Appenzeller cheese is a hard cow's milk cheese from the Appenzell region of Switzerland. It has a distinctive tangy, slightly fruity flavor which pairs well with fresh fruit, some wines, and other cheeses. Like many heritage cheeses, Appenzeller cheese has a appellation of controlled origin, meaning that only cheese made in a particular way by certain producers can be labeled Appenzeller cheese. The cheese is available in specialty stores and through direct importers in varying strengths, depending on how long it has been aged.
The history of Appenzeller cheese is very old. Tax records stretching as far back as the 14th century discuss the cheese, as well as its producers. Modern Appenzeller cheese is manufactured by 75 highly secretive dairies, all of which use slightly different production techniques. Like other cheeses, Appenzeller starts with a heating process to separate curds from whey. The curds are pressed in large molds to create wheels of cheese, which are soaked in a brine solution before being aged and sold.
What makes Appenzeller cheese highly unique is the brine solution, which includes a mixture of herbs and spices. These saturate the cheese, lending it a distinct and unusual flavor. In addition, the cheese is regularly washed in wine or cider while it cures, adding a fruitiness to the cheese as well. Three versions are available: classic, surchoix, and extra. Classic is lightly aged, with a milder flavor, while extra is the strongest, with an intense flavor and pungent aroma.
By traditional, Appenzeller is made with whole milk from cows which have grazed in the same fields used to make the herbal brine for the cheese. Many consumers believe that the best Appenzeller comes from summer milk, which comes from cows eating a minimum of hay, and tends to be high in fat. In appearance, Appenzeller cheese has an even straw colored body, interspersed with small holes which can get as large as peas. The rind is somewhat darker, and should be stamped with information about the dairy from which the cheese came.
The cheese pairs very well with Riesling and other fruity whites. A wine which is high in fruit flavors will complement the Appenzeller cheese while also toning down the acidity of the cheese. The cheese can also be slightly spicy, which is why it complements Riesling so well. It can also be eaten with sweet slightly tart fruits such as apples, or paired with cheeses to make up a cheese platter.