fantastic on their own (Gruyère is one of the world’s most popular cheeses, and Emmental is the official name for what we call "Swiss cheese"), but Appenzeller sometimes takes a back seat to its more famous friends. Today we’ll settle that score, as Appenzeller is our Cheese of the Week.
Appenzeller is a semi-firm washed-rind cow’s milk cheese, made in the north of Switzerland. This mountain cheese got its start in monasteries, aged in cool mountain caves. While about 75 dairies currently produce Appenzeller, only three use raw milk, and it’s the raw-milk Appenzeller that you should be on the lookout for.
The large wheels of cheese are rubbed down with herb-infused brine during the aging process, which lasts for a minimum of three months.
The end result, according to Hook, is a creamy cheese with a thin bluish-gray line just under the rind, a result of the repeated washings. The raw milk cheese has a much more complex flavor than the pasteurized variety because heating the milk cooks away much of the nuances. The real deal has hints of toasted grain, roasted hazelnuts and cashews, brown butter, and a bit of the "barnyard" that the best washed-rind cheeses have.
If possible, be on the lookout for Rolf Beeler Appenzeller, arguably the best that’s available. Beeler is an affineur (or cheese "refiner") based just outside Zurich who only uses raw milk cheese from Alois Pfister, a producer. He ages the wheels for seven to nine months, all the while taking care to wash them regularly with wild Alpine herbs and flowers, and a local liquor called Alpenbitter, which is a brandy-style drink with an herb base. If you can find it, it’s truly a world-class cheese.
Hook recommends pairing the cheese with pinot noir from Hook & Ladder, a complex Piedmontese red, or a minerally sancerre. Beers to pair it with include Fullers or other good ESB, or a West Coast IPA.