In 1997, the Swiss parliament passed a law according to which agricultural products other than wine could be awarded the AOC certificate. AOC stood for Appellation d’Origine Controllée (Controlled Designation of Origin). This seal is official confirmation of the place of manufacture and production. In 2013, this was changed to AOP – Appellation d’Origine Protégée.
In order to bear the AOP certificate, a product must:
The many different herbs and grasses in the alp meadows and the crystal-clear mountain water produce a rich and healthy alp milk. This is turn is used to make the unique Berner Alpkäse AOP and, if it is stored for an extended period, the extra-hard Berner Hobelkäse AOP.
Raclette is always a good idea – why not try a tangy Alpkäse-Raclette AOP that tastes of alp herbs and grasses?
The manufacture of cheese in Ticino, as evidenced by the best Ticino Alpkäse DOP, is an old tradition dating back to the 12th century, and one that is handed down from generation to generation.
Every year, more than 2,800 cows grazing at an altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 metres in around 130 mountain meadows in the Vaud supply milk for L’Etivaz AOP. L’Etivaz cheese was the first Swiss product to receive the AOP seal of quality in 2000.
Gruyère d’alpage is produced on 53 alps, distributed across the cantons of Fribourg, Neuchâtel, Vaud, Bern and Jura.
The mostly black and white cows that graze in the Gruyère alps supply the raw materials for the Vacherin Fribourgeois d’alpage AOP, one of the most popular cheeses for fondue.
As early as 1530, merchants were exporting the firm, golden-yellow wheels of Sbrinz on mules from Brienz via Meiringen, the Grimsel Pass and the Gries Pass to Italy, in exchange for salt and wine. Alpsbrinz AOP is made from pure raw milk and contains 45% fat in its dry state. Following an extensive salt bath, it is brought to a heated room, where it ‘sweats out’ a considerable amount of fat and water at 18 degrees over a number of days. The wheel is then stored vertically in the ripening cellar and carefully rubbed dry at regular intervals. The ageing period of at least 18 months thus makes the Alpsbrinz AOP deliciously mellow and extremely easy to digest.
Healthy animals, clean air, changeable weather and low-impact, sustainable farming methods mean that more than a hundred different herbs and grasses thrive in the alp meadows. This rich vegetation contains lots of healthy nutrients, which the grazing cows absorb with their feed and then pass on in their milk. The result is the delicate Glarner Alpkäse.
There are lots of other Swiss alp cheeses that do not bear the AOP certificate. Like the AOP cheeses, they are subject to the Mountain and Alp Ordinance (Berg- und Alp-Verordnung, BAIV), according to which the designation Alpkäse may only be used if the milk has been obtained and processed during the alp season in the alp region. The raw milk must come from cows that are free to graze in alp meadows. All of these cheeses are semi-hard alp cheeses. They are available in shops just two to three months later.
The production of Bündner Alpkäse (Graubünden alp cheese) has a very long tradition. Historians have proven that Rhätischer (Alp)cheese was produced and sold already in Roman times. Until the 20th century the alp cheese was mostly used for self-supply.
Today Bündner Alpkäse is produced on about 120 alp pastures in the Canton of Graubünden. Approximately. 600 tons, or 100,000 wheels, are produced each summer.
The origin of Bündner Alpkäse is identified by a brand name. The brand consists of the characters ‘‘Bündner Alpkäse“ and the respective identification number. The dairies are inspected on a regular basis.
Bündner Alpkäse has evolved from the erstwhile low-fat cheese to today’s full-fat hard cheese. The loaf weight amounts to 5-6 kg. The rind is smeared. Bündner Alpkäse exhibits random holes ranging in size between rice grains and corn grains, with smooth dough (water content 38 to 41 %). For the processing only untreated raw milk, neither thermised nor pasteurised, is used. Two months after production Bündner Alpkäse is ripe enough to eat. In the case of alp cheese the full aroma comes into its own 3 to 12 months after production.
The lush alp meadows in Entlebuch add a fruity, grassy note to the semi-hard alp cheese. The number of alp farms making alp cheese in this region can be counted on one hand, making it a rare delicacy.
Muotathaler Alpkäse can be described as a sibling of the renowned Schwyzerkäse. It is a full-fat, semi-hard cheese with a smooth rind.
In keeping with the size of the canton, this region has a smaller number of mountain farms where alp milk is processed. Every November, cheese makers in each one of these farms offer the fruits of their labours from the previous summer for tasting and purchase in the cosy atmosphere of the old Schützenhaus Beckenried.
Obwaldner Alpchäs is a hard cheese and is produced by around 60 alp cheese dairies. Depending on the alp and the composition of the alp herbs, each cheese has its own typical and unmistakable taste.
The ownership structures include private individual alps, corporations governed by private law, cooperatives and public service corporations (citizens’ communities). The alp farmers or the cow owners themselves market the cheese for resale or directly to consumers. In many cases, the farmers take the cheese back with them and sell it themselves directly from the alp or from their own cheese cellars over the course of the winter. Approximately 380 tons of the finest alp cheese are made by 46 members within the alp cheese-producing area.
Urner Alpkäse is generally a full-fat, semi-hard cheese, which, depending on how mature it is, can have a very mild or a very tangy flavour. Urner Alpkäse is made from a mixture of fresh morning milk and evening milk that has been stored and cooled overnight. A wheel weighs between six and eight kilograms. The alp farmers often season the alp cheese with various flavourings such as garlic, chives, caraway, basil or pepper.