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Making cheese in Switzerland

Thursday 21 August 2014

Can I admit something? I'm not super into cheese. I mean, I like it when it's melted, and oozing out of a grilled sandwich or a fondue pot. But when I'm just faced with a cheese platter? Eh, I'm left cold. And I will never, ever understand getting cheese as dessert. NEVER.

So when I was taken for brunch in the Swiss alps at the Alpine Cheese Dairy Morteratsch, a short drive from St Moritz, all I could think was how this was a little wasted on me. I have friends who would have cried at the sight of the cheese platter above. But me? Eh.

Don't get me wrong, it was lovely cheese. But for breakfast, it felt a little strange. Nice, but strange. Though I did have a little tub of nutella for breakfast pudding, eaten with a spoon, so maybe I'm not one to label something odd.

While we were eating outside, sheltered from the drizzle under marquees and huddled over coffee, Peter was inside, brewing something up in his huge cauldron. I came in to watch, and listen to the story of how cheese is made.

Time for another confession - I wasn't super paying attention. My mind was wandering off... off towards the little tubs of Nutella.

I did start paying attention when I suddenly found myself behind the scenes, being put into a pair of wellington boots and a full length serial-killer style apron.

I was pulled to the front of the (mini) crowd and began stirring my cauldron, thinking thoughts about Snape, and how he would love this. I stirred the gigantic mixture of milk, rennet and bacteria until it resembled... a huge mixture of milk, rennet and bacteria.

Then things happened. Things I didn't quite understand (my Swiss-German isn't what it should be) We were waiting for the cheese to reach the perfect temperature before removing it from the heat.

Here is me looking confused, scared and teethy.

When it was ready, I poured out mugs of steaming hot cheese water (officially known as whey). No one wanted to drink it. I was busy trying to remember the nursery rhyme about curds and whey. I tried to force a child into doing it, but they said they had done once before. Hmm. As soon as I tried a sip, I was pulled back to my work.

The reason my face looks so hideously ugly there? I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING. That's why I dropped the gauze. When I did realise what was about to happen, I was very serious, because we were to lift all of the cheese out. All 40kg of it. Though I didn't realise it was 40kg until it was in my weak little arms.

Then it was kneading time. I kneaded as much of the water off of the cheese as I could. I didn't do an amazing job, but I did have some valid criticisms of the current drainage system.

Then Peter gave me a piece of crumbly, cottage like curd. I didn't love it.

But I excelled at the next part - quickly passing squares of cheese at lightning speed.

Then putting 1kg weights over them just as fast, miraculously not squashing my fingers. And then we were done! And I was rewarded...

I'm fairly sure Peter and I are legally married now. But if that's the case, look at what I now own half of!

Oh, cheese as far as the eye can see. I must say, it's rather more delicious when it has matured for weeks, rather than being plucked freshly from the cauldron.

You can find the Alpine Cheese Dairy Morteratsch here. The dairy is open throughout the summer, with brunch and live cheese making happening every day. You need to book by 5pm the day before.

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