January 16, 2012

This Cheese Doesn't Suck: Emmi Kaltbach Extra

    I am always game to try a new cheese.  Especially if it's one I have never heard of.  Regardless of type or apparent putrification I will dig in and thoughtfully pass my judgement.  So when I spotted that 1.5 kilo black rinded gothic-y looking wheel I had to know what it was (i'm often a sucker for packaging).  My Specialist told me that this Emmi Kaltbach Extra had actually been languishing in our cheese cooler for some weeks and had just that day made it to the sales floor.  Understandable, I figured, since working in specialty foods during the Christmas season means your life and shelves are not your own as a Specialist until after the New Year.  She had not tried it yet herself and expressed some misgivings since the promo flyer that came with the Extra indicated it was the first original cheese to come out of that region of Switzerland in over 900 years.  Pretty ballsy statement, no?  In turn I offered to do a bit of light internet sleuthing to find out if this claim was in fact factual.  Plus I would also consume said cheese as part of my research.  It seemed only right.
Sadly, this one never made it off the editors desk
    A few days later I sat down with my proverbial Nancy Drew  hat on and started my investigation.  I found numerous interesting factoids about Emmi.  They are based out of the city of Lucerne, Switzerland, their sandstone cheese caves that extend a total of 2 kilometers and can hold up to 156, 000 wheels.  Plus other info snacks of similar nature.  What I did not find is any indication of age claims about the Kaltbach Extra.  Oh sure, it was lauded as a fine flavored cheese.  But no wild claims about its uniqueness were thrown about.  Kaltbach Extra seems to be a  variant on the classic Gruyere (that Emmi's Kaltbach line does so very very well).
    Once I pulled the plastic wrap off my little slice of the Extra I was hit by the wonderful grassy damp soil smell of a good cave aged alpine style cheese.  One of my favorite things about this style of cheese is the immediate aromatic punch when I eat the very first piece.  It's like a nose full of  heavenly pepper, moist earth, and animal.  More subtly, and then growing as the piece is slowly consumed, notes of molding hay and a low acidity cut in.  This I find to not be a terribly salty cheese, nor does it have much sweetness, hence I think it would be an interesting alternative to the ol' fondue stand by of classic Gruyere.
    The texture of Kaltbach Extra is more forgiving than its Gruyere cousin.  It initially has a dense supple pack like cool fudge, then breaks down as it's eaten into a delicate fine graininess that is pleasing in it's texture.  I find this kind of  mouth-feel to be common in high alpine cheese.  Though this cheese if not quite as hard as the a fore mentioned Gruyere.
    Miraculously I didn't inhale the entire piece in one go.  There was enough left to share with friends later that day and it was met with exclamations of  "I don't just want cheddar anymore!". 

I love my job.