I love this cheese unconditionally. It’s exciting. It’s complex. It’s redolent. And it’s mighty tasty. It’s the taste that provides a wonderful surprise, because L’Etivaz has virtually no smell, no hint of the musty, aged quality it unearths on the taste buds. Like any good gruyere, the cheese is just firm enough to have a nice texture, and just soft enough to still offer a little give. The taste is strong and distinctive, somewhat nutty, with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Many different flavors mingle and linger, so that one enjoys the complex taste long after the cheese itself is gone. It’s got a bite to it, and a good mouth feel. Serve it with a full-bodied red wine, a hearty mushroom dish, or strong, tasty figs. You may also be inspired to bake with it — perhaps a French onion soup.
Cheese-o-philes already know this one’s special. It’s made by a small group of family cheesemakers in the Swiss Alps (near the village of Etivaz), who created it to preserve the old methods of heating milk in copper cauldrons over open wood fires, before processing it and aging it in caves. The milk is from high Alpine cows who graze only in summer, on a rare and fleeting combination of grass, flowers, and herbs. You can taste the tradition, geography and care in the cheese. Knowing its heritage, I feel extremely fortunate that it’s available at the corner market, and even more so that my husband brought some home, mistakenly thinking he was buying his favorite, and different, cave-aged gruyere.
Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman