Bregenzerwälder Mountain Cheese

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Bregenzerwälder or Vorarlberger mountain cheese is produced in the Alpine region of Bregenzerwald in Austria’s most western province, Vorarlberg, and is entirely made from whole or partly skimmed raw milk. The evening milk is traditionally stored in holzgepsen (large wooden vats) and remains there over night without chilling, which keeps the natural raw milk microflora intact. Some farmers skim the evening milk in the morning and use the cream for butter production. If the cheese maker decides to use un-skimmed milk, the resulting cheese is called vollfettkäse (full-fat cheese) in Austria or vollrahmkäse (full-cream cheese) in Switzerland. As proper chilling and storage of cream and butter were difficult and often impossible in the past, the full fat milk was processed into cheese, which turned this type of cheese production into a tradition over time. In the morning the evening milk and the unskimmed morning milk are heated in a copper caldron at 32°C. At this point the rennet, which is traditionally extracted from a calf’s stomach, is added to the milk. The milk remains at this temperature until it thickens and is then cut with a cheese harp into pea-sized pieces and stirred at a temperature of 50-55°C. After the curd reaches the right consistency it is pressed into its final wheel shape and put into a brine wash. The mountain cheese is then stored and aged under constant care for up to two years. Traditionally the cows from which the milk for this cheese is used are entirely fed with fresh grass or hay. No silage is used. Farmers are encouraged to keep the amount of concentrated feed at an absolute minimum. The most important aspects of traditional Bregenzerwälder mountain cheese production are that the milk storage in wooden containers without chilling over night keeps the raw milk microflora intact and has a positive effect on the maturation process, making the purchase of bacterial cultures from the lab unnecessary as the required starter cultures for cheese production are used over and over again. For rennet production, only the calves from the farmer’s own cows are used and washing with brine acts to maintain the cheese quality and structure during maturation. Bregenzerwälder mountain cheese is a regional food specialty which also became a symbol of identity as well as of affiliation of the local population to the region. The production of traditional Bregenzerwälder mountain cheese requires a high amount of skilled manual work. This tradition is partly passed on orally from one generation to the next but in order to maintain and cultivate this traditional know-how and its local and individual nuances, it is crucial to promote the Bregenzerwälder mountain cheese production on the farm, both in the vorsäß (typical small farms in the region of Bregenzerwald and Walsertal) and in the alpine pastures in general. Cheese from this region has been exported since Roman times, and the Schwarzenberger market exists since 1594. This market has historically grown and developed over centuries becoming an important annual event in the region of Bregenzerwald. Over time, the market developed from an institution for food supply to a social highlight with traditional character. It simultaneously takes place around the 16th of September together with the 400 years old tradition of ceremonially driving down the cattle from the mountain pastures into the valley in autumn. The structure of the mountain pastures and cheesmaking huts have a long history and cheese from unskimmed and partly skimmed milk has been produced here for several hundred years.

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