Adventures in Swiss Cheese

“A pro can sniff out at least 45 distinct aromas,” says Dominique Yersin, a Swiss cheesemaker who resembles a champion wrestler in an apron, as he holds a ripened hunk of his L’Etivaz cheese to my nose.

“The higher the altitude, the more aromas are captured in the milk,” he says. The odors of hay and milk hit me first. I wait for other promised scents: purple clover, oregano, cumin, violets.

We are in the mountains of Switzerland, outside the French-speaking community of L’Etivaz. Cowbells clang and a subtle breeze carries bees from one flowery pit stop to the next in the summer pasture of Yersin’s cows.

L’Etivaz is only 18 miles south of the better-known village of Gruyères, but that’s far enough for it to merit its own cheese—similar to yet distinct from the globally known Gruyère.

In a barn, 29 red Holsteins laze in straw, their work done for the morning. Nearby, 70 gallons of hot milk curdle inside a huge copper cauldron hung over a fire.

Yersin offers me a taste of the finished product. As I nibble it, aromas unfurl—first of grass, then of herbs and flowers, then of the cows, until, miraculously, the whole story of this one Swiss meadow rolls out on my tongue.

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This piece, written by our Digital Nomad, Andrew Evans, appeared in the November 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler. Follow the Digital Nomad’s travels on Twitter @WheresAndrew.

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