There is something very special about the taste profile of Swiss mountain cheeses. I love the signature hints of toasted grains, roasted almonds, brown butter and subtle savory herbs that are present in the best cheeses of the region. Of the scores of mountain cheeses I’ve tasted in my time, L’Etivaz is one of my absolute favorites. It is one of the only Swiss cheeses to be labeled with the coveted AOC designation (appellation d’origine controlee, which translates as "controlled designation of origin"), and can be described as a specialized form of the more well-known Gruyère.
Made from raw cow’s milk at L’Etivaz Cooperative, located in a tiny village hamlet in the southwest mountain region of Switzerland, this cheese is only made from late spring to early fall, when the cows are able to graze in the surrounding mountain pastures. The cooperative has incredibly specific methods where cheese production is concerned; it is produced only in traditional copper cauldrons over a particular type of open wood-burning fire, then formed into large, forty-pound wheels and aged for five to thirteen months.
The history of L’Etivaz Cooperative is what is most noteworthy about this cheese. In the 1930s, a group of seventy-six Gruyère producing families felt that Swiss government regulations were allowing cheesemakers to compromise the qualities that made good Gruyère so special. They withdrew from the government's Gruyère program, and "created" their own cheese – L'Etivaz – named for the village around which they all lived. They officially founded a cooperative in 1932, and the first of their cheese cellars were built in 1934.
L’Etivaz is yellow-ivory in color and slightly sticky. Look for well-aged wheels if possible, around twelve months old.
This is a fantastic offering on a cheese plate, or can be melted on soup, bread or potato dishes. It pairs well with Petit Syrah, young Burgundy reds or aged, unoaked white wines. In the winter months, pair it with warm bread for a delectable, comforting combination.
Additional reporting by Madeleine James.