Wow! Master cheesemaker Rolf Beeler has swept this gruyere gal off her feet. I was already a passionate fan of gruyere – a greatly undersung cheese, I think, wasted in the vast melting pot of the typical less-than-exciting fondue. My fave cheese of late has been the L’Etivaz gruyere. So when I visited Berkeley’s eye-poppingly vast Cheese Board recently and asked the cheese expert what he had that was similar to L’Etivaz, he pulled out a great wheel of Rolf Beeler Gruyere.
Actually, he started me on an Emmi cave-aged gruyere, which was very good – tasty, redolent, interesting. But then he handed over the Rolf Beeler and, I repeat, Wow!
Everything about this cheese is right up front. Nothing holds back as an aftertaste. This bold cheese just hits you between the taste buds with its nutty, tangy, sweet, complex, cave-musty, buttery, slightly crystally, crunchy Wow. Bee-ler! Bee-ler! The man at the cheese counter elucidated how Beeler hand-crafted his cheese, visiting every cave and tapping on every wheel to choose the right ones for artisan aging. He’s definitely got a gift for gruyere.
Like L’Etivaz (also from the large Emmi producers), the Beeler is a raw-milk variety. It’s aged a full, old-school 16 months or more in carefully controlled, humid, cave-like conditions. Rolf Beeler is a relatively small-batch producer.
Unlike L’Etivaz, the Rolf Beeler Gruyere is not strictly an Alpage, or mountain pasture, cheese, a type made using only milk produced in warm seasons from high-altitude Alpine cows. Alpage cheeses have a reputation for tasting like the distinct Alpine flowers and grasses that make for summer grazing.
As the L’Etivaz is gone for the season, I’ll have to taste these Swiss gruyere giants against one another next year. In the meantime, I’m loading up on the outstanding Rolf Beeler.
This cheese pairs well with plenty of wines, especially a Syrah, but you may want to pop open a bottle of champagne to enjoy with the Beeler, toast the man, and celebrate the cheese’s specialness.
And, I know, you don’t have to tell me, it’s probably great in a fondue.
The big board at the Cheese Board
Top photo: Ready for our repast. We enjoyed our Rolf Beeler Gruyere with French oil-cured olives and a fresh ciabatta.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman