Biermutschli – Made in Basel (Week 33)

biermutschli-ii
Mutschli+Beer+Hops+a little smoke = Biermutschli

Cheese: Biermutschli

Producer: Käserei Reckenkien, Familie Stoll

Where: Mümliswil, Solothurn, Switzerland

The Swiss buy Swiss. Of course they buy German cars and Korean cell phones. But when you go to any grocery store, it is very easy to find out where your food is coming from, and the information doesn’t just reassure buyers that they’re getting ‘made in Switzerland’. Often, the canton is identified as well, and I have seen cheeses with perky little signs that tell you the family farm whence the Käse came from, and this not just in high end cheese shops. Of course, it makes many things quite expensive, because anyone in Switzerland engaged in producing your foodstuffs is paid a decent wage, generous benefits and excellent but expensive healthcare. The Biermustschli is a case in point.

A Mutschli is basically a small round semi-hard cheese somewhere between one and 10 lbs (so much smaller that many of those huge wheels the Swiss roll down the mountains). And this particular cheese comes from the town of Mümliswil, about an hour from Basel. It is made of raw milk and the cows are fed grass or hay exclusively. In ripening of the Biermutschli involves washing the rind with beer and hops; they also smoke the cheese a bit. And the beer used is Unser Bier, literally ‘our beer’, which comes with a tagline that epitomizes the fondness the Swiss have for locally produced things: Bier von hier statt von dort – beer from here instead of from there. Unser Bier got started with a guy who brewed 18 liters of beer in a pasta pan – the rest is history. They create some unusual brews – their summer beer has elderflowers in it, and for the fall they do pumpkin beer.

unser-bier-mutschli
Mutschli and Summer Beer with elderflower

The guy with the crown sticking out his tongue in the logo of Unser Bier is Basel’s famous Lällekönig, the name for a mechanical device in the shape of a human face with moving eyes and a tongue that moved in and out. Originally, this could be seen on the Rhinetower, and it was connected to the clock on that tower, which stood on the city-side of the old bridge across the river. Eventually, the Tongueking (the character wore a crown) became quite famous and today, with the tower and the original Lällekönig long gone, there is a replacement on the facade of the restaurant at the city end of the bridge. The people on the Grossbasel side of the river like to think the King is sticking out his tongue in the direction of Kleinbasel (little Basel, formerly an independent suburb – across the water, think of Oakland), but there is no historical evidence that the person who made the machine wanted to do anything else that createan entertaining contraption – and he succeeded. And of course, today the red tongue is on the Mutschli, a delightful cheese that just has the perfect balance of smokey, yeasty, a faint touch of bitter and a lot of creamy body – we went back to the market square, to the Wirth cheese stand, a week after we hand a conservative slice to try it to buy our own whole Mutschli. Soon e Kääs!

Raclette (Week 6)

Raclette Cheese

Left to right: Valais AOP, Baselbieter, Sheep Raclette cheese

Cheese: Valais Raclette AOP

Producer: –

Where: Valais Canton, Switzerland

I returned from a business trip to Basel, Switzerland with a suitcase full of Raclette cheese. OK, that’s a grave exaggeration, but I had enough for a meal for three. Raclette is originally a cheese from the Valais Canton in Switzerland, but it is also used to describe a meal of melted cheese. So while there is the cheese with the official designation and protection (AOP) from Valais, there are a lot of different cheeses sold as Raclette cheese. These are semi-hard cheeses, often sold in slices, to be melted in the little pans of a raclette-maker, and then poured onto potatoes, bread or veggies (or anything else you think of, as long as it will taste good with a coating of molten cheese.  The alleged history of the cheese is spectacular: in Roman times, it had already been around for centuries, and some even used it in lieu of money. And then, in the Middle Ages, Léon the Valaisian farmer came by, had the brilliant idea to melt the cheese and the rest… well, is even more history.

I brought some local (‘Baselbieter’) cheese, some made of sheep’s milk, and some Valais AOP Raclette, the Real Deal. In a traditional setting, an entire wheel of Raclette may be cut in half, and put close to an open fire with the cut side. Imagine a sturdy Swiss herdsman walking around the table scraping off portions of melted cheese off the big wheel, onto his fellow men’s plates.

We did have to imagine the open fire and the Swiss herder, because we poured the melted cheese from our little pans in the comfort of our home in southern California. One promotional site describes the cheese as “a source of pleasure and conviviality” – and really, we had a very convivial evening.

Ready for Raclette
Ready for Raclette

Raclette cheese is perfect for melting, it slips easily out of the little pans, often without the help of the little scrapers. We had a variety of potatoes and three colors of cauliflower, and we got quite creative with the meats. The Swiss eat prodigious amounts of thinly sliced cured meat, much of it from the Cantons of Graubünden and Valais. I did not bring any, so with the help of Chaz Christianson, whom we met at the cured meats counter of the Cheesemongers of Sherman Oaks we added an eclectic mix of international delicacies – one juicier than the next. More about our visit there in the next post.  The Raclette from Valais – Wallis, as the German-speaking Swiss call it – was the clear winner. Not only did it melt to a perfectly smooth, fragrant goop, its robust, somewhat tangy taste only got better with the melting.

Cured Meats at Cheesemongers of Sherman Oaks
Chaz’ Counter of delicious meats